Monday, July 16, 2007

The Things You and You and You Carry

Sometime back, during the editing process on one of Brian Fagan's archaeological adventures, we thought it interesting to make special note, a kind of pre-historic take on Tim O'Brien's fine novel, The Things They Carried. This may turn out to be O'Brien's most iconic work, having as its dramatic spine a laundry list of what some of the American soldiers involved in the Viet Nam War, carried about with them in addition to the military ordinance with which they had been issued.

In the Fagan work, it came to me that we could get a better sense of the life and times of our forbears if we knew something about the things they carried with them, or as Fagan put it, what was in their tool kit. At one point, in the stone age, a major item was called a burrin, a chunk of flinty rock from which chips could be struck for use either in starting fires, as a projectile point, and even as a knife or scraping tool.

The notion came to me that we were discussing the precursor of The Swiss Army knife, a designation that found its way into not only Fagan's text but, over the years, several other studies of what life was like, way back then.

As Brian produces text on his new venture, a comprehensive portrait of the so-called Cro-Magnon people, it came to mne that we were at another comparison point, a garment made from sheep or some other shaggy-coated animal. Voila, the precursor of the Ugg boot, which comparison Fagan's new publisher has already slathered over.

And these paragraphs become prologue to my wonderment and speculation about the things writers carry about with them. For my part, there is one or more fountain pens, selected at whim from a cigar box repository of favorites, including a Mark Twain model from the American penmaker, Conklin; a Sailor from Japan,with one of the most deliciously flexible nibs ever; an Italian Ancora, which is hefty in a reassuring way, enhanced by mother-of-pearl side panels, a gift from ENK; another Italian pen, the Montegrappa; an impulsively given Mount Blanc from Steve Cook; as well as another choice Aurora which also has a nice heft if a bit of a scratchy nib. With these tools is a pocket-sized Moleskine note book and two smaller pocket-sized books purchased in a magazine stand at Heathrow, plus untold piles of plain index cards as well as those with enough information printed on them to qualify as super-large business cards. Not to forget a pocket knife.

This intrigues me to the point where I will start asking writers what they carry with them as a matter of course because it has already come to me to begin pestering people for permission to take photos of the insides of their refrigerators. I know Fagan has an inordinate number of carrots in his 'frige because of his wife's dealings with rescue rabbits, and true Brit that he is, he has confessed to vegemite and Patum Peperium, that somewhat salty anchovy relish,well-known as "The Gentleman's Relish."

What grand mysteries one can learn of one's friends from seeing the insides of their refrigerators.

None of this would, I think, have occurred to me if I had not come by a camera, which in fact produces entirely new levels of curiosity about the world and its denizens.

1 comment:

Lori Witzel said...

Goes to my thought about the camera enabling the sort of attentive, mindful "seeing" that I normally would only reach for a few moments when sketching.

(Tried for a better comment, but my current lack of sleep means this is the best I can do...well, better half-witted than nit-witted.)