Memories Of Back-To-School Shopping


The last two weeks of August means fall is right around the corner. With it, school. And going back to school means back-to-school shopping. It’s a nationwide event.

When I was in in school, my mom would drive me and my brother to Staples with the list of supplies we needed to get. Notebooks, pencils, pens, folders, binders, looseleaf paper — the works. The school would usually mail out a checklist. “Hope you had a wonderful summer! It’s time to go back to school. Education is important! Make sure to get the following items! Don’t waste your money if you’re planning to cut class!” Okay, that last part never made it on to the newsletters.

If you Google “back to school” there are websites advertising sales all over the internet, excluding the 1986 movie, Back To School. Walmart, Staples, Amazon, Target, Kohls, JCPenney, Big Lots, Apple… I’m surprised there aren’t any sales for sex toys for parents now that kids are out of their homes.

I always felt a little overwhelmed when I enter Staples (or Office Depot). I want to wander around the aisles and sit down on the comfy office chairs, check out what kind of computer games were for sale and spend half-an-hour looking at pens. Do I want the G2 or will I be okay with these BIC pens? (You always end up losing the G2 pen to a friend or the plastic clip gets broken and it’s not the perfect pen anymore.) Do you remember people getting gel pens? Because I do. I remember getting gel pens as a gift from church (when I used to go to church). I used them a couple of times until my teacher in middle school made us change to pencil because she’d find kids writing on themselves.

I honestly like using marble notebooks. They remind me of elementary school. I wrote my first story in a marble notebook. Mrs. McCarthy, my first grade teacher had us practice writing sentences. Easy ones. I don’t remember much about first grade except that one time Adonis did that thing kids do, “Oooh, I’m telling!” after one of our classmates said the now oft-uttered “f-word.”

The transition from notebooks to binders made me feel like a grownup. The one thing I really hated about binders was when the rings would end up not aligning. I remember putting in a fresh pack of 200 looseleaf papers. It always ended up being too many. I still have a stack of looseleaf paper at home collecting dust because we never used them all. I also collected pens. I don’t anymore, but I do carry a pen around with me wherever I go.

I had a blue Jansport backpack that I used from first grade till middle school until the strap broke. We got another Jansport backpack. It was black and had two compartments. The strap broke on that, too. So did the zippers. I bought myself a Northface backpack in my second semester of college. I’ve been using it for six years now and it’s been through hell and back. It’s a good, durable backpack.

In college, I got by with using spiral notebooks. Freshman year, I bought spiral notebooks and folders for each class. Then I realized how ridiculous it was to purchase new notebooks for the following year when the notebooks that I already had weren’t even halfway filled. I think I bought four or five notebooks the rest of my college career. I also have two notebooks that I used to write my English papers in before typing it all out on the laptop. (I also bought an insane amount of Moleskines because I thought they were cool. I managed to fill out 8 or 9 of the larger-sized ones from taking notes at my freelance job in NYC. I still have 3 pocket-sized Moleskines quarter-filled with half-finished ideas and notes to myself.)

Poetry would be filled out in notebooks. I remember “experimenting” with form. Short stories went into notebooks, too. I would cross out entire paragraphs. I would add dialogue. I would move sentences around. “You can see your story evolve on paper,” a long-gone friend once said to me. I don’t remember if it was Murakami, but I do remember it was an Asian author who said he would rewrite his drafts over and over again. There were pictures showing his drafts. (I think it is Murakami, but I can’t find the pictures to prove it.)

I went through a phase where I wanted to get a quill pen. I thought it was cool. Now I see it as ornate and something Thorstein Veblen would call “conspicuous consumption.” (He consumed sex conspicuously, I’ll tell you that.) I get by with BIC pens. If it writes, I keeps.

I don’t buy notebooks anymore. I don’t have a reason to. I do, however, have a notepad I received from going to a panel for Morgan Stanley, of which I use to write down ideas and plans for Thought Catalog. I think I use my smartphone to write down ideas now. I’ll just save it as a draft. I guess Evernote would work, but I’d need to get in the habit of using that, right?

The aisles of Staples were like a playground for us creative types. Sheets of paper, armies of pens and pencils. Erasers. Markers. I remember putting in items that weren’t even on the checklist. Sharpies, hole punchers, label-makers. (I had to put them back before we went to the cash register.)

I’m now content with shopping for stuff on Amazon. I just ordered batteries for my Mighty Mouse and my Xbox controllers. I still carry a pen in my pocket.