Ever wonder if those who achieve literary greatness get a hall pass when it comes to the mundane matters of daily life? Where packing is concerned, at least, the StyleBlueprint editorial department reports that this bewildering chore appears to be as much of a conundrum for award-winning novelists as it is for the rest of us.
Read on as today’s guest blogger, renowned author Ann Patchett, shares a snippet of what life is like for a novelist anticipating the start of a summer book tour to promote her newest and soon-to-be-released work, State of Wonder.
These days, whenever my eyes go glassy and I stare out the window seeing nothing and my husband asks me gently, “What are you thinking about?” the answer is always the same: I am thinking about packing.
Packing is pretty much all I think about these days. This is because I cannot bear to think about the book tour. I have a new book coming out in June and I will be touring in the U.K. in late May, in the U.S. from June 6th through early July, and then I’ll do the whole thing over again in Australia. For the most part I have no say in where I go or what I do in all these places. My schedule is pretty much a city a night, so every day contains a mirco-managed schedule (not managed by me) of interviews, readings, and flights. The only part that’s in my control is what goes in the suitcase, and so I focus on that. A lot.
I have two suitcases that are real contenders: a gray Briggs and Riley roller bag (dimensions: 10x23x14; weight 9.4 pounds) and a blue Samsonite (8x19x15; 7.8 pounds). People love to tell you how they traveled through Europe for two months with nothing but a carry-on, and while I am a light packer, I also have to look professional, or at least like a novelist, pretty much every day. At one point this summer I’ll go three weeks without coming home. That means relying on hotel laundry, which I despise. I can be remarkably cheap when it comes to spending other people’s money. I never open the mini-bar and I don’t order room service. Paying five dollars to have a single pair of underpants washed goes against everything I believe in, but that’s what’s going to happen.
I think of the suitcase like the federal budget: it’s all about trade-offs and compromise. The larger suitcase goes into the overhead but it requires shoving and I do not like to shove. I do not like to rely on the kindness of strangers to help me dislodge it once it’s up there because strangers don’t always come through. I took the bigger suitcase on my last tour and checked it through. Now the check-through is $25 a pop, so financially it seems logical to take the smaller bag and do more laundry. I am hoping to find four perfect shirtwaist dresses with short sleeves, all-cotton (Forget dry cleaning. There is never time), not too short, because I will be standing on stages while other people are sitting down, or too low, because I will be sitting at a signing table while everyone else is standing up. This is hard-won knowledge achieved over years of trial and error. Also, all dresses must be worn with the same pair of shoes. Shoes, as any packer knows, are what it’s all about. I want to take a pair of running shoes even though I don’t know if I’ll ever be awake in a hotel long enough to go to the gym. Running shoes represent sanity and a normal life, and so I will give them a third of my total packing space, with gym clothes bringing the exercise allotment to half the suitcase space. This means other things must be cut. Things like Advil and perfume and a curling iron. I will rely entirely on tiny bottles of hotel shampoo and lotion, which means the quality of my grooming will undergo a huge variable based on where I’m staying. Is it foolish to think that trimming pills and lipsticks will make up the difference? You’d be surprised how things add up.
What I must remember above all else is that I won’t be seeing the same people twice and so I can continue to wear the same clothes day after day, clothes I have not found, clothes I fantasize about. My publisher wanted to bring the book out in September because September is considered a more prestigious month, but I said that was impossible. Chicago and Minneapolis and Seattle and certainly San Francisco can require sweaters in September. I don’t have room for sweaters.