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Tips for packing
and what we leave behind
I am a compulsive over-packer. Regardless of whether I’m going away overnight or for a week, I will pack more than I need. Because of this I will end up packing and unpacking and repacking several times. Do I need three sweaters for a four day trip to Whitehorse? Do I need two dresses for a weekend trip to a literary festival? The version of myself that loves options and to snap pictures of me in my outfits will always say YES! The truth is I always bring back unworn clothing and I never pack enough underwear.
As I’ve written before, I’m a list maker. I love a to-do list. I always make a grocery list (and sometimes even bring it to the store with me). I make packing lists for camping trips and other travel, but on Wednesday, February 22nd I leave for a 2 month adventure, and I don’t know what to pack.
Of course, I know I need to bring all the essentials — tooth brush, floss, socks, shoes etc. — but it’s all those comforts of home that you miss that I don’t know how to pack. I’m a home body. I didn’t realize this until the pandemic forced us all to stay home, but I like being in my own space, with my things. I like knowing my favourite teas are close by, and my cozy blanket is always within reach. I also like knowing that this is the place that I call home.
When my great grandparents left their farm near LeRoss, Saskatchewan. They didn’t just pack up their vehicles with boxes and bags, they actually brought the house with them. It was placed on land in Kelliher, Saskatchewan, where it would become something like a Frankenstein house with all sorts of additions and renovations. I couldn’t imagine actually bringing your house with you when you move. Every time I’ve moved, it meant making a home all over again in a new space. It meant fitting my life into a new bedroom, kitchen, bathroom. Sometimes it even meant learning how to live with new people, and all of their habits and preferences. I wonder if my great grandparents even bothered to pack the house, or if they just taped the cupboards and drawers shut and hoped for the best?
Home is such a complicated word. And I struggle even writing about home because I know for so many it’s a fractured relationship. We search for home and constantly build and rebuild our “home.” To me, my home is a place I feel calm, at ease, and myself. If you can’t be your weirdest within your own home, where can you? I laugh the hardest in my home with my husband.
In November, I hosted an event for the Yukon Words Literary Festival. It was a storytelling evening and to give the event some cohesion I asked the writers and storytellers to share work tied to ideas of home. I got a few emails saying that this was hard because their work didn’t necessarily deal with home, or that they had a strained relationship with “home.” I asked them to lean into this, to be honest about the way that we’ve turned “home” into a happy welcome mat, to a sugary sweet destination that we’re all supposed to have. I asked them to explore the body as home, and about the disconnect we can feel when a place is far from our ancestral home, or when our homes are built on stolen land. The result was moving and a multi-dimensional representation of a simple word with more definitions and meaning than we’ll ever be able to capture in a dictionary or single piece of writing.
On Valentine’s Day I gave my husband a card with a hermit crab on it. I love hermit crabs. I love the idea that they carry their homes with them and that they can make a new home in the most unusual vessels. I want to bring comforts of home with me to Saskatchewan. I’m going to bring one of my favourite coffee mugs, candles, books (of course), my pillow, but I’m becoming increasingly worried about being homesick and then wanting to come home.
I remember going to sleep away camp when I was a kid. I didn’t feel like I belonged there. All the kids in my cabin seemed to know each other from somewhere else and so I just trailed behind them holding on to snippets of their conversations. By day three I wanted to go home. I hated the cold drafty cabin. I hated the bunk beds. I hated sitting on the benches in the outdoor chapel. The homesickness faded and by the last day I was clutching the other girls in my cabin promising to write letters and be in touch soon.
I keep writing PACK!!! on my to do list. And every day I push it off to the next day. It’s not because I don’t want to pack, or even don’t know what to bring. It’s because I don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that there are things I just can’t bring with me, and there are things I will miss regardless of how many comforts I bring to prepare for the days when I just want to go home.
What would you have brought?
I was first introduced to Kayla Isomura’s The Suitcase Project when I read Michael Prior’s poem “A Hundred and Fifty Pounds.” He was inspired by Kayla’s exhibit which asked “asks yonsei and gosei (fourth and fifth generation) Japanese Canadians and Americans what they would pack if uprooted from their homes in a moment’s notice.” Michael start’s his poem with a quote from the 1942 BC Security Commission which read, “Each adult will be allowed 150 pounds and each child will be allowed 57 pounds of baggage.” This is what Japanese Canadians were allowed to bring when they were taken to internment camps.
When many people immigrated to Canada they made decisions about what to bring. I remember visiting the Canadian Immigration Museum at Pier 21 in Halifax, and one of the exhibits showed a trunk and there were plastic walnuts scattered among the clothes. In another it showed salami stuffed next to socks and sweaters. People didn’t know what food there would be when they arrived, and so they prepared the only way they knew how, to bring what they could with them.
I’d like to invite you to spend time reading Michael’s poem, and then write about what you would have brought?
A Hundred and Fifty Pounds
By Michael Prior
Each adult will be allowed 150 pounds
and each child will be allowed 75 pounds of baggage.
—B.C. Security Commission, 1942
after Kayla Isomura's The Suitcase Project
In some, the luggage lies open
like a mouth mid-sentence.
In others, closed zippers grimace:
What would you have brought?
Slippers, a stuffed platypus, a gold watch
on a chain, copper pots swaddled in bedding.
The hypotheses: that thinking
can be things, that each decision shrinks
the pained mind to the space
inside a suitcase. Include
lacquered chopsticks, silver forks,
a hammer scarred by rust, the orders
nailed to telephone poles and doors.
Omit what you whispered then,
most of what you've seen.
What I’m knitting: I’ve been making a lot of tuques lately. My dad requested one and then Joseph Kakwinokanasum posted on Instagram that he lost his tuque. I’m looking forward to returning to a lace knitting project on my trip.
What I'm reading: Right now my reading is stuck somewhere between re-reading my own manuscript, which I haven’t picked up since it went out on submission in June 2022, and Zoe Whittall’s new novel The Fake. Before that I finished Annie Ernaux’s A Girl’s Story, and if you’re at all interested in writing memoir and alternative POVs for writing memoir, I HIGHLY recommend this read.
What’s next on the reading list: I’ve got a growing pile of books I’m bringing with me to Saskatchewan. It includes fiction like You Make A Fool of Death With Your Beauty, and Kate Beaton’s latest graphic novel Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, but also there’s A LOT of research books being mixed in too.
What I'm watching: Like many others I’ve been looking forward to the weekly release of The Last of Us. After watching too many bad seasons of The Walking Dead I’d sworn off zombie shows, but I’m really enjoying The Last of Us. It’s such an interesting take on zombies (they’re infected by mushrooms and there’s a mycelial network) and episode 3 will remind you that love is possible even in the worst situations.
What I'm cooking: I made some killer pulled pork sandwiches from Date Night In by Ashley Rodriguez for Valentine’s Day and also made some ritz cracker chocolate medallions which were easy and so delicious.