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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Bag and Baggage

I had reason to weigh my handbag the other day. Well, someone else weighed it, after she took it from my arm, gasped at the weight, and strode over to a handy nearby scale. My bag weighed in at six pounds eight ounces, about the size of a small newborn human. This was a bit of a shock, but really more so was the gasp of the person who weighed my handbag, my purse, my satchel. Because I have been lugging this bag around — or a similar one—for quite a long time. My pelvic floor physical therapist (PT), who weighed it, suggested that carrying a heavy bag might contribute to pelvic misalignment, which might contribute to pelvic floor problems.

This is likely too much information for many of you readers, and not enough for some. Please feel free to contact me if you are among the latter. The rest of you, just compartmentalize or stuff all reactions, please. Thank you very much.

This isn’t really about handbags, or my pelvic floor. Sure, I could do a comic routine about the contents of the bag. (At weighing, there was an unopened lightening adapter cord for the cell phone to car connection and a book about day hikes around our area—very slim—among the usual four types of lipstick, two lip balms, and a chapstick. Those are still there, a week later, let me assure you. As well as reading glasses, non prescription sunglasses, and clip on sunglasses for my regular glasses in case I am wearing them instead of my contact lenses when a ray of sun hits my iris and I need instant protection.)

My PT suggested I just stow the bag in the car’s trunk and carry only what I need with me.

It was as if a vista suddenly appeared before me where there had only been fog. I saw from a distance the me I once was, who tripped about Boston and San Francisco with a bank card, an ID, and a bit of cash in a small zipper pouch. No extra underwear—again, probably too much information for some readers—no spare lightening cords or Caudalie lip balm.

The me I once was and the me I am—are we the same?

I took my PT’s suggestion, came home and put only the most essential items in a small(er) bag --credit card holder, a bit of cash, phone, keys, and sunglasses, and left the house. I immediately regretted this decision when I realized there was no hand sanitizer in case I touched something germy, and no lip balm for my now parched lips. And how would I read the menu at dinner? From arm’s length and tilted, it turned out.

Then I remembered my PT’s suggestion of putting the big bag in the trunk and only carrying what I needed with me from the car. Thus, creating the illusion of Holly Golightly fancy-free-ness whilst still having everything at the ready. And quite a bit more. Old receipts? Library cards from the New York Public Library and the 92nd Street Y? It’s been ten years since I left the city.
Italian leather bag, pleather baggie, and flip flop for scale. Intentionally blurred for artistic purposes. (I lie.) 

I am going to blame the children for my large bag. For decades I have been the repository of all the little objects they left the house carrying, plus extra snacks and books and pens and pads of paper for whiling away various units of time. Extra sweaters and plastic bags in case of who knows what? Purell and hand sanitizing wipes in little packets because why not duplicate and never worry? Latex gloves.

That’s right. Latex gloves. I would carry Latex-free gloves, too, in case someone has a Latex allergy, but that would be overkill.

I said I blame the children, but it’s disingenuous of me to do so. The large bag predates them. It predates the husband, too. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how often I tripped around town with only a small zipper pouch. It is possible that was only when I was heading out to a club to go dancing. Otherwise, bag. Schlep. Bag. Come to think of it, Holly Golightly was not exactly fancy-free. As I recall, she had her baggage, too. She was, if memory serves, married off to a much older man when she was about fourteen and trying to escape poverty. But, you know that party scene in the movie is the best.

I think, having had children, that we humans have a genetic desire to carry things. I say this because my children always left the house carrying something. Once they could grasp an object, they carried one with them. A small plush giraffe, or a board book, a plastic dragon, or a Polly Pocket doll. Something clutched in a little hand as they reclined in the stroller. Something to pitch over the edge, of course. A thing I would then pick up and stuff into my bag.

So, yes, we like to hold things. We like to be burdened. We like to be prepared. The bag is a hedge against the unexpected. We have a baggie for that, or a snack to stave off hunger. An after dinner mint to freshen the breath. The bag, by the way, allows for hands free movement. We may be laden with luggage, but our hands are still free.

Are we ever free of our burdens? Are we ever burdened by our freedom?

The answer to both questions is yes, at moments. At least according to Dr. Edith Egar, who wrote an amazing memoir called The Choice, which I recommend to everyone. I don’t know if I want to write about this book, because reading it was kind of traumatic. It’s a Holocaust survival story, but it’s more than that. It’s about living afterward, having survived, and how the trauma affected Egar’s life—and continues to. She’s in her nineties now, and healing from the trauma has taken all this time. It’s hard to think about the trauma experienced by young immigrant children separated from their parents, and how they may or may not fare as they go forward with living. Without professional help, how will they heal? Even with professional help, trauma is hard to heal. And we don’t have to have experienced a concentration camp to be traumatized. There are less extraordinary traumas of loss and assault on the self. And what does it mean to heal? Is it to be free of suffering? Not at all. It’s to experience moments of insight that bring relief, and to have scars. Scars, no matter how cleverly repaired, are permanent disfigurations you carry with you.

What am I saying? Who knows. Does it relate to success? Oh, absolutely. Edith Egar’s point is that people can be victimized by other people. However, victimhood is a choice. Meaning, learned helplessness, feeling defeated and overwhelmed are effects of victimization that we have to try to overcome, by choosing over and over, and over and over, to try.

Is that awfully put? It feels kind of judgy of those who have terrible after effects such as PTSD or depression. I guess the thing is that you can be knocked down, sometimes for quite a while, but you have to remember that in your own head you have the choice to protect yourself from forgetting who you were before the trauma. Sometimes that’s enough to carry you to the next day. Edith Egar lost her mother to Auschwitz’s gas chamber, but she carried her mother’s advice with her: no one can take away what you have in your head, and she used her memories of feeling her most empowered and vibrant to help her get through those moments when she was most debased, trapped, and near death.

Anyway, someone’s got to carry the purse, bag, tote, messenger bag, Birkin, backpack. Those rare few who manage without lean on the rest of us from time to time. I’m about to take a trip, which gives me a good reason to rummage through my big bag and remove some excess stuff. I’ll keep the undies in there, since I probably put them there the last time I traveled by aeroplane. Always good to have extra, in case of disaster, or really in case of delays. In case of disaster, none of it matters.

1 comment:

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