Paperholics Anonymous

Hi, My name is Joy and I am a Paperholic.

I’m grateful to be here with you today at Paperholics Anonymous. I don’t know where else I can turn.

My addiction began innocently enough. I was in college, writing an essay on feminist thought in early Ibsen. I had notes on index cards, notes on scrap paper, notes on the backs of envelopes and in the margins of books.

It was 6 a.m. and I’d been working on this !@#$% since noon the previous day. It was due in two hours and I COULD NOT FIND the scrap on which the perfect ending quote was scrawled.

I pawed pathetically through the papers till my desk looked like the bottom of a hamster’s cage. Minutes before my deadline the note surfaced and I typed my brilliant conclusion.

But ever since that day I’ve had a Paper Problem.

I LOVE paper. Books, magazines and newspapers, of course. But even better I like articles clipped from magazines and ripped from newspapers. I read the newspaper like I’m on an easter egg hunt. I scan to rule out all the drivel I don’t want to read, but when I find an interesting article, I tear it out and set it aside to read later.

The pile on which I place it grows ever taller, because every day there’s more to read. The pile must compete with a steady influx of the New Yorker and Newsweek magazines (both relentless weeklies – I get only one monthly, National Geographic.)

The New Yorker is especially challenging because I like to rip out the good cartoons to distribute to various acquaintances. Like here’s one for my son, the industrial designer:

And here’s one for a friend considering surgery:

The only good news is that I’ve managed to cut my junk mail and catalog intake to almost zero. (This demands dogged dialing to each company’s 800 number.)

Two spots compete to attract the most paper: the end of my kitchen counter, and the top of my desk. It’s an all or nothing proposition. If the space is clear, I can stay on the wagon… for awhile.

But then I have a little slip; maybe I get too busy to put things away before I rush off to the next thing. “I’ll just put it here for now…” I tell myself, as I set a piece of paper on the counter top.

I should know by now I can’t just save one piece of paper. Before I know what hit me I’m buried again.

How buried? Imagine an exhibit at the Natural History Museum, where you’ve got a cross-section of the earth’s layers…

The top-most layer is light and fluffy – mostly current newsprint, Toyota tuneup coupons and an occasional offer for a 2-for-1 dinner.  That’s about six inches deep.

The next 6” layer is more compressed – printouts of articles I read online, reports, manuals, magazines yet to be ripped into. Printer paper doesn’t fluff as nicely as ripped newsprint.

From time to time, I moisten the pile with a cup of spilled coffee or tea. Using both hands like salad tongs, I turn the pile as I seek some piece of wisdom I know is about halfway down. This serves to aerate the pile nicely. Over time, the lowest layers begin to heat up and decompose.

The bottom six inches is where my addiction begins to pay off. That’s where I’ve got dark brown crumbly compost, complete with happy earthworms. It grows great tomatoes.

You may ask, what have I tried to cure my addiction?

I had great hopes when it was rumored that the advent of computers would bring us the paperless office. This didn’t work for me: my computer just brought me in contact with MORE articles I wanted to print.

I tried taping my eyes shut so I could no longer read. I tried going cold turkey – installing a paper detection/rejection system at the door.

But then I found myself rifling through my neighbor’s recycle bins in the middle of the night seeking day-old paper.

So, now I’ve hit bottom and I’m here at Paperholics Anonymous. Can you help me?

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7 responses to “Paperholics Anonymous

  1. This is a wonderfully written piece.

    I suffer from a milder form of Paperholicism, not quite as bad as yours – the clutter drives me crazy so I have to chuck regularly.

    I’ve always had a passion for stationery, you’ll often find me sniffing new paper etc.

  2. OMG – stationary stores!! Even cheesy office supply stores.

    We have a store in Portland called Oblation Paper – where all the paper is handmade. Drool.

    I think paper has some magnetic property: you lay one piece down and immediately it attracts friends.

  3. You really do have a wonderful way with words (oh my! all those “w’s” on your blog) – but you do.

  4. Welcome to Paperholics Anon, Joy. We always welcome folks like you who can’t resist printing ‘stuff’ seen in an email or read from a blog. Magazines are great places to find paper too. I have had to limit my subscriptions, but can’t get to zero. More’s the pity!
    I wrote the neatest thought beside the cross word puzzle in last weeks paper . . . can’t remember what day. . . now I can’t find it and it was such a good idea. Trouble is, I can’t remember the paper nor the thought. Oh, well! I may find it in the pile on the kitchen table . . . or maybe it’s in the pile on the table beside the computer, or even the sack I put the day old newspaper into. I don’t have room for anymore on the computer table. Well, anyway, it’s good to know you’re out there suffering the same fate as I. If I find the note I made, I’ll send it to you, if I can remember who it was I promised to share with. Not only do I lose paper; I think I may be losing my mind. Wish me luck!

  5. Funny Mary 😀 me too, which is why I have to turf out regularly. If I can’t remember why I cut/tore it out, then it has to go….even if only out of consideration for the other members in my household.

    I think that the action of taking it out and putting it to one side actually helps it to embed it in my scattered brain.

  6. Exactly 24 hours after I wrote this, the phone rang and it was the editor of the local paper. He wanted to know if I’d like to join their community board – a small group that reads the paper carefully and meets monthly to help guide the rag towards greater balance, better coverage, etc etc. This means I’ll have to KEEP these goddamn clippings for a MONTH. But at least they have invited a known leftie.

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