Friday, September 12, 2008

Tidying Up

I’ve been reflecting lately on the organization of my email folders. It’s a trivial thing, much like cleaning one’s house. The trick, of course, is to find a place to put everything, but what interests me is the choice of storage place. Ideally we find a location that’s intuitive enough to find the item again, but there’s also the question of how the storage place reflects the item’s place in our lives. My old sweaters go into cedar chests pushed into the corners of various rooms. My old love letters go in boxes under my bed. So, too, with email. I’ve taken a closer look at the way I organize my virtual space, and much like the way I organize my house, email storage tells me something about my past, something about my relationship with the items I’m storing, and something about changes in my life.

Very few of my friends get their own folder. Most of them are subsumed in the "fun" folder (where I file anything that is remotely pleasing or funny or social or just has nowhere else to go) or the "Blackwell" folder if meeting these friends had anything to do with my time at Blackwell Publishing where I used to work. These are usually co-workers or editors from other publishers or authors who have become friends.

The “fun” folder is where I file emails from friends who don’t have their own folders, which always makes me wonder what that says about our relationship. On Facebook each friend has his or her own profile. On email many of my friends get lumped together. Seems undignified somehow and I occasionally feel guilty about it. My cousin Sam, for example, deserves his own folder. He shouldn’t be sharing a folder with Elizabeth, who I barely know and hardly like (but whose correspondence I need to keep track of nonetheless).

Some of the friends who have their own folders are no longer close friends. "Barbara", for example, is someone I was very close with years ago. We were working on our PhDs together. She finished, I didn’t. She moved to Scotland and we drifted apart but now and then I look at that folder and remember not only how close we were but also why we were close. Looking through some of our older correspondence, going through all the digital details of our lives, I realize how many things we gabbed about. But in some ways it’s like reading someone else’s mail; the struggles and events we discussed might be generally familiar to everyone, but any direct access to the urgency of those emotions is long gone. I’m not sure what to do with “Barbara”. To stick her into “fun” would be to diminish her significance in my life. Yet we barely speak anymore.

Another folder belongs to Rob, even though we were never really close friends. I met Rob on years ago and though there were never any sparks between us, we had a great connection and we stayed in touch. It's significant to me that I gave him his own folder. I’m not sure I can explain why, but even now I wouldn’t change it. Somehow he’s not someone to lump in with the rest.

“Jon and Jerome” have a joint folder because I met Jon through Jerome and for a brief time there were a lot of three-way messages.

Jeff, my boyfriend, and Peter, my ex, each have their own folders.

“Tami” has a folder even though much of the content is content-less: “Thanks!!”, “You’re welcome”, “Have a great day!”, etc. This style is uniquely Tami and so the folder and its content-less content stays despite the amount of space it occupies. To delete the “you’re welcome” emails would be to strip her of her Taminess and her Taminess is the reason we’re friends, so…

Katie’s messages all go into A-Blog. Which brings me to the folder-naming scheme.

My various essay, book ideas and miscellaneous writing projects are in folders named A-[insert folder name here] so that they’re sorted at the top of the alphabetical list of folders. The folders named Z-[insert name] are the ones I don't really want on my radar daily but I want to keep around just in case. They get sorted at the bottom. There are 9 A- folders and 4 Z-folders. Once a writing assignment is completed, it changes from an A- folder to a Z- folder.

Eminem has his own folder because I used to be obsessed with him. At one point I started making up little stories about meeting him and also commented in detail on his music, particularly his lyrical genius. That folder stays. Forever.

I’ve always wondered how others organize their personal email folders.

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