Words on a Page

Fossils in rock
Footprints in sand
Paths in a chamber of cloud.

To mark the beginning of early retirement, I’ve spent the summer clearing out shelves and file cabinets at home and in my office at the university. On a table in the hallway I left dozens of books bequeathed to me by my retiring predecessor in 1989–hardcover volumes of Shakespeare criticism he longed to have someone take off his hands, only one of which I ever read. This morning I said goodbye to a multivolume German gothic print history of European art packed into their lift van by my parents when they fled Berlin in 1937 and a 75 pound 1955 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica that I asked for as a Bar Mitzvah present. Our second hand bookstore proprietor had no use for them and told me that unlike junkmail, you cant recycle books, they have to go to the landfill.

I’ve written three books. When the first one–Youth against Age–went out of print, the publisher sold me the last 40 copies for five dollars each. Thirty five are still in the closet. Yesterday I went to the local Borders to try to get them to carry the two books that are still in print. The young store manager looked at me mockingly and told me to get in touch with his assistant, who would need to see hard copies before making the decision whether or not to order one of each.

A friend died of lung cancer a few years ago. He was my digital mentor. I was delegated to clean out his office to make room for a replacement. I filled a dumpster with stuff, and saved what I could on a website called Legacies When another friend was stricken with mesothelioma and given about a year to live, I said in his situation I would spend part of the time assembling an electronic archive of my life. Six months after he died, the college secretary gave me a CD which contained his memoir, easily uploaded. I expect to maintain this site until I become part of it.

Though disposing of the past has become a preoccupation since I turned 60, passing into a new stage of the life cycle excites me about the future and prods me to produce more. I take alot of pictures, especially of my grandsons. Not having a captive audience of students for six months of the year makes me look for other listeners. Prosperity and health send me on new adventures. And the end is always nearer.

In four days my wife and I will embark on a trip we have planned for a year–our Italienreise to Florence, Venice and Siena. At first I thought I’d leave my laptop home, save photos in a portable hard drive, and write in a journal. But instead I’m trying something different.

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