The Things I Carry

Okay, I admit it. I am having a tough week, and I am just not feeling slicing today. I don’t want to write. I don’t really want to do anything but curl up under a cozy blanket and read, and watch TV, and block out the world for about two days. And maybe drink a piña colada. Would anyone out there like to make me a piña colada? So I have shamelessly stolen this idea from the writing tips cheat sheet made by our intrepid organizers. (Thanks, Intrepid Organizers!)

I like this topic, because it mirrors an activity I have done with students when we read The Things They Carried. (Random book plug: If you have not read The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, you should. Right now. Ignore the rest of my blog and go find a copy. It is the most brilliant Vietnam War book written. I know that O’Brien’s Going after Cacciato is the one that won the prizes, but that is like writer juvenilia- the ideas he had a year after coming out of the war, as opposed to how those ideas were explored after years of growth, maturity, and reflection as a human being, a veteran, and an author. It is brilliant and beautiful and heartbreaking and difficult and appalling and about the power of story to save us all, or maybe just ourselves, and that is sometimes all we need. I have read it about 10 times with my students, and I love it every time. Even when I flinch. Even when I cry. My students love it. My students love it so much that they steal their copies of the book and give it to their parents and make their parents read it. And then their friends. And then their parents’ friends. So, seriously, you need to read this book.)

The first chapter of the novel is also called “The Things They Carried”, and it describes what the soldier characters carry- physically, metaphorically, symbolically, spiritually, required by the Army and in blatant violation of the Army regs. Sometimes to get us started on thinking about the significance of these things to the characters, my students and I spend a class period inventorying what we carry. It can be tremendous fun. So here’s my list of what I generally carry:

Stress (No brainer. See first paragraph!)



Those critical voices. My writing isn’t good enough…my teaching isn’t good enough…my parenting isn’t good enough…my housekeeping- well, that’s just abysmal.

My wallet, with the usual, driver’s license, credit cards, old ATM receipts, expired coupons, old insurance cards, rewards cards for stores that may not even exist any more (Hey, maybe I should clean my purse more often…)

Vaseline. My son and I both have eczema, and it soothes the worst outbreaks and helps retain some moisture in our long-suffering, seriously over-sensitive skin.

Earbuds and my phone. Sometimes I am even allowed to listen to music on my earbuds.

Keys. Mysteriously, I have a key to my car, my husband’s car, our house, and the valet key for my old Volvo that mysteriously shut down by snapping its timing belt on the way to pick my son up at preschool two years ago and we were all better off donating the car to the local public television station and getting a new one. (Did I mention that I need to clean out my purse?)

A hairbrush. Ha! Like I ever slow down long enough to comb my hair before going out in public. I perpetually look windblown and faintly disheveled. Even when I have just brushed my hair.

Two pens.

My checkbook. Do people still write checks? I cannot remember the last time I actually wrote a check. Presumably I could still do that, if there are checks in my checkbook. I don’t actually know.

Three rocks. Very important special rocks that were collected by my son and must be kept for ever and ever and ever, mainly if Mommy carries them and then he will never think of them again.

Two sticks and a lot of stick crumbles for much the same reason.

Several “beautiful” fall leaves that are now mulching in the bottom of my purse.

Snacks. Moms don’t leave the house without goldfish crackers. Or sometimes graham crackers.

Half of a crayon.

A piece of random metal (maybe some sort of old bent washer?) that was confiscated Because We Do Not Play With Metal Things We Find On The Ground.

A gift certificate for a massage which I had scheduled for the first day of the year, and which the masseuse cancelled at the last minute and which I have yet to manage to reschedule.

A book or a magazine. There is usually at least one of these there. Right now I am reading National Geographic and Smithsonian, and four different books. (The Empress of Mars, Landline, Ibid*, and Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder for the curious.) I’m usually only carrying one of the books. Unless, you know, I might be out for a while. Then I might need two.

A small bag, liberally encrusted with leaf debris mulch, labelled “Bag o’Cats.” It holds seven small plastic cats in various poses, and about a dozen fancy special rocks, polished smooth and shiny and brightly colored. Both came as Santa gifts for my son two Christmases ago, and they travel with me. On boring errands and long waits in restaurants or doctor’s offices, they come out to play. The cats will build mazes and walk in them, or fight the evil attacking rocks to protect the queen cat. (She has a beret type hat we made from an acorn cap, because sometimes she is the artist cat, when she is not busy being the queen.) The cats will use the rocks for parkour practice. We match shapes, sizes, colors, and work on math. When my son was younger, we would count cats and rocks, but now we use them to work on subtraction and addition. We use them to tell stories. Sometimes, we include the condiments or other things around us, and sometimes my son’s invisible cats will join in as well. This is my little bag of things that I carry inside of the big bag of things I carry, and it also carries a piece of my heart. My son is growing up and shifting more toward doodling or drawing when we wait, but I have a feeling I will carry that Bag o’Cats with me, in one way or another, for a very long time indeed.


8 thoughts on “The Things I Carry

  1. Oh my gosh… your side rant (the positive kind of rant!) on The Things They Carried. And then your list – with heart and humor in equal measure. Love your writing style. Glad you’re slicing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I will read the book now. I saw a very engaging teacher presentation on it one summer…I have no excuse now, except I have 2 other books to finish first.
    Loved your list — especially the mysterious 7 plastic cats.
    Pens. Only two? Somehow I wind up scooping up a handful of pens from the bottom of my purse on the random times when I decide to “organize” it. How do these pens all gravitate to my purse? How much do they weigh?
    Your intro sold me. I really like the honest rant.

    I wrote about my cat today.


  3. You have an amazing voice! I feel like I know you and we could go grab a cup of coffee and gab all day, never running out of things to talk about! 🙂
    Oh, and I just downloaded The Things They Carried. Can’t wait to read it!


  4. I loved this! And I want a bag o’ cats!
    I recently saw an article on FB about a project that photographed the contents of hundreds of suitcases that were put into storage when patients entered an asylum. It’s still haunting me. Your book sounds like that.


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