My senior year of high school was all about finding opportunities to not wear shirts. For the boys of the cross country and track teams, being shirtless despite the temperature, weather and season was a badge of pride.
In a way, we viewed shirts much like the Post Office (allegedly) views mail delivery:
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these runners from the swift removal of their tee shirts during runs.
Being shirtless wasn’t just relegated to running around hooting and hollering after school; there were plenty of public opportunities, too. At the end of the school year, members of the departing senior class perform skits about the most memorable parts of their four years of high school – everything from sexy new vice principals and bomb threats to the multiple accounts of streaking.
And who better to play the streaker at a rally in front of the school?
This is an excerpt from the final rally I was a part of, and this and the other rally scripts I’ll write about are the only remnants I have of the rallies I hosted.
At first, this surprised me – how could these be the only documentation of my months and months of school spirit? In a way, though, they are the perfect artifact.
I soon realized these scripts were the purest expression of me as a senior in high school – of what I wanted to have happen, regardless of constraints, objectives, or responsibilities – and, in a way, mimicking the way high school seniors tend to view the world at that point in their lives: We’re the main character in our story, and everyone else is cheering us along.
The Start of Senior Year
So begins Year 2 of my dive into my G-mail Inbox, and with it, my senior year of high school. There are a total of over 900 e-mails and – with the introduction of Google’s Chat feature – chats spanning August 2005 to August 2006.
Before I began paging through them, I thought back on the most prominent moments from my senior year. This is what I expected to be corroborated in my inbox:
- The 4 rallies we hosted in the Fall of ’05, and what it was like for a relatively non-spirited person to live inside the belly of the Student Government beast
- The first exciting months of a serious relationship
- Being one of the sports editors of our school’s newspaper
- My continued obsession with productivity, as embodied mostly by serial comic strips about kitchen condiments
- The college application process
I was surprised by how few e-mails I found supporting each of these categories.
The only correspondence I have from my time as rally commissioner are the scripts I e-mailed myself. There aren’t pictures. There aren’t videos. There aren’t even back-and-forth planning conversations, the examples I’m seeking out since My Archived Life is an exploration of the inbox and how I used it to communicate.
Still, it’s nice to have the scripts, which show us at our silliest. To give you an idea of what we strove for, here is the grand entrance to the back-to-school Welcome Rally, our first in front of the entire school, in which I do my best Marilyn Monroe impression by jumping out of an oversized cake:
Additionally, even though I started dating my girlfriend in August, we didn’t e-mail until the following July. There are brief mentions of her to friends who’d gone off to college (buried in lists of “things I’m up to”) so she did exist. I suppose seeing each other daily between student government and cross country and the oh-so-fleeting moments of passing periods made e-mails overkill, but it still speaks to how compartmentalized my inbox life was.
For the rest of my undocumented memories, I found little from journalism besides a few e-mailed articles, though my unrestricted computer time did lead to the beginning of a Gchat obsession (since squashed), and the formation of one of my most impactful, meaningful friendships (that I did my best to derail with regular, obnoxious chats).
With college applications, I assumed I’d have e-mailed my essays, my applications and my thoughts more often than I actually did. Here is a note where I talk about many things, including my views on private colleges.
You know what they say about the differences between all the colleges: “Some better faculty, but for the most part, equal…”!
For the most part, my applications were submitted through portals online, and I have very few e-mails to reflect on.
It’s so weird when memories are just memories.
I’ve talked enough now about the e-mails that I didn’t find, so let’s talk about what charming evidence there is for my growth, and what I was using e-mail for as a senior in high school. In no particular order, I used e-mail to:
- Carry on feuds with teachers and coaches
- Conduct my first (short-lived) comic collaboration
- Send terrible first Gchats, which are saved on-the-record for eternity
- Write and share as many bad raps as you’d expect a suburban teenager to write
With that, let’s start with my bastardization of Will Smith’s classic, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” – performed in front of 2,000 teenagers.
Homecoming Rally Rap
I need to start out by saying my fellow rally commissioner Liat was, and is, a saint. She is impossibly likable, light-hearted, and driven by a truly kind spirit. During the spring of our junior year, I happened to be standing nearby when she suggested to a friend that she wouldn’t mind being a rally commissioner during the upcoming fall. That she humored me when I threw my hat in the ring speaks volumes about her generosity.
