The vast and untamed wasteland of my backpack’s side compartment

A journey into a realm beyond all understanding

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Tom Pollard is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

Organization isn’t easy.

Or at least, organization isn’t easy for me. I’ve never been the type who owns colored highlighters or labeled folders. I’m the type who — at the end of my second year of college — still forgets to make exam schedules. I’m the type who still has datebooks from last year I’ve never opened. I’m the type who still isn’t sure what color his desk is under an endless detritus of stray papers. In short, I’m not orderly.

Still, I have my own systems amidst the churning pandemonium of my academic career. Through a combination of scrawling reminders on my hand, bookmarking textbooks with endless crumpled papers and a good memory, I always stay on top of things. I pass in projects on time, take detailed notes and can even pull the correct assignment out of the anarchic stack of papers I call my notebook without looking. Sometimes on my first try. Yeah, it’s no big deal.

I admit my life is a bit of a contradiction.  

And, admittedly, not all the chaos of my life is coordinated. Although I usually can manipulate all the pandamonium to fit my needs, there is one vast and untamed wasteland even I admit needs some improvement — the side compartment of my backpack.

All of my backpacks have featured some superfluous side alcove, a space for forgotten items. Strange things accumulate in such spaces. During high school, I remember finding chewed pencils, eraser shavings and mashed glue sticks with little hairs stuck to the end hiding in the pocket. I still don’t know how they got there.

Over time, I started to avoid organizing the abysmal region altogether. Despite a constant anxiety that I lost something important in the disorderly realm, my nonexistent motivation to organize kept the compartment in perpetual anarchy. Once I entered college, I felt even more guilty about the ever-growing mess in the side compartment. However, I still couldn’t find the organizational drive to do anything.

After years of shameful avoidance, a maddening guilt finally struck me a few weeks ago. With the end of my second year approaching, I decided to once again venture into the depths of my backpack and dredge out its dark innards. Fearing what lay within, I opened the pocket.

An avalanche of pencils tumbled out onto my apartment floor the moment I unzipped the compartment. Alarming, but not unanticipated. Undeterred, I reached my hand in and felt something … sticky. Heart pounding, I drew the culprit into the light.

It was a flash drive, albeit somewhat crooked and covered in a strange adhesive film. I had no idea how many years had passed since I’d last used a flash drive, let alone what was on it. Familiar anxiety swelled up inside me at the thought of what forgotten information the flash drive held. A message from my grandmother? A forgotten assignment? A resume? I plugged the stick into my laptop.

Nothing happened for a few minutes. Then my computer started to make a strange whirring sound. I unplugged the drive then plugged it back in. Nothing but silence.

I kept digging. I pulled out a paperclip and a crumpled gum wrapper before I decided to dump everything onto the floor. More pencils fell out first, then an ear plug, a piece of fuzzy tape and a button. I felt baffled, but also somewhat relieved. I hadn’t found anything as bad as I expected.

Then my computer let out a loud groan. The flash drive opened up a file on my desktop, titled “HBB&JOM_njfN.” Pushing past my fears of a haunted jump drive out for revenge against its disorganized owner, I opened it. 

Inside was this photo:



I’d never seen it before. My computer told me the image — called “0501” —was taken four years ago, a few streets away from my house. The rest of the drive was empty.

I unplugged it rather quickly.

Although I didn’t find anything as important as I dreaded, my expedition into the side compartment was nonetheless horrifying. After hurling the drive into a dumpster three miles away from my apartment — just to be safe — I had to admit my organization skills were more dismal than I thought. 

Still, even after all those years, there has not really anything in the side compartment which needed my attention. Although I did find something potentially haunted, my chaotic ways didn’t fail me as much as I expected. At the risk of taking away the wrong lesson from this experience, I’m not sure I need to change anything. Through my own chaotic systems, my messy existence has been pretty smooth. 

Sure, I still feel waves of guilt at my messiness, and I’m not recommending disorganization either. But, like I said before, I’m pretty good at coordinating the chaos in my life. While some students need notebooks and agendas, I’ve stayed pretty sane the way I am. For the time being, though, I think I’ll keep the side compartment shut.

Tom Pollard  is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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