What’s in Your Filing Cabinet?

What’s in your filing cabinet? Or perhaps saved to your hard drive or Cloud storage? Are the drawers or folders filled with wonders that you return to daily? Or are they cluttered with junk you don’t even remember finding interesting or useful? I have to admit, I still like paper for many things and a year ago when I was new here and trying to find policies and procedures, I found myself longing for a plain old three-ring binder to leaf through. It would have been simpler.

So, it’s no surprise to find that I still have a four-drawer filing cabinet at home with lots of paper files from, well, from my entire career. I also have an Evernote account with bunches of stuff in it – not from my entire career. And this proves my point above. I know what’s in my filing cabinet and for the most part where it is. Not so much in my Evernote files. And my filing cabinet doesn’t cost me a subscription fee every year.

But it isn’t infinite in its capacity and from time to time, I pull things out and fill the recycle bin in the office. Last time I was home I made a bit of progress on this task and while I did get rid of quite a bit, I kept some things too. And some of them are very old. My oldest file folder has a drying label on it that is curling off, typewritten on it is the word “Whimsies”. It’s a random collection of things that made me smile or are just plain silly. One of them is actually a purple printed mimeographed sheet of paper. Many of the items in there come from the early days of email when people sent around jokes, silly quotes, lists of things. As I was looking at one set from a list-serve  – by the way, that’s a group of people usually with a professional interest who sign up to be part of an on-going conversation and also share what they find funny – any way, as I was looking at a couple of these emails, I realized that these were the seeds of today’s memes. Same idea, no graphics.

From this file, I have three different versions of a “Final Final”. Here are a few of my favorite questions from the ultimate final examination:
Physics: Explain the nature of matter. Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of any other kind of thought.
Medicine: You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze and a bottle of scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have fifteen minutes.
Music: Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum. You will find a piano under your seat.
Epistemology: Take a position for or against truth. Prove the validity of your position
Extra Credit: Define the universe; give three examples.

In the file marked “Ideas”, I have a copy of Dr. Jim Rhatigan’s, then Senior VPSA for Wichita State University, NASPA speech from 1999 on Storytelling. It was probably the first time I heard a professional talk about the importance of stories in our work. Here’s a quote:

“David Schon puts it this way: ‘There is a high, hard ground where practitioners can make effective use of research-based theory and technique and there is a swampy lowland where situations are confusing, messy, incapable of technical solution. The difficulty is that the problems of the high ground, however great their technical interest, are so often relatively unimportant…while in the swamp are the problems of greatest concern.’ Shall the practitioners stay on the high, hard ground where they can practice rigorously, but are so constrained, he wonders, ‘or shall they descend into the swamp where they can engage the most important and challenging problems…’ I want us to remember as we consider his question, that the swamps can also be described as wetlands, places of mystery and beauty when closely observed, yet elusive, aloof from final answers.”

Rhatigan goes on to talk about the importance of story in our world and in our work. In a different speech, he told another story, one of the funniest and most self-aware stories I’ve heard. Rhatigan calls it “The Day I Was Jealous of Jesus.” If you want to read it, it’s printed in either Stories of Inspiration: Lessons and Laughter in Student Affairs or its sequel, More Stories of Inspiration. Both are available through NASPA.

I also have a speech from Margaret J. Barr (Peggy) VPSA Emerita from Northwestern University. Entitled Our Future in Student Affairs and Higher Education, she gave it at TACUSPA in October 2001, about a month after 9/11. She began by referencing how much the world had changed in the past few weeks, but ended with timeless advice. To share a few: “Enjoy your work. For if you do not get satisfaction and reward from what you do, it is time to move on for you are in the wrong profession.
Take some risks.
Build bridges.
Get involved with your community.
Take time to reflect and smell the roses of life.”

I hope everyone reading this has at least one or two places where you stuff stuff that caught your attention for some reason, made you smile, inspired you, or intrigued you in some way. I also hope when you run out of room in the file cabinet or the electronic folder, and you need to clear out, you take some time to pay attention to what you saved. It may not be worth keeping any longer, but remembering what caught your eye originally is worth the time. Paying attention to what you saved is a way of remembering what was important to you in the past which is a way of paying attention to life as you live it.

So, what’s in your filing cabinet? Why was it worth saving? What were you paying attention to? I found my troll through the past interesting and hope you do too.

Take care,


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