We struck up a friendship, and had a blast scheming different ideas for how to engage indifferent teens, navigating the spirited world of student government, and developing along the way a sweet chemistry.
With the following effort, I did my best to get her to question her own judgment of pairing up with me.
It was our Homecoming Rally, and my idea for how to introduce our football team – the Grizzlies – was to pump everyone up with our own version of ‘ The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.’
Don’t worry, I have the script.
If you’ve ever been curious what a deafening silence feels like, rap a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air parody in front of two thousand high schoolers.
Fortunately, the football team burst out after my last couplet, and there was much rejoicing. Go Grizzlies!
Unfortunately, I had also written some more Fresh Prince lyrics, and felt like it was the proper way to end the rally.
The fun part about being on the floor during a pep rally is there is no place to hide.
Bad Raps, Vol. II
I have mentioned Orthodox Films, the group I was jealous of during my junior year. I ultimately partnered with them over the following summer and into my senior year. I also talked about Mildly Dangerous, my own short-lived production. It died a swift death.
During this year, I became aware of a third group, a technically talented bunch that operated mostly within our school’s video production classes, and I fell in with them at the end of the year, even being the host for An Amazing Race-style show they produced featuring teams of senior students.
Mercifully, this does not exist on the internet, or in my inbox.
What do still exist are the e-mails in which we collaborated on a Lazy Sunday-esque rap video.
In my quest to “do something relatively new,” I wrote a rap about golf.
Will reading these lyrics be the next #SoGoneChallenge? Only time will tell.
The embarrassment of my inbox isn’t limited to rally scripts I e-mailed to myself. Thanks to Google’s ever-expanding inbox, and the advent of chat, I have hundreds of instant messages that remind me of my winning personality.
So I was antsy about re-reading them, especially when I saw just how charming I was at announcing my e-presence.
With e-mails, I trended toward complete sentences and full thoughts. I expressed curiosity about the other person. What was college really like? How were they liking their new city? Did they have, like, a thousand boyfriends?
With chats, the expected immediacy transformed me into a child, as it became the perfect medium for enabling someone already needy of feedback and responses, interaction and attention.
I bounced off the walls with noises, thoughts, and pestering requests.
So, despite the nature of chatting being to chat, or, “to talk in a friendly and informal way” – I was angling for feedback, a desperate creature whose hunger expressed itself like, “LOOK I AM MAKING PROJECTS COMICS WRITING PLEASE READ CLICK VOTE LOOK.”
I like to think my e-mails to friends who’d gone off to college reflect on me as a growing person, someone interested in what happens when one steps out into the world. But, if I like to think that way about those e-mails, I’m forced to embrace the me-ness, the self-centered, “what can you do for me” nature of my chats as an equal part of my personality.
Journalism was the first time in school that I had the dangerous responsibility of working in front of a computer each day, and, on monthly deadlines, late into the night.
I spent more time than I probably should have on a computer, at a time I was writing and chatting at a higher clip, so naturally a lot of my thoughts are baked into these back-and-forths, like oddly punctuated polaroids of my growth.
To get our articles edited, we all sent them into a shared e-mail, and the section editors retrieved them. So, luckily, the bold opinions and ideas I had as a senior were saved.
The first here is a column full of wacky workout advice I wrote for the sports section that advocates tanning (get paint from Home Depot), taking naps, and burning your school binders. The second and third are from a series I wrote that was inspired by Fight Club. I’m sorry, Chuck.
… and here is a comic I “drew.”
If it’s not clear from this selection, I was all over the place in journalism. I was editing and writing for the sports section, drawing comics, writing opinions and news articles and music reviews, putting together ads, and designing layouts.
Journalism had become a laboratory for my experiments in productivity, as I alternately challenged myself to have the most assigned articles in any given cycle, to have articles assigned to every section of the paper, and to come up with enough sports content to expand our section from four pages to eight.
It’s obvious to me now that I did not focus on quality. This frenetic effort reads like I wanted to be seen as a writer, despite a lack of effort in writing well.
Late in the year, I missed out on a meeting, during which I was apparently called out by our teacher for leaving a deadline night early. The result of that lack of effort resulted in a poorly edited and designed section.
From a chat with a different section editor:
This is probably not off-base. While I felt slighted because our section didn’t get as much attention as the others, and we had our number of pages docked… that doesn’t excuse doing a poor job and not giving a consistent effort through to the end.
