Who was to know what should come home to me?

Tucked away in a closet in my office is a 1950s-era steel file cabinet that looks as if it could withstand an atomic blast.  Even empty it evokes thoughts of herniation.  For obvious reason, I don't move it very often. 

Instead I keep stuffing it with the collected detritus of my teaching life: old in-class exercises, badly written assignments, the syllabi of long lost courses, out-of-date teaching evals and  even a text-book I once created for a class that hasn't existed since the 1990s.

I'm forever thinking I should clean out this beast, but I never seem to get the job completed.  Whenever I begin,  I get stuck on some piece of the past that comes floating up out of the mess.

The deeper into the cabinet I go, the more likely I am to encounter the ghostly remains of some failed notions I once had about teaching.  What delusions I used to suffer from! I think to myself.  This of course leads me to wonder what delusions I'm laboring under now.  All this is not to mention the inevitable sense of memento mori that often accompanies spelunking about in one's past.

Somewhere in this cabinet is a bag filled with every name tag that has ever been issued me.  Somewhere there are photos of me at department Christmas parties (what was I thinking sporting  that absurd moustache?).

Just now, for example, while rooting around for something,  I found an old 'feel-good file.'  This was a manila envelope in which I stuffed every thank-you note and kind letter from a former student.  Before I was tenured I was required to submit an annual portfolio that I sardonically refer to as my "I'm so damned wonderful file."    Whenever someone took the time to say thanks or to pay me a compliment, I slipped the note into the file.  Then I photocopied the lot and attached it as an appendix to my annual performance review.    Couldn't hurt, right?   (As an aside, thank heavens I don't have to write that annual self-reflection any longer.  There is no more exquisite torture for a self-sabotaging neurotic than talking oneself up)

Anyway, unearthing this file just now and leafing through the various notes from former students is just the tonic for a gray January morning when I am none too confident about my plans for today's classes.   In a few minutes I'll tuck this file back into the beast in such a way that I'll forget where it is.  And maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll stumble across it at some serendipitous moment in the future.  As Walt Whitman wrote in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, "Who was to know what should come home to me?"


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