Posted by: Shanna Germain | 06/20/2009

Pg. 81: The Things We Carry


Suitcases beneath the bed. A still (and well-packed) life.



  • Weather: The sky is steeled, the wind is bracing… You’d think the weather was trying to build a bridge.
  • Mileage: Not many. Two, maybe?
  • Discovery: So I am still a bit wigged by spiders. At least, judging by my reaction when I saw the rather huge one trying to climb up the bathtub walls this morning.
  • Media: Melody Gardot. Courtesy of Dean’s suggestion. Wow, she’s fantastic and fine, in every sense of the words.
  • Worst Thing: It’s freezing! Freezing, I say! Where the heck is summer?!?!
  • Best Thing: Last night’s cobalt sky, punctuated by diving, spinning bats.
  • Quote of the Day: “…the brontes where such passionet creatures…do you think that had died if they had stopped to circle around the table/writing?” I have to be incestuous here, and point to Danielle’s comment on my Bronte post. It’s just fantastic. (Danielle, by the way, is a fantastic writer but I don’t get to read him very often because he writes most of his stories in German, so I’m always delighted when he writes in a language that I read!)
  • Word of the Day: Skelf. Splinter.


Have you ever read, The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien? The book, I mean, but mainly the short story. If not, can I recommend it? As in, “go read it right now” recommend it? It is, in my opinion, one of the best short stories out there. And certainly one of the best short stories about war and love and human nature that I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the stories that I use to teach with — when we talk about using objects in fiction (think: the one ring and all it stands for in Lord of the Rings, or of both the snow globe and the sled in Citizen Kane.).

I think about objects a lot. And not just the way they’re used to tell a story on paper. Objects — clothes, cars, jewelry, books, computers, furniture, houses and land even — they all say something about us. Or we wish they’d say something about us.

When I was out walking with C. the other day, we were talking about leaving things behind. We talked about what it was like to pack everything into a couple of suitcases and … just go. She mentioned having friends who were in their 20s who did just that, and how “up and leaving” was an action that our culture seemed to think was only for the young. And then she mentioned her friend J. “He lost everything in a flood,” she said. “And he told me it was the best thing that ever happened to him.”

I, at least, had the option to pick and choose the things that I wanted to carry with me from my last life into this one. I have a feeling I’ll be doing a similar thing when I leave here, my baggage getting lighter and lighter instead of heavier and heavier, my chosen items getting fewer. And I don’t know if that’s better or worse, truly. Some days I think I picked so well. Other days, I lament the losses of things that I could or would use. Things that I want.

I am glad I brought so many things: laptop, camera, the jewelry that means something to me, certain books, certain clothing, things like that. But I also brought some things that I look at now and go, “Why, exactly, did I think that might be important here?” There are other things that I miss so very, very much. Mostly things that wouldn’t have fit anyway: My bike, my treadmill, my ball o’ fur…

I hope next time I’ll pack even better. Take only the things that I really want and need. Leave the rest behind.

Tell me, though, because I’m ever-curious… what would you put in your suitcase? What can you not bear to leave behind? What things would you carry into the next year, the next town, the next incarnation, the next life? And, perhaps more importantly, what would you let the flood take away, without grief or worry?

Far and fast, s.


A few of the things that I’ve purchased since my arrival. One Etsy goody (the gorgeous hand-written slip/skirt) and the rest from the Scottish version of Goodwill. They’re mostly sweatery-type things since I froze my ass off for the first month.


“By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain.” ~Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried”



  1. ahh shanna..that post almost made me cry…objects are really important for me too…mainly the objects which are given to me by friends and family…when i d say the lagguage is heavy..i dont mean only the lagguage in my heart..but also the real things…i tend to give away all stuff i dont really need..but still..always is something left…my drawers are full of things i (at least think) i couldnt live without…wich is silly since they are all in my mind and heart too..but i long to drew (?) my finger of its surface..touch it…feel it…for example…a thing i love so much..a liitle silver cigarette box…it belonged to my great grand father…when he had to go to war this little art deco cigarette box was the home for a photograph of my great grandmother,.,and the ring he planned to give her when he would return to her…thats what kept him alive..the love to her..the urge to survive to go home and bring this ring to her and ask her to be his woman…back then most of the soldiers married fast ebfore war..but they didnt..he said he dont want her to be a widow…he wanted her to be his wife..when i touch this lil silver box i can see him in the the dirty..almost no light…the noicesn of bombs and raffles(?) everywhere..he sits there..looks at her picture…and he knows..he knows he has to go back…its so long ago…but the story is still here..the cigarette box is still here….i dont desperately need those things..but still i would always put them in my suitcase…next to the wodka and the toothbrush…

  2. Aha! So that’s where my slip went!

    When George is hanged, I will be the worst packer in the world. (Actually, I am stealing a line from Jerome K. Jerome’s 3 Men in a Boat, and twisting it to make it my own.)

    But I tend to pack for trips as if someone I don’t know (and would apparently like to be) is going in my stead. Shoes I never wear, dresses that don’t really suit me. The woman who travels with my suitcase is much more sophisticated than my blue jeans and snorg tee-shirt wearing self.

    Adair Lara wrote a brilliant piece about packing for a different persona for the collection “There’s Sand In My Bra.” Have you read it?


  3. Packing for a different personna intrigues me.

    Refrain: All I ever wanted to be was a farmer.

    My life is so intense day to day running a multimillion dollar company, raising two teenagers and trying to keep the 500 people who work for me happy that I long for the times when I can slip, unseen, into the real me.

    Refrain: All I ever wanted to be was a farmer.

    Like tomorrow, leaving for Paris, no one knows me there. If I shut off my damn blackberry no one can reach me there. When I pack my suitcase tomorrow morning, I’ll take my favorite Levi 501 jeans, t shirt, sweater and slip on shoes made for walking. Sunglasses (I only wear them at night), a pocket full of money, my passport and wallet (with pictures of those I love and the muy importante, tres important. American Express Card whose points pay for upgrades to first class, airfare and hotels.

    I don’t need much else.

    I’ve been fortunate and had so much that at this point I am content to have with me exactly what I had when I arrived on this planet.

    Refrain: All I ever wanted to be was a farmer.

  4. From experience – what I could not bear to leave behind – nothing but the cat and those I love. All of the rest of it is just flimflam.

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