In that chat, I did proceed to call out the rest of the staff for their own faults, so it’s good to know I’ll lash out (online) when attacked (in meetings I didn’t attend).
It hurt being singled out because it also rang true. It was getting toward the end of the school year. I was distracted. Whether or not I was checked out of journalism by that point, it’s not clear, but the following e-mail from my teacher pushed me that way.
I decided not to attend that year’s journalism convention, and started focusing my attention on the end-of-the-year activities.
Comics & Collaborations
Despite going full-steam ahead with creating comics, I rarely e-mailed myself versions of those comics or lists of ideas like I had done the year before. What remains I could dig up are general correspondence about the comic, along with a few examples of internet-enabled collaboration.
While the two comics I mentioned making during my junior year – the hand-drawn Sheep comic, and the photo comic about George Bush and Bill Clinton – fell by the wayside, I kept on the path of creating serial comics, pushing myself with daily and weekly deadlines.
This attitude toward creation feels like another evidence point proving I was more interested in doing things than doing things well.
At one point, I got in touch with an artist looking to collaborate, and we made it two whole issues before our communication fell apart.
Here is the initial reach out.
Then his reply, and in purple, my e-mail, along with my stated desire for a “physical, in-my-hands minicomic.” The ends justify the means!
After exchanging scripts and script notes, the following two comics emerged:
These comics seemed to be the beginning of a fruitful collaboration, but despite having e-mailed scripts for the next 5 issues, those comics didn’t materialize, and Not Quite Dead Yet became, in fact, quite dead.
One of the primary motivations for reliving my inbox is to understand why I don’t collaborate on creative projects well. One issue I know I had (and have…) was defining project limits. Another is being overly ambitious about where the project could head before it had even begun (a 2-part minicomic!).
Unfortunately, this back-and-forth doesn’t have the intimate details that later interactions do. The collaboration simply worked until it didn’t.
I had a longer-lived project with a photo comic about kitchen items called The Sordid Affairs of Kitchen Condiments – shortened to just The Sordid Affairs.
I announce its beginning in early October to a friend in the midst of other self-congratulatory points.
While the comics themselves are lost to time (my brother asked me years ago if I had all the strips backed up on a hard-drive, which I promised I did. “You’ll want to look back at them later on” he said…), the two images below, intended to be buttons, give a sense of the look of a strip I updated twice a week.
In the first, an orange has torn apart another orange in a savage display of food-based cannablism. In the second, a ketchup and mustard bottle have fathered packets of ketchup and mustard (hence, ‘use condiments’). Jokes!
Like other projects before it, I got caught up in the attention it was receiving (or wasn’t receiving), and focused on that more than the actual quality of the project.
I chat about web site visitors, and about each strip’s metrics, but not about lighting, camera placement, writing, or the jokes.
So why was I creating it in the first place? I thought the idea was funny initially, but did obsessing with its reception ruin the process?
Then, like the projects before it, and so many more to come, I killed it. After 40-something installments, The Sordid Affairs was no more.
Though the blog post announcing TSA’s demise is also lost, this is the chat that followed, one full of uncertainty and a blasé attitude.
Also – I’m on Gchat at 6:24 in the morning.
Thanks to the internet archive, you can still see the skeleton of the page, if not the images.
As a fun side story, the webcomics community is accommodating, collaborative, and warm. There were often opportunities to create installments of other people’s strips, so even though I have none of my own comics from that time saved, I do have one of those I did for a comic friend.
Below is a guest strip I illustrated (to prove I could do more than just take photos?) for Jim Burgess, who did a series called Able & Baker.
After a year of inactivity to rest my knee, I came back to exercise with a vengeance: not only was I running varsity for the cross-country team, I was training for my first triathlon. In order to pull this off, I had to coordinate my bike and swim workouts within our cross-country team’s schedule. Much of my communication with my coach early on is about taking days off from running with the team to cross-train on my own.
I’ve always wondered if this more personal back-and-forth engendered a personal relationship that caused what happened later in the year to be so painful. Or maybe I was just sensitive.
At any rate – the triathlon, and the cross-country season, were successful. I competed injury-free, and was able to keep my training commitment past the fall running season, through winter training, and into the spring.
As a reward for that commitment, a small group of us traveled that winter to an invite near our coach’s childhood home.
