I have been doing a major decluttering job on my office. In fact, I wonder if it will ever be over. It’s the very definition of ongoing.
Decades, anyway. I’ve lived in this condo for nearly 30 years. And I’ve been accumulating stuff for longer than that. And no, we won’t talk about the walk-in closet that I’m afraid to open for fear of what might fall out.
I confess. I am a paper magnet. Show me a writer who isn’t. We collect ideas for stories and nuggets of research and stash them away like squirrels gathering nuts for winter.
Because I might use that piece of paper one of these days. It’s a plot point, a character study, an interesting setting. Or it’s just the intriguing bit of research I need to bring that scene to life.
Case in point. About fifteen years ago, I clipped a short, intriguing article out of the San Francisco Chronicle. It told the story of wallets found discarded in the heating ducts of an old military barracks at Camp Roberts, wallets with cash missing, but in many cases, personal items such as IDs and letters left inside.
Camp Roberts, which straddles the Monterey and San Luis Obispo county lines in central California, was a military base back in World War II. At the time, it was the largest military training facility around, with thousands of soldiers passing through. The base was deactivated after WWII, then reactivated during the Korean War. Nowadays, Camp Roberts serves as a base for the California National Guard.
As for those wallets, the theory was that they had been stolen from soldiers in the barracks, the valuables taken. Then the thieves tossed the wallets into the heating ducts, where they were found decades later, when the building was torn down.
A National Guard officer at Camp Roberts was taking steps to see if he could locate the wallet owners, using what papers remained. Later articles outlined some success in doing that.
I clipped that article out of the newspaper and kept it on my desk for several years. I was sure I would use it, someday. I was right. Those stolen wallets at Camp Roberts turned out to be an important plot point in Bit Player, a Jeri Howard novel.
One newspaper article leads to another. In fact, it led me to the Bancroft Library at Cal, where I looked at the Camp Roberts newspaper during the war years. I found out what movies were playing at the base theater and what a fried chicken dinner cost at a local restaurant. And the cherry on top? Bing Crosby and his band played a gig at Camp Roberts at the time I was writing about. That’s just the sort of detail I love, one that adds flavor and spice to my writing. Of course, that mention of Bing wound up in the book.
I used to clip articles out and leave them in folders, part of a work in progress. I still get vital information for my plot from various newspaper. Though these days, I don’t save the print copy of the article, Instead, I save the URL, or cut and paste a copy into a Word document. Or the pertinent piece of paper can be scanned and saved electronically.
Much less clutter. Paper clutter, anyway. Then there’s digital clutter, which is a topic for another day.