Saturday, January 1, 2011

Bin-ging for the Future

On the first day of 2011, I spent the morning living in the past, opening crumbling yellowed tear sheets from newspapers printed in days gone by -- and eliminating more than half of them. Before you think I may be a candidate for that TV show on hoarding, let me explain.

Time was when a closet shelf was stacked high with tear sheets, pages clipped from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USA Today, the Portland Oregonian, the Contra Costa Times and other papers where my work has appeared. Before I moved to San Francisco, I donated 95 percent of those clippings to the media archives at the University of Missouri/St. Louis.

I kept the travel sections – my favorites – and a handful of other features I couldn’t bear to part with. (Ken and Alex, This Means You.) Before I moved, I did not separate the pertinent pages from the sections, some of which were 18 or 20 pages. (You won’t see that today!) I remember thinking as I packed the condo in Creve Coeur that I could cut a lot of bulk by pulling out just my pages, most of them cover stories (with glorious color photos) that continued on a “jump” page. But I didn’t.

Flash forward to this morning. Next to my desk in my excellent apartment that looks out over Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean (have you admired my sunset photos here and on Facebook?) sit two big black plastic bins. Fortunately, they are mostly hidden by the love seat. One holds copies of books I’ve written, maybe five or six copies of each, and there is no room for more. The other is jam-packed with clippings, past and present, as well as copies of magazines that have published my work, newsletters I have edited and a couple articles about me.

In the last six months, that bin has filled up and overflowed. I started sticking tear sheets into desk drawers, in wire baskets on my desk and in the occasional nook and/or cranny. Why do I keep copies of my work? Good question. I had work published in national magazines when I was 17, and newspaper bylines in metropolitan dailies that long ago as well. With 45 years of experience, why would I need to prove to anyone that I can do what I do, and do it well?  

That’s an argument to have with myself on another day. Today, after a healthy breakfast designed to make up for too many chocolate truffles last night, I opened the bulging bin of books and extracted one to give to a friend. Then I opened the bin of tear sheets and magazines and newsletters and emptied it on the carpet.  

Out came exciting stories on Dublin, London, Paris, Buenos Aires, Sydney, Cairo, Venice, New York, Juneau, Quebec City and Varanasi. I admired my photos from Niagara Falls, the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilauea and the Galapagos Islands. I marveled at my work on Mount Rainer, the Grand Tetons, Glacier Bay, Yosemite and the Rockies. I smiled at stories on the series of ocean cruises I’ve enjoyed. And I was thrilled to find a dozen or more travel stories about whale-watch trips, dating back to 1983.

No wonder I told a stranger at a Christmas caroling party last month that it’s okay if I never go anywhere again. I made many trips on assignment for the Post-Dispatch, and since that party ended, I have continued to find ways to see the world and savor the experience of breathing air in places that other people call home. Am I finished traveling? I hope not. I’m good at it, and there are still places I want to go. But, oh the places I’ve been – and there they were, spread all around me.

In case you are wondering, I still write travel stories, some of them about northern California. An article on how to choose a cruise will run in the Post-Dispatch a week from tomorrow. (Thanks, Amy!) Next, I plucked my articles from issues of the St. Louis Jewish Light and jWeekly, the Jewish paper I write for in San Francisco. (Thanks to Ellen, Mike, Liz, Andy and Rachel!)

After pulling out pertinent pages from the newspaper sections, I tackled the magazines. I decided one copy of each was plenty. Except, of course, for the splendid July issue of Southwest Airlines’ Spirit Magazine, which published a 4,600-word love letter from me to St. Louis. I noted that I have written for four issues of Health Progress, a publication of the Catholic Health Association. (Thanks, Pam!) I admired the glossy grocery magazines from all over the country that have published my work. (Thanks, Kelli!) And I hugged the (really) old issue of Ms. Magazine that contains an article I penned. 

When I was finished culling, I had newsprint smeared all over my hands. (That's okay -- I like that!)  I also had enough newspaper pages and magazines to fill a grocery bag, ready for recycling. The "keepers" are back in the black plastic bin, along with all the randomly stored work samples, and now there is room for whatever work comes my way this year.

Okay, 2011 – I am ready!

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