“August 5, 2002.”
That’s the date of the issue of The New Yorker I just tossed onto the growing stack on the floor. It is is one of the last remnants from the year I actually subscribed to the iconic magazine. I had preserved it this long because there was a profile of sculptor Richard Serra that I wanted to read. I still do, in fact, want to read it (even though I only know of him from his appearance in the climactic sequence of Matthew Barney’s film Cremaster 3), but I have elected to take hold of the six sheets that comprise the article in question, tear them neatly from the magazine, and place them, stapled, in a file folder to await the day when I either a) find time to actually read the piece, or b) enter the next stage in my ability to winnow my personal effects, and simply discard it unread with the knowledge that, if my life is still not quite what I would wish, it is probably not due to my lack of knowledge on this particular topic.
I am what might be called a keeper. (You might also say “hoarder” but I would prefer if you did not.) I keep things. It is what I do. But I am learning to be more selective about what things I keep, and more to the point, I am learning to part with many of the things I have been keeping for far too long. The collection of New Yorkers has already gone from a teetering waist-high tower in the corner of the room to four of those bookshelf magazine files, and soon that will be reduced to a single file folder marked “To Be Read”, which will be filed away and forgotten about while I decide what to do with the roughly ten linear inches of shelf space that are suddenly unoccupied on top of the bookcase.
It is interesting to me (and perhaps only to me) that I think of the verb culling to describe this process. Drawn from my agricultural childhood, culling implies for me a harsh reality, a violent process that, free of malice, is driven by practicality rather than cruelty. Culling is when you walk into the chicken coop and decide which birds are to be kept, and which ones are to be cleanly decapitated and left to flop bleeding across the snow-covered yard. That is how I am approaching this process. This quantity of printed material has to be culled; I have to swiftly and efficiently decide what I am really going to read either immediately or at some undetermined future date — and then discard the rest and move toward a less-cluttered life.