Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Drawer, Part 2: The Drawer

Dear Friends,

Lauren is a wonderful singer. I think her default mode is 'plaintive musical theatre ingenue,' but she can croon, whisper, scream, rap, and belt. She can sound sultry, earnest, soulful, operatic, or vapid, and do so in almost any accent, if that's what the song requires. Still, sometimes it's nice to let her exist in her natural element, and this month's Hard Taco song, "Impossible," is one of those times.

Okay, now back to The Drawer. To recap last month's digest, my childhood bedroom has a desk and that desk has a drawer. Until recently, that drawer was home to things I wrote, things I drew, letters from friends, and letters from more-than-friends. The earliest dated entry is from when I was twelve... a D&D adventure idea printed in dot-matrix on three continuous, fan-folded pages.

Things slowed down when I left for college, but I always fed The Drawer fresh letters and poems when I came home from my Summers as a camp counselor. By time I was 20, The Drawer had reached its resting state. It was a prehistoric mosquito that had sucked my teenage blood and would spend the next several millennia trapped in amber.

This July, I finally caved in and packed the contents of The Drawer into grocery bags to bring back to Michigan. I put photos into Bag 1, things I wrote into Bag 2, and letters written to me into Bag 3.

The sorting was easy and engaging in the way that organizing a closet can be once you get into it. Bag 1 was particularly delightful. I got a huge kick out of the wallet-sized 8th grade graduation photos of girls in my grade... The fashion choices. The innocence. The feathered edges. The name of the photography studio (Worzella!) in cursive in the bottom right of each picture. It was just wonderful.

I was expecting the same pleasant rush from Bag 2, but getting inside the head of my 17-year-old self turned out to be less comfortable. I saw patterns, hints of who I am now. I recognized threads of fond memories, but they were transfused with an unfamiliar darkness and tension. 17-year-old brain was a confusing place where minor environmental stimuli triggered intense emotions. 17-year-old brain believed it could conquer the galaxy but was paralyzed by microscopic failures.  Logic was recognized but ignored. 17-year-old brain never got sick of Pink Floyd. It was so torn between expression and repression that neither was successful.

Bag 2 had an essay to no one that literally asked, "Why me?" There was the first draft of a letter I would eventually write to break up with someone. And there were dozens of Jaberwocky-esque nonsense poems. 17-year old brain wrote words that were crisp and ominous but came together to mean absolutely nothing.  

"My spattered stools" describes this whole thing rather well, actually.  
Isn't it nice to know that our Spiny Weavers are so cozy with each other?

But Bag 2 wasn't all brooding gibberish. There was some cheerful nonsense, as well, such as this song that was probably inspired by a Life Savers slogan. 

The artist's vision is that you will sing this entire thing exactly twice.

And on to Bag 3: Letters.

When you send an email, a copy of it goes into your outbox, so you're never really giving anything away. One of the reasons I love recording music (as opposed to, say, playing music) is that I end up with a thing that I can share and keep for myself at the same time.  A hand-written letter, however, is a true gift. It is a piece of the author's creative soul, given freely without any hope of finding its way home again.

Bag 3 had a hundred of these gifts, and reading them gave the false sense that these people who I had not seen in years or decades were in my life again. I laughed a little and cringed a lot. I announced to Lauren that we would definitely still be friends with so-and-so if we lived in the same city. I admitted to myself that so-and-so might be the exception.

Perhaps the hardest thing about Bag 3 was that the one-sided nature left me feeling a little voyeuristic. These letters were theirs, not mine. I was plundering other people's DNA from amber-encrusted mosquitos without their permission. 

So I went on Facebook and announced that I cleaned out The Drawer. I tagged people whose letters I had, and volunteered to return or share them. Some of the authors were brave enough to let me post snapshots of their letters sight unseen, while others asked for copies to be shared privately. More than half of the people I tagged didn't respond at all. Maybe they just don't get on Facebook very often. Maybe they already Mari Kondo'd the memory of me from their lives, and don't need the clutter.  Or maybe they just don't want to spend another terrible second in their teenage headspace.

Somehow, we all survived our 17-year-old brains. We weren't crushed to death by self-pity or kicked off the planet for saying too many dumb things. Congratulations, us!

With warmest regards,