the things I carry (writing with students)

I carry a small backpack to limit the things I carry. I know I will fill the space that is available, and space gets heavy quickly, so I moderate the weight by moderating this space. Nonetheless, when turned out onto the table, I realize that my backpack holds rather a lot of stuff.

Some of these things I carry because they are useful everyday. My dot grid Moleskine keep me on track with lesson plans and to do lists and freewrites, and the pens I carry in their variety of colors add joy to the writing. As a professor, I move from classroom to classroom with varying groups of students, so I carry my own whiteboard markers yoinked from the suppl yin the dean’s office. This way I don’t have to depend on the questionable offerings that live in the chalk trays on campus. My keys and id and metro card facilitate my movement through campus and through Arlington.

I carry some things just for their potential usefulness. My zippered bag with the llamas on is a pharmacy in miniature–Advil, Zyrtec, Sudafed, saline drops, Neosporin, SPF50, hand lotion, hair clips, nail file. I am ready for my most frequent discomforts. Friends are sometimes surprised by the things I pull out of this bag in the face of their discomforts, like Mary Poppins with her bottomless carpet bag.

Some of the things I carry are chosen for their beauty. The white on lavender polka dots of my pencil case make me smile, and I appreciate anew the students who taught me the joy of good pen pouch. This Delde holds my preferred pens, the ones that fit my hands and glide smoothly across good paper leaving extra fine trails of ink in green and purple and blue. The green Anglican prayer beads were a gift from Kathleen, who strung them just for me with a labyrinth in place of the cross. They are fine enough to keep for fancy, but I carry them loose in my bag because they are also fit for everyday use, and quotidian prayers deserve beautiful beads.

I continue to carry some things even though their beauty is long gone. My small, round pill box originally held violet pastilles. The pre-Raphaelite print on the lid long outlasted the candies, but it’s nearly gone now. Nearby, the Celestial Seasonings logo on the tin, which sometimes holds tea but is currently home to hair clips, is just starting to wear around the edges, but its days are numbered. Labels seem to be quite fragile.

Some of the things I carry have been with me a great long while. The violet pastilles were a treat in a National Park gift shop two decades ago. And the plastic folders that carry my class materials came from Moscow (1998) and São Paulo (2010). In contrast, the materials inside them and the anthologies they reference are brand new because a last minute contract means taking on the two new preps that are the only classes available.

In these things, in this backpack, I carry my love of beauty. I carry a determination to use things all the way up. I carry my brains and my grit. I carry the bits and pieces of myself.


This piece was written as part of a classroom activity with my students in EN227 Short Fiction (Marymount University, FA19). We had read Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” and Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use.” In the classroom, I asked everyone to empty their bags and pockets onto the table in front of them (reserving, of course, anything truly personal or embarrassing), and we talked about what our piles revealed about us individually and collectively. Then I asked them to write 200-300 words on the model of either O’Brien or Walker–about the things we carry and what they reveal or about a thing we use everyday that someone else would preserve. I’ve posted mine here to share it with them, and with you.