The Things We Carry

I remember back when Flickr was a thing (I don't even know if it still exists, and I don't want the distraction of looking), I used it mostly for looking at photographs that people would post of the things they carried in their bags -- handbags, backpacks, briefcases. I was intrigued. I liked to see what different people felt important enough to lug around with them all day. The whole idea of what we carry intrigues me. 

In the College Writing I and II classes I teach, we sometimes read an essay/short story, The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. It is a collection of short stories about a platoon of soldiers' lives during the Vietnam War. O'Brien moves back and forth between the figurative and literal meanings of the things that we carry, one moment concerned about the tangible things that weigh us down and then the intangible and internal things that do the same. 

DSC_0423 (1).jpg

And I am all over the place in thinking about this. I'm intrigued by handbags, notebooks, and baggage. I'm intrigued by literal and figurative baggage. 

I got my first handbag when I was in Ms. Neblitt's fourth grade class at Our Lady Help of Christians School. It was a chestnut brown saddle bag that had a suede inlay, with the Gemini symbol burnished into it, on the front flap. I cannot imagine what I carried in it. I can't recall. It couldn't have been much. I didn't have my period yet. I wasn't wearing makeup yet. I'm thinking it carried my small memo notebook and something with which to write. My guess is that was about it. And in fact, my current handbags often carry little more than that. 

I rarely make a handbag purchase these days.  But when life events change or life takes a turn, when there is a big shift, I often mark the events or ocassion with a new handbag or a new notebook. I have done this for my entire life. It is like literally turning over a new leaf. 


My most recent handbag purchase, after the death of my ex-husband and father of my sweet boys, led me to a wonderful luxury consignment shop after I'd made by bag purchase, in search of a liner/handbag organizer to keep the contents from marking the inside of the bag. Before I knew it, I was engaged in a conversation about the things I carry with the owner of the boutique. I found myself talking about the tactile experience of my writing and my notebook and the inside of my purse. There was something sensual and organic about it, such that the liner changed everything, and I decided not to get it. The owner talked me out of it. I could have talked to her about this for days. The whole experience has led me to think more and more about what the things that we carry and the things in which we we carry them mean to us. 

There is no lesson nor moral to this story. I am wondering aloud, something I think we don't quite do enough of. Too often we are looking for answers or some imparted wisdom. I have none. I'm mostly filled with questions these days. 

What are the things that you carry, figuratively and literally?