Thursday, October 29

The Traveling Scholar

Ugh. Somehow the first half of my post was actually deleted or overwritten at some point, so my narrative seemed to have jumped into the middle of the action without prelude. I'll try to sum it up again, in that I was only going on about my bag fetish. Ever since getting out of the military, I've had a separate radar in my consciousness for increasingly efficient bag systems. It's good to have specialized bags, satchels, &c. for specialized purposes, but the holy grail of this is of course the grand go-to, the catch-all, the bag of all seasons. Have I found it? Will I ever? I can only leave this for the philosophers to debate.

I'm brand loyal to Swissgear for their many, many fine products. I can't seem to find my own purchases available on their main Web site, but instead I found many other items to enthuse and lust after. Lust? Absolutely: they don't instigate a biological response but I crave the efficient, multifunctional, sturdy design that is the hallmark of Swissgear. Why, just today I lapsed into a fugue state, pontificating over what it would be like if Swissgear actually designed a coat...

I used the courier bag to carry my laptop and for travel, but the problem with it is that it holds an awful lot and has a zipper to expand its content, so I can really overload it with a lot of heavy books and technology, contributing to cramped shoulders and imbalanced muscular strain. That's all my fault, though, I'm just being irresponsible. I loved that it seriously could hold all my crap, though: the main body had plenty of room for my laptop, which is an oversized model due to its wide screen, as well as folders and books for my college classes, and an array of handy, secure pouches and pockets. Into these went all my fountain pens and ink cartridges, plus letters and small notebooks to be accessed rapidly. I tried storing my cellphone in there but wound up forgetting about it more often than not.

I also found a handy satchel they call a boarding bag, suggesting its use for plane travel. I doubt I'll ever live in a society so sophisticated they would opt to travel with a small satchel rather than lugging their entire household in three oversized suitcases to be crammed in the overhead compartments, but the idea is appealing. I used to call this bag my "traveling office" because of everything it held: perfectly sized for my Kindle (with case), multiple Moleskine notebooks (hardcover and paperback), a robust pen collection, separate pouches for filing stationery, letters, and paperwork, and still more pockets than I needed. That is a desirable feature, to me. It even had a little pocket for my iPod Nano and a hole to run the headphones through, now a standard feature on all backpacks and such.

Most recently I picked up the Synergy notebook-carrying backpack. I was torn between my desire for its absolute utility--sheer volume of stowage and balanced weight on my back/shoulders--versus its perceived stigma: I only saw real geeks using it, apparent social retards. I'm quite geekish myself, I fully acknowledge and proclaim this, but I do shower a few times a week, I can state my position in a discussion without alienating everyone around me, and I can maintain eye contact during conversation. That is, I hope, what sets me apart. At length I finally got over myself and bought it and have been trying it out. Reflexively I want to adore it, but I'm still in a process of getting to know it, familiarizing myself with its physics as boys will.

It has two large compartments and two smaller front pouches, plus an unusual design for bottle holders on either side--they stretch to hold the whole bottle and enclose it entirely in a zippered mesh pouch. The very front pouch is small and I use it to hold bike maps and occasionally a breakfast bar; the larger one is my stationery repository (see pictured) and it holds more than I have labeled in the photo. Next is the first large compartment, holding two folders, the Kindle, a series of Moleskine notebooks, and still has considerable room for more--occasionally I stash my thermal lunch bag here. There's also a hanging pouch not just for my iPod Touch but also my headphones! Even more convenient. And the compartment behind that, up against my back, is where the laptop would go--my oversized laptop just fits in there, with a mesh pouch for power cords, laser mouse, and peripherals.

There is no question this is a very handy bag to have, and I'm sure I will overload it also with books, computer, and everything else, but at least it's built to distribute that weight more evenly. Already this advantage has manifest: yesterday I was about to miss my bus but was able to sprint a block to catch it, something I might not have pulled off if I had to secure an over-the-shoulder bag like a fully loaded courier bag.

I have a large Chinese (in style if not in origin) stationery chest at home, which comes with folding iron legs to support it about a foot off the ground. Something like that is how people used to transport their papers/parchment, inks, quills, pens, sealing wax, cinnabar and chop, &c. Now I've got the same thing, but a more compact containment system that in turn holds more compact instrumentation and supplies. In some abstruse way I'm continuing the tradition of the traveling scholar/scribe, hauling a small library on my back with all my writing accoutrement. I think that's what I like best about all this, feeling like a contemporary interpretation of an ancient tradition. That's how I romanticize it, anyway.

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