Monday, September 28, 2009

Getting Nostalgic Over Paper

The pile of old newspapers and magazines sat weathered and dusty on my office floor. It was hard not to notice them when you entered the room, yet I managed to block them from my peripheral vision for more than two months. Once our two new kittens began to use the pile of reading material as a bed, however, I knew it was time to do something. There aren't many things worse than the smell of newspapers on which almost-totally-trained cats have lounged.

The reason I'd been putting off going through those old publications was simple and understandable, if you're a long-time writer, as I am. That seemingly annoying stack of slush represented ten years of my career.

The pile consisted mostly of Sunday Magazines from The Plain Dealer (back when The Plain Dealer had a Sunday Magazine instead of Parade), Crain's Cleveland Business and several national publications where I'd been fortunate to have my queries accepted and turned into actual articles. They dated between 1995 and 2005, and most of the articles I'd written for them had not been placed on the Internet. They existed only in ink.

So my mission, should I choose to accept it, was to wade through about 300 articles, select the ones that seemed to best represent my writing skills and scan them into my computer. The papers and magazines would then be bundled and set out with Tuesday's garbage.

I didn't want to tackle this task because a.) I am inherently lazy, especially when it comes to daunting tasks that I know will take me hours to complete and b.) I didn't want to throw away the memories.

"Create new memories--on your computer!" you may say. But as I leafed slowly and gingerly through the papers, it confirmed what I already knew: The memories I have of writing these stories is strongest when I hold the articles in my hands. Gazing at them on a computer screen doesn't have the same effect.

Why is that? I can still see the words and the accompanying photos. I can easily recall the challenges of writing some articles and the fun of writing others. But with a click of the mouse, these stories disappear. When I hold a magazine or newspaper in my hands, the stories linger. So do the memories.

As I read through articles from several years ago, I recalled vivid details, not so much of the actual writing process, but of meeting the people and visiting the places described in the articles. There was the dad who painted a mural of the Wizard of Oz across all four walls of his daughter's bedroom, the florist whose dog liked to wear cool sunglasses while riding in the car and the homeowner who happily gave my two-month-old daughter a bottle while I jotted down notes about her living room. I remembered lugging an infant to interviews when I couldn't find a sitter, and the extremely considerate interviewees who never complained about the extra bundle at the interview. I recalled the quote from a longtime Browns fan who was selling off his extensive memorabilia: "When I got married, I told my wife the Browns come first on Sundays. As you get older, you realize it's not that important." I can see myself sitting in the home of two prominent lawyers, who welcomed me in as though they had all the time in the world to talk with me.

The articles reminded me of the people I'd met and the kindnesses they'd offered me. I thought about the joys and sorrows they shared with me, the way they confided in me as though I was a good friend and how thrilled they were to read about themselves, their business or their home in a publication.

Anytime I wanted to relive one of those memories, I just had to find a paper or magazine and flip to my article. I guess it should seem easier now. All I have to do at this point is click the mouse a few times and find the same articles. It's better for my office and for the environment. Plus, once I get them online it will be possible for many, many people to view them. But it still makes me a little sad to let go.

So I've decided to hold onto about 20 articles in print. These represent some of the most memorable articles I've written. They also give me hope that maybe print isn't totally dead. Maybe there are a few others out there like myself who like the feeling of holding a magazine or newspaper in their hands and lingering over an article or two. Maybe they find print to be a better way to capture words and photographs. Or maybe I'm just deluding myself.

Either way, I've still got those print articles. Just in case anybody wants to look at them.


John Ettorre said...

I feel very much as you do on this, Diane. It makes our remaining print outlets all that much more precious, doesn't it?

Diane DiPiero said...

Definitely precious, but hopefully not obsolete.