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Afterthoughts: Personal Archaeology

There’s no such thing as a small move.


Photo: Linny Morris

It was just two cubicles over, nothing dramatic. Two weeks after relocating, I can lean over and still see my old computer. But whether it’s to a distant city or the desk next door, moves have a way of uprooting you. Packing up your belongings—even if they’re just work things—stirs up a surprising number of memories and emotions. In my case, it was more than seven years’ worth of work things, accumulated over the course of 89 issues of HONOLULU Magazine.

Slouching cardboard boxes full of newspaper clippings, census data and scribbled notes, piles of Hawaiian music CDs, folders of documents for stories I had forgotten about even writing. When you’re whipping together an entire magazine every month, the issues disappear into the rearview mirror with amazing speed. The files, on the other hand, only disappeared under my desk. By the end, I had exactly enough space underneath there to squeeze my folded legs, and no more.

Here was a chance to start anew. And so I started yanking everything out of drawers, making piles, tossing as much as I could. It took two full work days.

illustration: daniel fishel

Some stuff was an easy throwaway. Ancient packs of ketchup and shoyu, long-expired aspirin and antacids, those forgotten story folders. Into the trash, all of them.

Other discoveries required more thought. What does one do with a bundle of handwritten postcards, mailed by a now-ex-girlfriend as she hop-scotched across Europe? On the one hand, Budapest! Copenhagen! “Much love!” On the other hand, “ex.”

I saved a few choice artifacts. A map of the Kahala Coast I taped together from Bryan’s Sectional photocopies in 2006 for a story on the 25 Most Expensive Homes on Oahu. We had hired a helicopter to photograph each estate from above, and I was the lucky navigator, pointing out targets to the photographer. Unfolding this weathered map at my desk, I could suddenly envision leaning out of the open cockpit, paper and tape flapping furiously in the breeze. Good times.

My favorite find was an old tool of the trade: The original Panasonic RN-405 voice recorder I bought while still a journalism student at UH in 2001, complete with microcassettes of early interviews. I know, I know, everyone older than 35 is gagging right now at hearing a 21st-century gadget described as old. But man, does that thing look no-nonsense and clunky, lined up next to my current, digital recorder. It makes me feel strangely protective.

In the end, only a small fraction of my professional belongings made it to the new cubicle. Everything’s in its right place; there’s plenty of room to stretch my legs. I don’t expect the new-desk smell to last long, though. There’ll be plenty of HONOLULU issues speeding across this desk soon enough.


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Honolulu Magazine April 2020
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