Paraphernalia of one’s own

shutterstock_121678021I’m a carrier. I carry stuff around with me everywhere. If I get a new book (joy of joys) I carry it to bed, to each room that I go to, I have it sitting next to me. I have a box of things that I carry upstairs on a night and downstairs on a morning – this is actually part of my self-help, it’s a tip I picked up from I Had A Black Dog by Matthew Johnstone  and contains things to make me feel better, things that remind me of good stuff, of how to be myself.

All of this evidence leads inevitably to the question of handbags. I’m afraid I contribute to the stereotype of a woman obsessed with bags. I love them. I get a bag I like and I use it until it dies, or at least until I have to give it a little rest in the name of humanity. Bag-amity. Whatever. I could window shop for bags for hours as my long-suffering Beloved Husband knows. And I start with very good intentions, honestly I do. I try to limit what I put in my bag to the essentials – a wee bit of essential make-up, a notebook, purse, organiser and of course, my Kindle. It ends up becoming a receptacle for, well, pretty much everything.

But I feel slightly more justified in my hoardiness now, in my clinging to paraphernalia. Paraphernalia, I have learned, is derived from two Greek words, para -meaning beside – and pherne – meaning dowry (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, p 989, 2009; also noted from Paraphernalia – The Curious Lives of Magical Things by Steven Connor, which looks like an excellent book). It refers to everything that a woman possesses besides her dowry, ie everything which is actually her own. This doesn’t have all that much meaning now but in a time when a woman’s possessions automatically became her husband’s upon marriage, this paraphernalia is actually very significant and, I imagine, quite precious.

It links very nicely with my recent reading of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s OwnShe famously said that a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write. I’m quite sure she meant it literally, money and your own personal space are both precious and necessary for producing good work. But they are also important for the autonomy and sense of self-distinction that they indicate. Having a space of your own, like having possessions of your own outside your dowry, give you a chance to see yourself as your own entity, entitled to occupy that pocket of space and time in your own right and not merely as ‘wife’ or ‘mother’ or ‘daughter’ however important those roles are. That distinction has been important to women through history, surely? To all humans – that they, themselves, are entitled to occupy that particular bit of space and time despite the prejudices of those around them?

My paraphernalia, then, is a chance to stand up for my rights I suppose! I’m in the lucky position that I’m the only one trying to suppress me, although I am pretty good at that. My paraphernalia is a chance to express who I am – by looking at my paraphernalia, could you tell what kind of person I am? I think so. I have a little bit of make-up – I like to look nice but it’s far from the biggest part of my paraphernalia. I have a notebook – I like to note things down, things that interest me or arouse my curiosity; I’m also a writer. I have a organiser – I’m not very organised and a flick through this would show a stranger all of the lists and appointments and reminders I need to function in the same reality as the rest of the world. It also shows how important my family are to me, in the front there’s a picture of my babies and throughout the pages are appointments like ‘Daniel’s swimming lesson’ or ‘Emily’s nursery’. I have a kindle – books are hugely important to me, and scanning the books I have on my kindle would give someone the impression of a butterfly with a wide range of interests; the books not yet finished (oh, that tell-tale progress bar!) show how my concentration can be distracted by the new pretty shiny thing.

I’d say that’s a pretty good picture of me. So my paraphernalia has truly become, in a sense, my room of my own and my own self and I shall continue to carry my paraphernalia around with me and take up that pocket of space with pride. Or at least, without guilt.

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