Postcards from My Past

Recently I was cleaning out my Hotmail inbox (yeah, I still use my high school Hotmail email address – don’t judge) when I stumbled across a folder I had created in 2011 called “Archived.” I had forgotten about that folder entirely.

I clicked on it.

Inside was a nice slew of old emails from my past – letters and notes that I didn’t want to lose for some reason or another. Mixed in with a few recipes and random notes, “Archived” was like a digital scrapbook or forgotten junk drawer of old phone books and takeout menus that I was only now cleaning out.

Lately, as many mid-to-late twenty-somethings are apt to do, I’ve been self-reflecting a lot, so it seemed appropriate to sort through some of the emails I had saved from my past, to see what 21-year-old Lauren deemed worthy of saving for 26-year-old Lauren.

I could not have been more proud of 21-year-old Lauren for her foresight at knowing the exact emails I would want and need to see today.

Here are some things I found in my digital scrapbook:

  1. Recipes from my mom! I remember there was a boy I liked in college and I wanted to bake him some cookies and scones for Christmas to try to win him over. I turned to my mom for a few of our family classics – snowball cookies, peanut butter balls, and “Grandma Johnson’s Scones.” Sadly, the baked goodies didn’t work their magic on their intended romantic recipient, but I did enjoy the flashback to the tiny little 4-person apartment I made them in during Junior year of college, and the memories of hopeful anticipation at the prospect of blossoming love. Now, six years out from Junior year, the pain of such unrequited love seems somewhat sweet, somewhat bitter, simple and yet, trivial; but it reminds me of an act of courage and bravery that I made in being completely honest and open with someone. It reminded me that strength, conviction, bravery, and a sense of adventure are a part of the core authentic voice I (we all) must try to listen to within ourselves.
  2. Letters from a boy who kept trying to ask me out. For some reason, I never accepted. He tried emailing me three separate times over the course of two months – suggesting coffee after class or dinner on a Saturday night – and I refused, pushing it off with some excuse or another (alas, I also saved my replies – “too tired,” “I have French homework,” and finally, to put the friend-zone nail in the coffin, “why don’t you come to Taco Tuesday with me and two guy friends next week?”). I never gave that boy a chance. I suppose it was because I wasn’t really attracted to him, but my views on such and what really make a person attractive have changed a bit over the years. I wonder what would have happened if I had said yes, and actually taken the time to look beyond the surface to really get to know someone. So while I was getting over my own unrequited love, the shoe was now on the other foot – instead of being rejected, I was now the rejector.  Such is young love and life as a twenty-something – but the email served as an endearing (and yes, flattering) snapshot of feelings expressed by a boy who said he “couldn’t help but smile when he looked at me.” It was sweet to read, even 6 years later.
  3. My grandfather’s family tree research. A few years before he passed away, my grandfather got really interested in researching the family history, in particular finding out about our Italian heritage. I’m not sure exactly how he undertook the research process, but I know it took a while and that he was really proud of it when he was done. Regretfully, I never really took the time beyond a quick glance to thoroughly read it when he first circulated it to everyone. But this go-around I paid attention to the names and the places – it even listed the small town in Italy where his great grandfather (and his middle namesake) was born – Castel di Sangro in the Province of L’Aquila in Southern Italy. Having now spent a considerable amount of time in Italy, this small piece of information passed down by my grandpa is a little bit more personal, more meaningful, more connected. I think about him and his crazy antics sometimes – like that one New Year’s Eve where he disappeared outside of the house to set off (illegal) fireworks to nobody’s knowledge, only to run back in and slam the door, laughing like a hyena. It made me happy to be able to (re)discover something new about him, even as this weekend marks four years since his passing.
  4. Emails from the fellows at the artist-in-residency program I interned at in Perugia. We all enjoyed such a special and unique experience together – living in a closed-off castle in the Umbrian countryside – that it’s hard to really explain, describe, or quantify it to the outside world. Reading some of those kind emails from people rooting me on while I was studying for my graduate school qualifying exams, commiserating with me about particularly difficult fellows (remind me to tell the “Debra Winger” story sometime…), and thanking me for wearing various chauffeur/translator/secretary/gopher/art historian caps was an enjoyable snapshot of that one summer in Italy where I made lifelong friends (and Debra Winger called me a bitch before getting kicked out of the program).
  5. Emails back and forth between my beloved college professor/mentor, his wonderful wife and I after I found out I got accepted into my Master’s program with a full scholarship and living stipend. Emails discussing the restaurant we would eat at to celebrate, the art exhibit we were going to check out at LACMA, the room they let me crash in at their apartment before I left for Italy, and links to various things I should start studying and preparing for before starting grad school. Senior year was my favorite year of college and it culminated in getting accepted into my dream program. Reading these emails reminded me that with hard work, a solid team of supporters, unending perseverance, and a bit of luck, I was blessed to be able to see my dream come to fruition – and I know that I have those characteristics within me to do so again.
  6. Pictures of Italy and Paris that a photographer friend of mine had taken and sent to me as memories of our time abroad together.DSC_1061
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  7. Miscellaneous messages from family regarding inside jokes or words of encouragement, internship acceptance letters, feedback from smarter friends on cover letters, and Netflix passwords – all remnants of a bygone era in which people still added movies for delivery by post to their queue.
  8. A completely unnecessary yet encouraging “goodbye” note from a grad school colleague. My first semester of graduate school in Syracuse I took my favorite course – Selected Topics in Art History with Gary Radke, arguably the best professor I had in the program. The class was relatively small, no more than 10 of us, and one of our colleagues was an older woman – an English/Writing Professor from a local college who was auditing the class. She and I totally clicked – I appreciated her work ethic and genuine interest in the course, and her outsider’s perspective. When this wimpy Southern Californian didn’t have any heavy winter coats to wear, she let me borrow her leather jacket for the weekend and, when I tried to give it back to her, gifted it to me. I never got the chance to say goodbye to her in person before leaving for Italy, so I wrote her an email. Her response was still one of the most touching notes I’ve ever received. She told me that she had learned just as much from me and my contributions in class as she had learned from our professor. And she told me, unsolicited, that I was a great writer. If only she knew how much those words mean today, and how encouraging it is to still read them now.

So thanks, 21-year-old Lauren, for having the insight to know exactly what I would need to be reminded of – especially now – as I leave behind my early twenties and head into this next phase of my life.

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