Clear Behind, Work Ahead

I got a message that an old email account of mine had been used to send spam. Well, that's disconcerting. It's an account through an organization I'm still part of but I no longer use that address. I logged in, changed the password, then looked through what had been sent. Russian spam, God love those little bastards. Scrolling past those I saw messages from the past showing all the ways in which I used to be logged into the web. It got me working.

Years ago I had accounts on so many things I can no longer remember a tenth of them. Many of the sites are defunct or have been largely forgotten. One, of which I was an early subscriber, had a couple million members then but gets fewer than a thousand hits today. I still have the account. Finding all this was like that moment when the closet is so full it won't shut. I started clearing, removing the breached email account from my online presence, learning what trails I have left behind.

The process is tedious but I don't mind tedious sometimes. It reminds me of a summer I rooted out the grape vine in our backyard, cutting, digging, clipping, pulling, ripping, and carrying brush to the curb. That summer I needed a project. I sweat and swore at it for hours at a time over a week or two and when it was done I smiled. Two years later the whole thing was back as if I had done nothing because there's no getting rid of grape vine without lethal doses of roundup or napalm. I'll never clean up my online presence either. The roots go too deep and have spread. Still, it's a useful exercise.

For some reason the work got me down. The hacked account, when I first created it, was going to be my way forward, my way out of a job I'm still in. It was to connect me with bigger, better things. It did that, but I got involved with idiocy and foolishness which became a total mess and near disaster. These kept me from doing my best work, from believing in myself, and from making good choices. Cleaning out the old online roots could have felt empowering as if I was starting anew but I felt depressed over mistakes I made, opportunities I missed, and the feeling that I won't ever get where I want to go. A couple hours into pruning and pulling internet roots, I took my depression to bed and sleep. I dreamed of being lost in a house the size of a shopping mall filled with people I don't want to know. I kept trying to get away but was called back again, again, and again while the lights in the mall/house grew dimmer and darker.

It snowed hard that night and I woke to eight inches of heavy snow in the driveway and on the sidewalks. I made coffee, took that and my pen to the nook to write Morning Pages, and found myself having an idea for the future. I wrote it on a post-it noteand finished Morning Pages. The idea still percolating, I pulled on boots, coat, gloves, and wool hat, walked out to the garage, pushed the button for the door, and grabbed the shovel. Before the door had opened all the way I dug into the snow and counted "one." It was nine degrees with a stiff wind and snow still falling. "Two," I counted as I threw the next shovel of snow up and over the wall.

I imagined a clear driveway but it takes a lot of shoveling and the snow was still coming. One hundred strokes in I had a section cleared to the blacktop. "But there's so much to go," I thought and began figuring how many shovels of snow it would all take. I stopped halfway through the figuring and looked back at the area I had cleared. It was already well dusted with snow. "I will never be done," I said in a Charlie Brown voice. A thought came to me and when I said again, "I will never be done," the tone was different. I've cleared snow out of that driveway for eighteen years. I pushed the shovel in and threw snow up over the wall. "One hundred one," I said into the wind and snow. "One hundred two," I said throwing another.

It took 941 shovels-full to clear the driveway and all the sidewalks. I took a break to pet the big black dog who is the neighborhood mayor and speak to his owner. I took another to say good morning to my wife and our smaller black dog as they went for a walk/run. I took several short breaks to recall my father clearing snow when I was a child and checking on me clearing snow from the parking lot of his funeral home when I was in school. I imagined him in the driveway, me telling him to just talk and not worry about helping me shovel. I kept counting each full shovel of snow as I shifted it up onto the banks.

When I finished the sidewalks I put the shovel on the wall of the garage and took down the scraper. An inch of new snow lay where I had begun shoveling an hour before. I scraped back down to blacktop then stood in the open garage to consider what I had done.

The snow was coming down and would cover the driveway and sidewalks. In two hours I would shovel again but the snow would be lighter than the overnight accumulation. "I will never be done," I said again looking up into the infinite grey.

This spring the grapevine will come back. I may rip it out again. I could use that kind of project, something long-term, difficult, and with no hope of being completely finished.

I may try to clean up my online profile some more, deleting old accounts, unsubscribing from more and more clutter. There will remain fragments of me out there and every so often some cretin will hack in and spam people. That's just one way in which the world works.

Looking over my shoulder I see the stuff of my past: mistakes, projects that didn't work out as I hoped, the continuing misery of my job. But I also see that I clear down to the blacktop in places, make piles of brush at the curb, and delet some of the detritus of my online past. I nod twice at that view over my shoulder, turn around, dig the shovel in and resume counting as I push on through whatever comes down, clearing a wide path to wherever it is I'm going.