The Things I Carry

With less than a week until Move-In, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out what I do and don’t need to pack. Sure, I’ve spent days poring over blog articles and YouTube haul videos, but none of them are perfect or completely comprehensive. I don’t want to overpack, but at the same time one of my worst fears is leaving something at home that I’ll actually need.

In the process of sorting through my belongings [read: sitting in the now-limited space on my floor wondering exactly when and how I collected so much sentimental junk], I got sidetracked by a stack of notebooks. (All composition books, which are better than spiral notebooks; I will fight you on this.) I couldn’t resist flipping open the top one, which turned out to be my second-semester English 11 Honors notebook.

That year we read Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a novel centered around a particular military unit’s experiences before, during, and after the Vietnam War. From the Goodreads summary: “They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated bibles, each other. And if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb.”

Like most students, I’ve forgotten a lot of class content from past years – but this book and its themes have stuck with me. The idea of emotional baggage may not be a new or surprising one, but I remember thinking that The Things They Carried illustrated the concept in an interesting way. And I, like Cadence Sinclair Eastman, greatly enjoy a “twist of meaning.”

(The following anecdote may sound only tangentially related, so I ask you to bear with me while I take the scenic route through Memory Lane to get to the point.)

When I was in fifth grade, we read Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida, about a Japanese-American girl and her family sent to an internment camp post-Pearl Harbor. [If you’re interested in this period of history as told from this particular perspective but want a book written for a higher reading level, Douglass Residential College students are reading When the Emperor Was Divine this year.] Part of the unit was a simulation, which required each of us to bring in a backpack of the beloved and/or useful possessions we would bring in were we in Yuki’s situation.

I don’t recall exactly what my ten-year-old self deemed essential to bring from home, but the list was definitely a lot different from the one my eighteen-year-old self has been consulting. However, on the whole I’ve added more items to my metaphorical backpack than I’ve removed or replaced, and I’d like to take a minute and dig through its contents.

So, to the point of this article (at last!), here are some of the more interesting things I will carry with me to Rutgers this fall:

My backpack to carry other (tangible) items on this list for everyday use.

My bullet journal: part daily planner, part artistic outlet, all organizational companion.

My cell phone and laptop. Modern technology is great for helping us schedule future events, takes notes or photographs as the occasion arises, and keep in contact with old friends and family members.

My Kindle. It’s so much easier than trying to pick and choose which/how many books to stuff into my suitcase. (No, I don’t anticipate having a lot of free time during the semester, but I think I can at least count a good amount of commute time waiting for/sitting on the buses.)

High school study habits. While admittedly not ideal (the “cram frantically the night before” method has served me fine thus far), they’re what I’ve got to work with until I can develop better ones.

Somewhat informed opinions and biases. These will probably change in the years to come, though I doubt I’ll ever really love eggplant or bell peppers.

Ambition and competitive spirit. I just want to be the best in my class, is that so much to ask? But in all seriousness – though I won’t tell you not to compare yourself to others, considering we all do it and sometimes it even provides useful perspective (e.g., a class where the average is a C, or the fact that Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish the Little House books until her mid-60s), the main person whose work you should be looking at is yourself. The goal is beating your personal best, not someone else’s.

Excitement and some anxiety about starting a new stage of my life. Pretty self-explanatory.

Oh, and I almost forgot the arguably most important thing – a towel.

(I would apologize for all the hyperlinks and book references, but I’m not even a little bit sorry. To quote yet another old favorite of mine: “read lots of good books now because you might get too busy when you grow up.”)

Hopefully this article has inspired you to think about the things you carry into this new school year. And hey, maybe we even have some in common!