Here is a photo of me being athletic as a sponsored Clif Bar athlete.
But while my discipline held (undoubtedly helped by dating a fellow runner), I found myself frustrated during the track season. I was unable to break the 5-minute barrier in the mile time and time again, stymied at the 5:03 mark.
At the same time, I had come down with a sickness that wouldn’t get better, a hybrid cold/sinus infection that doctors didn’t diagnose, medicine couldn’t alleviate, and I wasn’t able to endure patiently. After missing a few days of school and not finding myself any closer to a remedy, I began to blame the exertion of competitive races as the reason I wasn’t healing.
Not the practices, though. The practices were fun! We ran around shirtless! We hooted and hollered!
So when I suggested as much to my coach – that I, the anti-Iverson, might like to just practice – he responded in a mature, reasoned, instructional way.
“I’ll turn my stuff in.”
Stuff = uniform = I was done with track, just three weeks before the season actually ended.
Could I have stuck it out? Yeah.
Should I have? Of course.
Maybe I felt I could more dramatically make my point in a terse e-mail.
Or maybe I used e-mail to have conversations I was unable to have face-to-face.
We got to talking after graduation and throughout the summer, and would ultimately write regularly over the coming years.
So, why did this exchange, the sudden quitting, stick with me? Perhaps there’s an intimacy to the inbox.
By allowing yourself to read and re-read someone’s message, you alter their intended tone in your mind.
By allowing yourself to write and re-write your response, you get to play out different scenarios and fantasies, but this re-reading and re-writing just leads to an obsessing about this one interaction long after the other person has let it go by pressing ‘send.’
I’m not sure.
If there is one relationship to take away from this second year of G-mailing, it’s the fortuitous birth of a friendship with Amy (whose wedding speech instigated this whole project).
It was during my senior year that we first started getting to know each other when she made the mistake of indulging my pestering.
Here is our first e-mail:
At first, I was Amy’s editor whenever she would write about sports. I was impressed with her ability, though less than optimistic about how my input would affect her writing.
Then, she became our co-sports editor. She was also running cross country, and track, and we got along famously.
We celebrated events big and small.
Despite being a few years younger, she was always the more mature in the friendship, able to handle my short-sightedness, my stubbornness, and my many annoying instant messages.
… as well as many other unsightly qualities I still have in droves but won’t reflect on for another 10 years. My back-and-forth with Amy wouldn’t abate for years, but I’ll save the rest of our conversations for the book deal.
In and amongst chats and raps and rallies, I was taking the SATs (I remember waking up early the day scores were out to refresh the CollegeBoard site, but there aren’t any e-mails or chats that reflect this neurosis), applying to colleges, and occasionally, having interviews with alumni of those schools.
One of those schools, Duke, set me up with a perfectly nice lady. We had a perfectly nice conversation about her perfectly nice school, and then I decided what better way to thank her for her time than to spam her with my perfect comic.
Her response is below.
(Mayor Newman, if you’re curious, was the salad dressing in charge of the fridge.)
I didn’t get into Duke.
I did, however, get into UCLA.
I loaded the page in Journalism and was pretty … ambivalent about it. For the University of California application, each additional school you apply to is represented by another clicked checkbox. This lack of personalization left me feeling detached.
I thought I’d much rather go to Bard, where my sketch comedy idols attended. Or to Rice. Or Tufts, but…
Or Washington University, in St. Louis, where I got waitlisted. Rather than push past the waitlist and strive for acceptance, I chose a different tact.
The anti-climactic nature of my UCLA acceptance is, I believe, reflected in my almost-zero emails. Nothing to friends. Nothing to family. A delay in making my first dorm payment.
It’d end up being a very good decision, but nothing in my inbox reflects this.
With the decision on where to attend college lodged firmly in my inbox, my senior year began wrapping up. A reflection on this period of my life wouldn’t be complete without the piece I wrote reflecting on my senior year for the newspaper. Soon after the newspaper containing this letter was published, I graduated. I went on a senior trip to see some music festivals in the midwest. And, despite the lack of e-mail evidence, I was still involved in a relationship that would soon become long-distance.
College was on the horizon, and with it, figuring out classes, clubs, majors, friends, and dorm food.
Plus, comics. Always comics.
The only real restraints I had over my final summer before college was some adult supervision, and that was about to disappear as I moved down to the dorms.
Now the fun begins.
Also published on Medium.