I’m writing this to take a break from throwing out my life. For more than three decades I worked as a scientist, mostly for various consulting firms in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. About two years ago I resigned from my last employer to become a writer. Part of me held out the option of going back into consulting if the writing gig wasn’t going to work. That part has moved on; it’s the writing life for me.
So it’s time to throw out the remaining dregs of that life. One residual reminder is a Rolodex. Yes, an actual Rolodex that spins so you can pull out the individual cards of people with whom you want to keep in contact. I haven’t counted, but it’s likely my Rolodex has hundreds of cards. It’s a big Rolodex.
In fact, I have more than one Rolodex (one I’ll keep is smaller and contains a select number of contacts for my new career). I also previously excised the cards from a slightly more modern business card box, some other company’s attempt at an alternative to the copyrighted Rolodex brand. In it were hundreds of business cards. But this Rolodex is one I’ve had for probably 25 years. It actually has blank cards to write the name and address on. As time passed it also accumulated the newer cards with plastic sleeves, the kind you slide a business card into so you didn’t have to write the information from scratch. There are even business cards glued to plastic pieces so the card could be fit directly into the slots on the wheel, which included tabs for the letters of the alphabet (plus a handful of tabs for heavy-use subdivisions like “Fo,” “Ch,” and “Si”).
This Rolodex had been largely superseded by other Rolodexes long before my contact lists started accumulating on Excel spreadsheets, Palm Pilots, iPhones, and fancy contact management software tied into the company network. Now most of them are going into the recycle bin. Some of the cards are for people long forgotten and companies long out of business. Others are for colleagues that moved on to new companies, or a series of new companies. Some of the people have retired; some have died.
I think I held onto these oldest cards out of a sense of holding on to my professional life, even as that life moved on to the proverbial bigger and better things. Some of my unwillingness to remove my connections was to hedge my bets in case I wanted to do consulting work, which is what many folks do when they retire from their careers.
This cleaning out “the old work stuff” started as a necessity to free up space in the garage, but it’s become much more. I haven’t retired from my career, I’ve changed careers. I still work as hard as I did before, perhaps even harder now that every day is a work day and every activity is a potential inspiration for a future project. I’m constantly working on the next book, or doing the traveling that both enriches my current life and serves as source material for future books.
And yest, as I dump hundreds of old business cards, I save a few. Mostly for people I want to follow up with to see how they’ve been doing since we lost touch. Others are memory triggers for my eventual memoirs. And still others because seeing their card made me smile.
I’m not throwing out my life; I’m making room for more of my life.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.