Wednesday, May 30, 2018

unbound 

Image from page 150 of "The Canadian field-naturalist" (1924)

I hate my backpack. I hate all backpacks. I even hate the name. Back. Pack. I hate this entire category of luggage. There was a moment when I thought what a great idea a “No-strap Backback” was, until I realized it was a terrible idea that was also an April Fools prank. Even the most ergonomically designed pack is putting stress on your shoulders and spine (even “strapless” ones). I hate the sweatiness of a pack covering a large portion of my back. What’s the point of wearing breathable fabric outerwear if most of it is covered with a heavy nylon unbreathable pack stuffed with junk?

Of course, it’s not really about the bag itself. Living in a city where you leave your house for hours at a time and don’t have a car to secure personal affects means you have to carry everything you might need with you. I’m fascinated by the “Persona” project where an artist asks to photograph a person and the belongings they deem essential enough to carry with them everyday (a surprising number of people carry two phones and knives - big knives?!) If I emptied out my backpack you’d find an asthma inhaler, a handful of ibuprofen, maybe a protein bar, a couple of notebooks, multiple pens, a phone cable and a backup battery to recharge my phone on the go. Probably the oddest things I carry are part of a repair kit for my bike, namely a wrench and a pump (a compact pump but a pump nonetheless).

Austin Diptych
This guy gets it…

More than anything else though, the one thing that weighs me down both physically and, let’s say “spiritually" is a laptop. It should be said the laptop I currently carry is almost a kilogram lighter than the first one I owned. There was a time that due to my work, no laptop could really keep up with the requirements of my job so, like a piano player, I showed up to every gig ready to sit and play at a desktop workstation. That’s no longer the case and now we’re expected to lug around our instruments of work everywhere. I carry my laptop into meetings because I might be called upon to produce a document or confirm some detail only accessible online. The immediacy of work has meant if you say you’ll send someone a document they expect you to send it to them while you are saying it. Having that laptop in my backpack is a yoke around my neck. It physically connects me to work or more accurately it connects work to me, parasite-like.

I can’t blame the entirety of my backpack animus on hauling around gigabytes of data and processing power however. Some of it is the simple fact I ride a bicycle. Sure, I could use panniers or baskets to carry things on my two-wheeled traverse of the city but what happens when you stop and leave your conveyance behind. In a car, you lock the doors or trunk but on a bike, you take everything. More than just the things you had on the bike, to avoid theft you actually take parts of the bike. Back in the day of all things quick-release, I would take my saddle (and post), remove the front wheel so that I could lock it with the frame and rear wheel in one big Rubik’s cube of steel and rubber and of course, I’d remove my lights. Today, with wheels and seat secured with a bolt (tamper resistant varieties coming soon) I only take front & rear lights and an electronic horn which have a combined value of about $100. To avoid carrying a helmet wherever I am, I secure it to the bike frame with the same lock. That means I still have a handful of widgets too big for any pocket, yet not quite big enough to justify a backpack but because I already have a backpack to carry a repair kit, a wrench and a pump, I use one anyway. It drives me nuts to have to bring a bag with me just to have somewhere to put all the stuff that comes off the bike. Did I mention in the summer I’ll often travel with a jacket and some kind of rain pants in case of ill-weather? No? Well, that will also be in the bag.

Recently I went to a concert and knowing I would have a couple of drinks plus the fact it was raining, I decided to take the streetcar rather than ride my bike. This simple decision meant I didn’t need to take an additional bag to carry a repair kit (see wrench and pump), nor did I need anywhere to put my lights that I remove from my bike (to avoid the theft thereof), and it meant I didn’t have to wear a highly visible all weather jacket. Thus I didn’t bring a backpack that I’d have to wear or watch the entire time I was out; I didn’t have to bring a messenger style bag; I didn’t have to wear a “fanny pack”; I didn’t even have to wear a jacket with big pockets to stuff extra junk I was needlessly carrying. It was freedom. It was so unusual that I kept thinking I had forgotten something when in reality I forgot what it was like to not have all that obligation with me. I had forgotten what it was like to only bring myself with me.

There’s my solution then. If I want to avoid carrying a backpack full of work and/or cycling kit, I just need to decide to drink so much that neither work nor cycling make sense. That means I’m only leaving the house with a wallet the size of a hearty sandwich, a pocket full of keys and phone roughly the size of a television remote. So free. So untethered. Unbound.

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