Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Paper boy

Being a writer in my era has meant a life of dealing with paper.

I’ve got two file cabinets filled with papers — many play scripts and developmental notes and drafts from various productions and readings and workshops, plus comic-book scripts and comic-strip scripts and essays and a well-into-it book about playwriting and many short stories and some poems and files of ideas and correspondence and copies of my reviews and God knows what else. That’s not even all of it. I have crates of papers from much earlier — I’ve been at this since I was a boy — in the former home office and in the attic.

I can safely say it’s been a weighty endeavor, because today I moved all of that paper, as well as those two file cabinets, from my corporate office to my writing office at home. Some of my papers have moved from Galloway Township, NJ (my parents’ house) to Ocean City, NJ (where I lived in the mid-80’s) to my first apartment in Burbank, CA, then my first house in Burbank, then to my second house in Burbank, then to my first corporate office, then to my second corporate office, then to my third corporate office (the company has kept growing), then, finally today, back home.

They seem to be getting heavier. Or something else is going on (I can’t imagine what), because moving them around is growing more taxing.

How can I have all this, when I’ve been writing on computers since my 20s? Well, you do printouts. And you edit by hand on those printouts. And then you keep various drafts to compare. And then you have correspondence. (Or, at least, you used to.) And here’s the big thing: You find out the hard way that digital records are never safe, so you always print out a copy.

Let me say it again: Digital files are never safe.

I know this, because I just lost some audio files I’d had for years. Why? Because they were done via AOL, and are no longer playable. (Although my good friend Joe Stafford, who owns some ancient tech, made a valiant effort to retrieve them for me.) One of them is my then 3-year-old son sending an audio file to Joe wherein he extols the virtues of the Flintstones movie.

Okay, you say, I couldn’t have saved those on paper anyway. Well, I have a whole bunch of plays and short stories from the 1980s and early 1990s that now read as .exe files. Why? Because, it turns out, they are on an old version of Appleworks, and now nothing will read them. Lucky for me — I have printed-out versions in my files.

Almost 20 years ago, Nicholson Baker wrote a book about libraries’ assault on paper as they switched to digital, and what was being lost in the process. His warning that some digital formats wouldn’t be playable in the future, and that the seemingly flimsiest format, paper, would prove to be the most durable wasn’t lost on me.

Digital has its place (he says, as he writes a blog post). But I still love paper, and not just my own. I own hundreds and hundreds of books, and I add more by the week. I love the feel of them and the weight. I love the snapping sound of closing a hardback book, and of running my hand across creamy illustrated paper. I love the smell of books and papers.

I’ll always be a paper boy.

One Response to “Paper boy”

  1. Dan Says:

    Hooray for Paper!

    As a collector (in a small way) I love the smell of old books in the morning. And the tactile sensation of feeling the book itself shift weight from right to left as I get toward the end.

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