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Clearing Out my Junk Drawer

Sam Moore

Asterisms, Gabriel Orozco at the Guggenheim (2013)

At the peak of adolescence, I stumbled across the most adolescent of musicals: Spring Awakening. This rock-musical adaptation of an early 20th century German play was, and is, full of both light and darkness: with songs about growing up, about bodies and sexuality, and even about depression and suicide. But those weren’t the things that stuck the first few times I listened to the soundtrack, or watched a recording of the show online. The thing that had the most staying power was a twee, acoustic song called ‘My Junk.’ I learned the chords, like I did to most of the songs on the album, and would fumble my way through it alongside the recording. Even now, as I look at this writing about first discovering it, the fingers of my left hand try to remember the order of the chords, and the places my fingers would need to be in, the act of hearing and learning the song acting as an echo of the past.

The song has obvious references to a more morbid kind of junk: shooting up, and trying to kick the habit. But what was interesting to me then, and still is now, is the way in which ‘Junk’ as detritus and ephemera becomes meaningful because of the memory and the person associated with it. This power comes from the simplest of act, and turns it into something else; to look at an old picture, or pic up something once thought to be discarded, makes the past tangible, with objects, lost and found, serving as a kind of time machine, a way to return to what was. In other words, junk comes to represent a kind of haunting:

It’s like I’m your lover or more like your ghost. (Duncan Sheik/Steven Sater)

It isn’t just the lingering of loneliness that turns these things into an almost magical kind of junk; the act of desiring, of wanting someone, ends up slipping into the wider world. The classic romantic declaration that “This reminded me of you,” is something that can give another person a great deal of power. “This reminded me of you” is another way of saying: my world kept finding places for you. I kept putting you in them.

I go up to my room, turn the stereo on
Shoot up the you, and the you is some song
. (Duncan Sheik/Steven Sater)

Almost a decade later, Spring Awakening has become another kind of junk: a soundtrack to adolescence, a way to remember and return to a different version of myself, for better or worse. Then, I read Tommy Pico’s Junk, a book-length poem of refuse, refusal, pop culture, longing, and loss. The kind of thing that teenage me would have held onto for dear life. The poem is freewheeling, associative, making fascinating connections that while seeming impossible one moment seem like the most natural things in the world in the next. Pico understands the mundanity that exists not only in love, but in danger. Early on in the poem, he writes that:

 …not havin a bf in so long I forget that something as mundane as holding hands makes a target of us. (Tommy Pico)

This idea of the mundane is one that permeates Junk, although through Pico’s rapid-fire poetics, what might seem mundane is lifted up to something higher, full of an understanding of the way that small, simple actions, or things that have been left behind, can be embodied with great power.

I suppose Junk is also a way of not letting go. (Tommy Pico)

I’m a hoarder. Always have been, and probably always will be. I greedily hold on to every theatre ticket I’ve ever used, ostensibly to use them as bookmarks. This doesn’t stop them from endlessly piling up on my windowsill, always in danger of being knocked over by a particularly strong breeze. And those breezes come pretty frequently in my room: if the wind can constantly cause my bedroom door to slam shut, then my poor stack of theatre tickets don’t stand a chance.

But the tickets aren’t just for holding pages in books, or adding extra decoration to my already messy bedroom floor. Instead, they’re a capital-J kind of Junk, a way of providing me with reminders, and a kind of roadmap through what I was thinking about, and feeling, at certain points in my life. 

My copy of Aliens and Anorexia has two cinema tickets in it, one of them small, from a Vue, and another that’s bigger, and more like a theatre ticket, from the Watershed, an independent cinema in my hometown. The first ticket is for Louder Than Bombs, and the second is for Everybody Wants Some!!! They’re from two weeks in the spring of 2016. I remember both of those films very well.

The screening of Louder Than Bombs was almost – if not entirely – empty except for my brother and I, and the Everybody Wants Some!!! ticket is from what might be my second or third viewing of the film. I saw it a lot. In the spring of 2016 I was halfway through the first year of my master’s degree, writing poetry for the first time, and beginning to grapple seriously with ideas of queer identity and culture in my work. All of this comes back to me when I look at those tickets, when I dip my feet into the waters of My Junk.

My Junk has a particular relationship with ideas around queerness and self-expression. Even recent things serve as a kind of hope spot, a way of expressing things openly and wordlessly. Last summer, I bought a pillow of Divine in a shop near the Airbnb I stayed in. It doesn’t seem like much, but it isn’t the kind of thing I’d have bought for myself in the spring of 2016.

Queerness and persecution are impossible to ignore in Junk; the focus on breakups and pop culture illustrate a perfect marriage of the personal and the political. This idea impacts Junk, just as it impacts everything else.

Junk aka Snow aka History keeps on piling up. (Tommy Pico)

Pico at once embraces and challenges the idea of ascribing meaning onto things, arguing that it’s a reflex that we experience far too often, while also seeming to admit that avoiding that reflex is all but impossible to avoid. One thing that Pico and I have in common is the kind of power that we imbue our tickets with. Pico writes that meaning is given to:

 The movie stub for example I miss your very adult body. (Tommy Pico)

The example here is not only that the movie stub is something that we ascribe meaning to, but also an example of the kind of thing that can be remembered and missed when looking through a Junk drawer. There’s no sense given that the movie stub that Pico writes about gets thrown out or torn up, but instead that it, and the sad memory it carries, are kept close by. Not unlike the lovelorn girls of Spring Awakening, both Pico in Junk and I are trying and failing to kick this kind of junk.

Not all Junk will have positive associations: from Pico’s movie stub, to train tickets for dates that end in disaster, or a note-to-self left during a particularly dark time. And being reminded of those things isn’t always the easiest thing. But they serve not only as a reminder of how difficult things might have been, but also of the distance travelled since them, of darkness that might be slowly changing into light. In Spring Awakening, the idea of Junk is, like in Pico’s poem, associated with a kind of stasis, as the young women sing it’s like we stop time. (Duncan Sheik/Steven Sater) But I don’t think that’s always the case. Junk doesn’t always need to be a time warp, or a way of freezing yourself in the past; by being a road map, Junk shows where you’ve been, but also where you’re going, and how you got there, through all the other pieces of Junk that helped along the way. Instead, it allows you to retrace your steps; cinema tickets, clothes that someone forgot to take home with them one morning, train tickets or boarding passes, they serve as points on a map, a geography that’s both physical and mental. When I was there, I felt this. It lets you say “this reminded me of you” to yourself, finding a place in your present and future for the person that you were.

Sam Moore is a writer, artist, and editor. Their poetry and experimental essays have appeared in print and online through Underwood Press, Anastamos, and the Pilot Press anthology Modern Queer Places, among other places. They are one of the founding editors of Powder, a forthcoming queer zine.