Some people have an orderly, sensible life. One that looks like a properly organized, perhaps even KonMari’d drawer: they’re born, they go to school, study hard, and get the degree(s). Then they launch a career, get married, and have children. They fulfill a dazzling career arc (they always know what to say when someone asks, “And what do you do?”). They launch their children well, grow old, retire, die.
My life doesn’t look anything like that. My life is a junk drawer. It can’t be categorized. It’s not tidy. I never know what to say when someone asks me what I do.
When we look inside, we can see the snarls and tangles of things I’d rather not have in there: infertility and struggles with my mental health. Autoimmune disease. Lots and lots of grief.
But if I rummage around a bit, there’s the time I went to Africa as Director of Communications for an international children’s charity. There’s the B & B my husband and I ran successfully for eight years. The short story I had published in a respected literary magazine.
Mostly what’s in there are relationships – with my husband and my dog, with the people I’ve loved well. Memories of good times and hopeful anticipation of more to come.
I’m pretty much past the age when I can have any kind of stellar career in anything. The grow old and die part is lurking in the back corners, as it is for most of us. At least, I hope it is. The die part is there for sure. I’d like to grow old first.
This junk drawer life isn’t the kind we celebrate. We’re meant to pick a career and stick with it. Not graduating from university is seen as a failure. Giving up on fertility treatments is, as well. Having a chronic disease makes you suspect.
It’s hard to look at my junk drawer life and not call myself a failure. I’ve been doing that a lot this past year. Stepping away from my work at the bakery feels like adding another failing to a long list of failings. I look at my junk drawer life, and all I see are the tangly, snarly, dusty bits.
You know when you’re looking for something in your junk drawer, and you stir the contents round and round and never find it, but if you stop, take a breath and close your eyes, when you open them again, waddaya know? There’s the thing you were looking for!
We junk drawer people need to learn to be gentle with ourselves. In a world so eager to tell us we’re wrong for living this way, we try so hard to find the things that we can offer up to prove our worth. We need to stop berating ourselves. Stop stirring up our lives, trying to create an order and cohesion that’s just not in us to achieve.
Take a breath, close your eyes and when you open them, presto! There’s the magic you were looking for.
I think the people with the tidy drawer lives are much more complex than they might at first appear. Their random interests and lurking insecurities are eclipsed by the bright shine of one aspect of their lives, usually what they do for a living. Get to know them, learn what’s behind their pretty Instagram pictures, and you see that they need as much kindness as we do.
When I was little and coming to the end of a cold or tummy bug, in that sweaty, restless, annoying phase, my Mum would open up her junk drawer and let me go exploring. In amongst the spent batteries and random bits of twine, I would find a page of a letter from my aunt, a shiny button, a souvenir from a trip a neighbour had taken. There were treasures to be found in amongst the mess. And that magic could not be contained or sorted or organized. The bits and pieces lost some of their lustre when they were dusted off and put back where they belonged.
The magic bits required the mess and tangle, the contrast with the mundane. Junk drawers are nonsensical and random. But everyone has at least one, which tells me they are far more essential than any of us wants to believe. To have a home with no randomness, no junk drawer, would be, I suspect, to have a home with no magic.
So my junk drawer life, with its random events, the nonsensical projects I’ve taken up and discarded, the pain that makes no sense, gives lustre to the other bits. There are treasures here, the people I love, the things I attempt. It’s not cohesive. I might never get it organized into anything that will allow me to answer the dreaded question of, “What do you do?” But there is magic here, and worth.
And maybe one day, I’ll be able to fully convince myself of this.
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