This is the season when I marvel at how fast the months have gone, take stock of goals I set so confidently when the year was new, and reflect sadly on how few of them actually came to fruition. “Between the idea and the reality…falls the shadow.”
I didn’t do yoga three times a week…or two times…or one time; I didn’t prepare a healthy meal from scratch every night…or every third night…or every week; I didn’t finish reading Moby Dick; I didn’t learn to parallel park. But this time, instead of surrendering to guilt and regret as December closes in, I decided to pick one thing from my to-do list for 2016. Working with diligence and focus, I would get that one thing done–probably in just a few hours, or a day at most, of concentrated effort.
To my great regret, I chose cleaning off my computer as the task to which I would give my last full measure of devotion before year’s end. My hard drive is filled with the accumulated detritus of more than a dozen years, because each time I switched to a new machine, rather than get rid of what I didn’t need, I simply transferred everything over.
With a new computer expected shortly, there seemed no better opportunity than now to tackle the long-deferred task of digital clean-up. Upon completion, I could work on my new book, on my new computer, in a brand-new world of organized files.
My first mistake was in thinking it would take only a few hours to purge the clutter of a dozen years. I’ve been working on it for four days now, with no end in sight. I have entered a nightmarish landscape of outdated, mislabeled, and incomprehensibly named folders. Within those folders are random files, unused applications, memos from my time as a college administrator, letters to no-longer-serving congressmen, and research on illnesses I decided I might have after watching House. Apparently, I never met a PDF I didn’t want to download, or a website I didn’t feel the urge to bookmark.
In other words, working my way through my hard drive is like trying to clean out 10 junk drawers, inside 10 other junk drawers, inside 10 other junk drawers. My computer is the digital equivalent of Russian nesting dolls, if the dolls are composed of multiple drafts of the same chapters, old resumés, and contact information for people I don’t remember.
I’ve had my quarrels with paper files over the years, but at least they don’t multiply like the brooms in Fantasia when my back is turned. The same can’t be said for digital files, which have the opposite problem of socks in the dryer; instead of coming out with one of a pair missing, I end up with duplicate versions of things I barely need one copy of–or so it seems.
And now, as I enter Day 5 of decimating my digital files, I’ve reached that dangerous point, wherein I don’t really care if it’s the last living copy of something I might really need later, I just want it gone. I’m deleting things with wild abandon. Yet I have a lingering fear that the image below may turn out to be a metaphor for the future me, searching in vain through my digital trash bin for the one file that I actually, really, truly, can’t replace. But at the moment, the mission is all, and I’ll deal with the consequences later.