The other night I spent five hours clearing out email from the work account I had for the nine years before I retired.
The account only allows deletion of one email at a time, there is no key for a group check off.
Each one has to be deleted at least twice, first from “Read” or “Sent” and then from “Trash,” before it is completely gone.
While some accounts automatically “empty the trash” every three months or so, this account doesn’t. It was all there. So into the virtual dumpster I dove.
In particular, I tackled the email folders I’d set up to record activity to be documented in my periodic professional review portfolios.
These portfolios are intended to provide Evidence of Excellence in Teaching; Evidence of Service Rendered to Department, University, Community, and to My Discipline; and Evidence of Continuing Scholarly Activity and Professional Development.
Looking over those messages, reliving those hard-fought battles and concerted efforts was much harder than going through a house full of old keepsakes.
- bittersweet documentation of hauling students to academic safety — and a few to even higher ground,
- reports of painstaking research conducted to provide (mandated) faculty input about university-wide problems (the solutions, we learned in the end, had been decided long before our reports were filed),
- notes from harried organizers gushing thanks for my service as a judge of project posters or essays for national scholarship contests
- carefully transmitted instructions for each of six consecutive years spent as a program director, reviewing student submissions for a regional research conference
- three invitations from far-flung colleagues to present formal talks about my research, and personal notes of thanks for having contributed those colloquia presentations
- respectful requests from attendees for copies of my presentation notes and asking for suggestions for further reading,
- an acceptance of a proposal for an article I hoped to write for a professional journal — and also my anguished withdrawal from the submission process…
But perhaps the most poignant of all was the email to submit a packet of application materials I’d compiled to nominate a respected colleague for a regional teaching award. Which he won.
But you know….
I don’t need to compile self-congratulatory notebooks anymore.
Files documenting my mathematical work are safely tucked far away from my emails.
All the service activity is noted in my curriculum vitae.
I’m real-life friends with many former students.
I dispatched all of these ghosts to the ether.