Wednesday, June 12, 2013


I am packing.

I am going to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio for our annual writing retreat.

The Columbus Area Writing Project Summer Institute always begins with an intense 3-days away-- to build community,  to explore the theme and focus of our institute,  to talk and read and write--to walk and reflect and explore the writing possibilities that both Kenyon College and the summer institute offer.

What do I need to take with me?
What is essential and necessary?
What is frivolous and simply taking up space?

As I pile up clothes in my loft to be put into the suitcase, books, schedules, and  a projector to be put into crates, sheets and towels and toiletries to go into a large bag, I begin to consider, as I do every time I pack for any trip:  What exactly we need to have with us?  What do we need to  bring, or have readily available?

How do we decide which items get carried or removed from our pockets or purses or backpacks or luggage at any given time?

As women, we have all had that experience of changing our purses, only to realize later that an important item has been left at home in the other bag.

Or you may have turned your car around to go back to get the phone, the book, the assignment, the  whatever-you-left -that -you-can't-do-without  item.

Are there categories into which all of the items we carry will neatly fit?

In his famous collection of related stories, The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien lists three categories of items carried by soldiers:  
  • standard equipment issued to every soldier based on assignment, location, and current legislation
  • personal items needed for hygiene and comfort
  • sentimental items and/or things carried for luck 
To read  O' Brien's complete list of soldiers' gear, see page 2 of The Things They Carried. 

And for  more on soldier's gear and a related writing idea, see The Things They Carried (pages 93-96) in Deeper Writing: Quick Writes and Mentor Texts to Illuminate New Possibilities. 

As I consider O'Brien's  categories, I am wondering how to categorize my own items.  Do they fall into three neat packages?

In my purse there are several Essentials:
  • Wallet
  • Keys 
  • Flash Drives
  • Phone
  • iPad Mini
  • Pen
  • Listerine Strips

Then there are a number of Just in Case items:
  • A comb in case I need to comb my hair
  • Mace in case I run into someone undesirable and scary
  • An Anglican rosary in case I need to pray on the run
  • A tiny bag containing ear buds and a screen wiper in case my  iPad gets smudgy or I need to listen to something on it.
  • A small knife that I have to always remember to remove from my purse before going through the airport scanners, but keep in case I need to cut something
  • An umbrella in case it rains-- an intermittent item
  • A calendar which used to be on the essential list and now there is a duplicate on my iPad, but I keep it just in case the digital calendar fails
Then there are those If I Have Room items that I carry depending on the purse or destination, but are the first to go if I don't have room:
  • Silk bag of gift cards to several restaurants, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Chico's --all my favorite places
  • Umbrella (sometimes an essential)
  • Black case with pills, extra phone batteries, extra money,   extra hand sanitizer,  lipstick  
  • Keys if I am riding with my husband
  • Phone book  which I carry in case a number is not in my phone
As I create my list, I can't help but fondly remember one of my favorite comedians, George Carlin and his famous routine on stuff in which he pokes fun at the universal dilemma of packing and categorizing our stuff-- the stuff we keep and then carry around with us as we go about our day, move to new locations, and embark on trips.

Searching for this well-known routine results in many versions.   Click here to view one version (Caution-- Language may be offensive to some)

What's in your pocket, purse or backpack?  Do you really need each item?
What would others think if they lsaw each thing?

Years ago I had a very large wallet and a friend felt the need to comment on it each time she saw it, Why do you need that big old thing? Doesn't it get difficult to use?

Obviously, the wallet worked for me.

We cringe when the TSA goes through our stuff  in  customs.  What judgements are these people we don't even know making about us based on  the things we have carried?

So as I pack for Kenyon and our retreat what exactly do I need?

Of course I need writing supplies---what does that mean in this 21st century?  I used to take plenty of paper and my journal.  Now it means, I still have paper and pen, as a backup, but depend much more on my computer and my iPad, which means I have to remember all the cords.

What else do I need?

What am I forgetting?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

What is in your purse, pocket or book bag?  
What is in your wallet?

What do you feel is essential to carry with you at all times?

Create several lists categorizing your items.

Write a narrative, essay or poem about your list explaining the necessity (or luxury) of particular items.

You may want to choose one particular item to about which to write more.


  1. When I read your first list of essentials, I nodded in agreement, and then I laughed to myself thinking about how our essentials now differ so much even from ten years ago ... I enjoyed seeing you note that change in 21st C writing "must haves." :)

    (And I'm glad that you're packing both the Mace and the rosary!)

    Enjoy :)

    Gretchen T.

  2. Gretchen, this year at Kenyon I should have added items to get me through thunderstorm, possible derecho/tornado and tornado sirens most of the night.

    We survived.

    It all made for lots of stories and writing in the morning.