I have been striving recently to rid my workplace of the claptrap accumulated over a quarter century, and the exercise has taxed me more in the emotional sense than the physical.
Although I’ll concede that the paperwork of certain federal agencies makes the output of a Tolstoy or a Michener seem as trivial as notes jotted on a cocktail napkin. A knee-high stack of that stuff can aggravate any incipient vertebrae issues if you’re not careful to employ the proper lifting posture.
The feds’ $21 trillion debt might seem like a lot, but I can scarcely imagine what the toll might be were the people who write environmental impact statements paid by the word.
Unless of course they are, and I’ve been laying the blame unfairly on ICBMs and entitlements.
As for the mental effects of this endeavor, I can dispose of a stack of inch-thick government reports from the Clinton era, their covers barely legible beneath a ruff of dust, with no more regret than I’d feel while pitching a loaf of mold-spotted bread into the trash can.
I wonder only about what curious strain of inertia compelled me to resist the purge for so many years.
Except then I get to rummaging through a drawer and I come across a handwritten note from someone who died a decade ago but who once appreciated something I had written.
And I pause, savoring the kind words and mourning the loss of their author.
Or I excavate a notepad I had for some reason stashed but long since forgotten, and reading a couple lines propels me back to the dim and distant day when I scrawled the words which at that moment, with a deadline looming, seemed so vital.
Chipping away at these bookshelf and desk strata, the stories preserved in words rather than in stone, seems to me a pursuit with something of the flavor of archaeology or geology. I feel a twinge of excitement as I reveal each layer, the giddiness of the unknown.
The Herald will be moving soon to new quarters, a few blocks to the southeast.
Time has weight, as anyone knows who has amassed enough of it that taking its measure can induce something akin to hallucination. And 26 years fall heavily, the nostalgia sometimes pleasant but also sometimes oppressive.
It seems to me passing strange, for instance, that when I first sat here and watched my words appear on the screen, I would have assumed the internet was a device possibly used to snare small animals, the date of Sept. 11 had no significance, and I would have laughed at the notion of putting “smart” in front of “phone.”
Also, Leo Adler was still alive.
Leaving a familiar place after such a span is no minor occasion, whether that place is where you live or where you work. This is not the equivalent of switching the color of your kitchen curtains, or scooting the sofa across the living room.
My habits have become so ingrained that I wonder how many times I’ll flick my left turn signal at Auburn and Second, a motion I’ve made many thousands of times, before I train myself out of the routine, as a man might correct a dog which is prone to chewing on the furniture.
Probably I will adapt more quickly than I expect to.
Most of us, I suspect, are more malleable than we know.
Still and all, work, whether we like to admit or not, occupies more of our time than just about anything else besides sleeping.
(And work might outpeg even slumber, for those unfortunate chronic insomniacs among us.)
When I sit at my work desk I feel something like the same continuity, the same reassurance of the comfortable and the familiar, as when I recline on my couch at home with a book in my hand, or prop the pillows on my bed and point the remote control at the TV.
I have become so accustomed to the view from my office chair that I notice only when something has changed — a poster has been moved or a plaque taken off the wall.
My fingers fall to the keyboard with the thoughtless ease of long practice. My coffee mug — the very one, emblazoned with the name of my alma mater, the University of Oregon, from which I’ve taken my daily caffeine sustenance ever since I started here — occupies the same slab of fake wood grain just in front of my computer monitor.
The desk and the computer and the coffee mug will make the short journey with me to the new office.
(In the interests of reducing clutter, a couple of file cabinets will not.)
But so will the people who produce the Baker City Herald. And that, ultimately, is what matters most.
There is, I’ll admit, something special about this building where I have spent so many hours engaged in work which I believe is meaningful, and indeed integral, to this city.
But there is nothing magical about this structure of wood and brick.
A good deal of the work that goes into this newspaper doesn’t happen within these walls — or within any walls, come to that.
It’s always been so, since 1870.
Reporters go where they need to go to talk with the people without which there would be no newspaper at all.
So do our advertising representatives.
We can’t photograph life in Baker County from inside a building, and it’s awfully difficult to put your newspaper in your box from 10 blocks away.
And no matter what they say about delivery drones, I’m pretty sure those things wouldn’t make it through a single Baker City thunderstorm or blizzard.
Soon I’ll be sitting in a different room, looking through a different window at a different scene.
But I’ll still be sitting in, and looking at, Baker City.
The title printed in fancy script at the top of every issue’s front page will be the same title, and the contents within will be assembled with the same diligence and care that we’ve put into this business for almost a century and a half.
So long ago, that was, that there were Civil War veterans around who had yet to find the first gray hair snagged in their comb.
It’s a span that makes 26 years seem a trifling span, and the difference between one building and another a mere detail.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.