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Paper Girl

February 6, 2014

An organizer I once hired in desperation told me that everyone has a collection, and mine happens to be paper.

I confess to being a “piler” too. I have stacks of books and magazines on my dresser, by my bedside, and underneath the table in a basket. I usually only attack these piles when, like Herbert in the Miss Piggle Wiggle story who never picks up his toys, I can’t get to what I need because of all the stuff in the way. My hairbrush might be hidden under layers of paper I’ve amassed — in-progress writings, half-read magazines, blank pads for scribbling lists or brilliant ideas. Just paper, paper, paper.

I treasure it, I realize. My children’s once-in-a-lifetime-snapshots-of-a-moment-in-time crayon drawings. My oh-so-precious journals and notebooks from the past that should probably stay there. Old calendars with gorgeous pictures, inspirational quotes, and a year’s worth of living chronicled in its small squares.

Paper may be passe, but it’s so much more to me.

Yes, I am capable of throwing out and often do, but I know I keep things I shouldn’t. It’s just so hard. Jettisoning all of the Disney World buttons our family got while celebrating my recent birthday feels like I’m dismissing the specialness of the trip. Imprinted with each of our names, they’re little signs made to be saved. Maybe my children want these! I need to remember to ask! So, the buttons sit, waiting patiently on my dresser for the verdict on their fate.

I love and dread walking into a bookstore. Like a dieter in a bakery, I am tempted. Row upon row of sweet delights. Who can resist?

The magazine rack in the grocery store line always beckons, but I usually manage to put the publication back before buying. I’m one of those people you see reading and holding the magazine with one hand while blindly placing items on the belt with the other.

“M’am, can you push your cart up, please?”

“Oh!” I say, looking up and hurriedly stuffing “Allure” back in the wrong rack. What was the name of that Editor’s-Pick lipstick again?

Paper for me means information, inspiration, emotion. If I throw it away, I might lose what lured me in the first place. I think, when I’m old and forced to slow down, to sit and contemplate, I can take solace in sifting through all that paper, all those memories. Maybe then, and only then, will I throw them out.

We yearn to capture experience, to own it, absorb it into our bones. I remember when I was 12 and my cousin Margaret, a poet, took me to visit our aunt in Washington, D.C. After the trip, she wrote a poem titled “Smithsonian Album” that describes much of what we saw and did.

Contained in a slim volume on my bookshelf, the poem is an ode to our time together, presented and preserved on (naturally) paper. Yet only now, decades later, do I see that the poem also touches on  — almost casually, like a flip of the hair — that impossible yearning in all of us. The ending:

What will you save?
The gusty afternoon
a bit of laughter
the pin-prick of aching feet.
And what of “relief”
and Joan Miro
what of Rodin, abstract
the green mall
the water buffalo?

All these picture postcards–
learn to keep them
learn to let them go.

(Reprinted with permission from Margaret Boothe Baddour. Click on title above or here to see full poem.)

The front of a Mother's Day card my daughter made. She has no idea what an accurate depiction of it really is.

The front of a Mother’s Day card that my daughter made — an unwittingly accurate depiction of what my world sounds like.


  1. Ashley F. Wall permalink

    Beautifully written and true about holding onto meaningful experiences. I can even relate to the piles!


    • Carrington Tarr permalink

      Thank you! And coming from someone so organized, I appreciate the “pile” commiseration! 🙂


  2. Helen B. permalink

    Carrington, I love this post! Your writing continues to impress me. Your humor is perfect. And I love the poem my mom wrote about spending time with you at the Smithsonian. Very glad to know your blog now. Will continue to read!


    • Carrington Tarr permalink

      Helen, thank you for the kind words! Did you know that poem before? I now more than ever appreciate your mom’s talent & wisdom at such a young age – about your age now, in fact. 🙂


  3. I can relate to this post so very much. I have too many papers, photos, books, and never enough place to put them, or enough time (or organizational skills) to organize them. But – like you – I keep them for a reason!


    • Carrington Tarr permalink

      Daina, thank you! I’m back in the messy-desk mode where I pass by it without looking because there are so many piles I need to go through – lots of stuff that actually needs to be thrown out and is definitely not worth saving. In this case, it’s not a matter of letting go – it’s just getting going. 🙂


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