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Don’t Leave Home Without It or You’ll Have Ten Thousand Days of Rotten Luck and Will Never Pass Another Class

December 17, 2009

Note: This was written and posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2009, NOT on December 17. This makes me nuts as I’ve said before. When you’re on the road, connecting can be more difficult than anticipated.

I never leave the house without a pen. I can write on my hand or my arm or on my clothes if I don’t have paper, but I have to have something to write with. I feel panicked without a pen. It has to be a certain kind of pen too, and it must be black ink, although any pen is better than none. Pencils? No. You cannot write on yourself or your clothing with a pencil.
• W-OZ, journal entry, November 1994

Do you have lucky objects, things that you carry with you or keep in your car or on your desk to ensure good fortune? Do you have an object or a ritual you believe will help you be a better student? I’m not a superstitious person, but I do have a lucky clipboard that I used in every college class I took. My youngest son, who was in elementary school when I went back to school, gave it to me. It was his and I remember him telling me on my first day of school that I would need one. It has some sort of Japanese robot characters on it (I’m sure he’d know what they are), and it’s now held together mostly by clear plastic packing tape since it’s been almost a quarter of a century since I first took it to class. While I’m sure I’d have done just as well in my classes without Lucky Clipboard, I didn’t take any chances when I began my doctoral program. L.C. went with me to every class and I used it when I wrote my dissertation.

During my undergraduate days, I had a friend who kept a tiny hand crocheted teddy bear from her grandmother in her purse for luck, another friend who always wore the same pair of red wool socks for exams, and still another who used a backpack that he’d had since high school so worn that it was held together with duct tape. He believed that without it, his streak of A’s would end. I knew someone who always ate chicken noodle soup before a test even if it was at 8 a.m., and another who never began writing the final draft of a paper until she baked chocolate chip cookies to eat while she wrote. She used dough from the grocery store refrigerated case, making her procrastinatory activity less time consuming. Such ritualized activities and lucky objects can become comforting traditions althought they can also make you crazy if and when you can’t find the thing you need to insure good fortune.

In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien (1990) writes about the touchstones men carried into battle during the Vietnam War, often imbuing these items with the power to keep their owners alive:

On ambush, or other night missions, they carried peculiar little odds and ends. Kiowa always took along his New Testament and a pair of moccasins for silence. Dave Jensen carried night-sight vitamins high in carotene. Lee Strunk carried his slingshot; ammo, he claimed, would never be a problem. Rat Kiley carried brandy and M&M’s candy. Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried the starlight scope, which weighed 6.3 pounds with its aluminum carrying case. Henry Dobbins carried his girlfriend’s pantyhose wrapped around his neck as a comforter. They all carried ghosts. (pp. 9-10)

Do you have any touchstones and familiars, lucky objects you don’t leave the house without? Do you have any test or study or life rituals?

Travelers embarking on a long journey are often advised to take something familiar with them–a pillow or photograph or knickknack that can provide a comforting link with home .In a sense, we are all travelers today, leaving familiar shores behind and launching ourselves into a new century and a new millenium. As we go, we need to take these treasures with us. They are the compass that can help us from drifting off course. They are our link with the past. Even more important, they are our gift to the future.
• National Geographic Society (2001),
Saving America’s Treasures (p. 177)

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