Have you ever read Tim O’Brien’s novel, The Things They Carried? It tells the story of a platoon of soldiers in the Viet Nam war through the things that they carried in the knapsacks. I used to assign it when I taught Comp & Lit at Lehigh. For one, I wanted my overindulged students to get their minds around something other than their latest hookup. Even more, though, I love the idea that we tell our own stories by the things that we feel we need to have with us every day.
- Empty your purse, backpack, briefcase, or shopping bag and look at what you’ve taken out. Now choose the things that for whatever reason are always with you.
- Describe them.
- How are they related? How are they not? What does it say about you that these things are necessary to you?
This is an exercise in three things:
- Your powers of description.
- Your ability to analyze, to move from the concrete to the abstract, to see the patterns (or lack of same) in things that seem unrelated.
- Your willingness to come to a conclusion about what the things you carry say–or don’t say–about you.