In one of the ubiquitous articles on resolutions that are annually dragged out, in more or less the same form, shortly before or after the New Year, I was admonished to give up cleaning out junk drawers — that’s what they are for and no point in going for any order. This tip — if I take it — might end up saving me 15 minutes in 2014, just in time for me to have found a whole new purpose for even having one at all.
The other morning I pried open the kitchen junk drawer (the one most of us have) looking for an eraser or a pencil sharpener or a yellow highlighter. Like so many other mornings.
I rifled through that drawer that holds, clipped from the thick Sunday paper, coupons for name brands and products I will never use. They sit long expired on the bottom, hidden beneath the cap-less pens, the pencil stubs, the dried out glue sticks. And always ripped open envelopes: envelopes with messages on the front telling me not to discard them or that the contents hold important, lifesaving, or at the least life changing information. Envelopes that held IRA statements, boasting of 0.5% interest earned: that I have five days to decide whether to still trust this bank with my funds for another quarter (always tempting to cash out but an option never chosen).
It is an always slightly open drawer holding envelopes whose contents urged me to switch to another credit card company with momentarily higher interest and better terms; from left wing NGOs in Israel describing flickering electric lights and wire fences, begging me to give generously. Envelopes which bore year old holiday cards from relatives who worship Jesus or walk on coals.
Some of these are kept with the promise I make myself and break daily to transfer the address to a battered book holding an adult lifetime’s worth of contacts: a full third of them crossed out, dead.
Some of them, most of them, these envelopes of varying size and origin, tossed in that drawer, that classic junk drawer, to be repurposed (or so I want to believe) instead of wasting clean paper, even paper torn from the back pages of speckled composition books. Paper that would better be used for disciplined Morning Pages or completing writing prompts, or composing fully realized verse.
Envelopes saved for making grocery lists, always the same: crunchy old-fashioned peanut butter, bananas, cheap Merlot, dark chocolate chips. Envelopes saved for the litany of chores, some of which get done: front window washed, bedding changed, upstairs toilet scrubbed (but never the rust stains). And all the tasks, the projects, the dreams that are scribbled on these envelopes, stuffed in this junk drawer, and then never begun.
Like so much of any of our lives, our beyond midlife lives.
I read somewhere recently that Emily Dickinson wrote envelope poems, choosing this way of writing and preserving her hieroglyphic scratchings, refusing to put them to “commercial test.” She had stopped wearing tea dresses and parlor gowns and took to wearing, we are told, a simple white housedress with “capacious” pockets for holding odds and ends — including envelopes. She wrote at least 52 of them: those oddly capitalized and punctuated verses, captured on these small and cluttered surfaces, her words built around and between the handwritten sender’s names and return addresses, the cancelled postage stamps.
Writing around and between the torn flaps or the ones carefully slit with a letter opener. Every smudge, wrinkle, and fold helping to shape her unique lines and stanzas.
And then stitched together and made genius.
Don’t have any illusion (or perhaps only a sliver of illusion) about my own literary gifts, but I have decided to mimic this poet’s practice: to give an intriguing new twist to the afternoon’s previously perfunctory activity of watching for the mail truck, taking it out of the box we purchased at a crafts fair somewhere in Upstate New York, ripping open the mostly circulars and bills — and remembering intermittently to recycle the tossed papers and envelopes. Nowadays, I am very intentionally examining the latter: the front for self- addresses and logos and warnings NOT TO BEND, the backs for messages about non-profit statuses and other incidental information. I am counting up to that 52 mark: how many days and weeks to my goal of having exactly the same number on which to set my own tiny, wiggly ink printed lines.
36 to date, many repeats. About which I am curiously cheerful, pragmatic, and purposeful.