I carry too much; I already know this, and most of the time, don’t care to alter.
I once kept pockets filled, stories for every spark of detritus, including small tokens, a drink umbrella, business cards, spare button, discarded watch, receipts. In 1997, I entertained Toronto bookseller Janet Inksetter when she told me to empty my pockets; I had explanations for every item, and amused her greatly (my stories are never short). She was going through a period, she said, of asking poets who came through to do same, and wasn’t expecting such bounty (John Barlow had performed the day before). She even added to mine, a St. Christopher medal she gave for safety, that I carried until the end of that particular reading tour a month later, placing safely in a box in my bedroom.
What and why do I carry? Hold-all, the title tells, and certainly, it tries. There are things we pick up that we carry with us for a very long time, and other things that only need to be carried a short distance (even further things we shouldn’t be picking up at all).
A shoulder bag filled with pens, used or otherwise, copies of current reading material, manuscripts, essays and poems in progress, a notebook, a packet of handwritten letters from a woman out west, copies of my own books for potential sale, bankbook, passport, earphones from the last airplane home, umbrella sometimes, for all this paper in the rain. Why carry? The fact I write in public places, some. The Second Cup at Bank and Somerset, or Rideau Centre food court. Is it any wonder bags so rarely last a year? The ottawa international writers festival tote as second if I need to carry more. I become a further pack-horse when I travel.
The scars across one of my festival bags, black shoulder bag and tote filled up with outgoing mail when I hit the oil slick in 2003, and my bicycle a Somerset bullet down with a momentum that kept moving, ten further feet. Sans helmet, it was the tote bag, along with limbs, that took the brunt of pavement. The outgoing box of contributor copies of Aaron Peck's STANZAS saving skull from potential dents or cracks, forcing deep scars along the tote and along my leg where bicycle chain took. Two sprained wrists and an elbow first thought fractured. Is it excess baggage saved my life?
My ex-wife favoured the same, mounds of seemingly random items in her once-bag, from stamps to baby soother to cassette tapes to weekly newspapers already old. I carry everything I have with me at all times, everything I seemingly own. I never know when I might need. A book to read or four, a notebook, manuscript pages of works-in-progress, books for potential review, books for always sale. A computer disk. Multiple pens, in case one runs out. Essays printed off the internet. Essays and poems I am working on. Spare napkins, from when I used to look after children. Condoms, when I've felt hopeful, even desperate. A sewing kit, a time. A corkscrew. Comic books and literary journals.
The carrying case itself is nearly incidental, something just to hold; a shoulder strap, large enough to carry all I think I need, and matching black, for style. I am a victim of my own standards and routines. I am nearly lost without. Some days I am self-contained, my luggage-sized utility belt.
Some days I work my way to be free, surrendering the weight.
all photos of rob mclennan by Charles Earl
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