Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!
We welcomed 31 participants into our Zoom room, including at least 4 newcomers. We entered the chat sharing some of our occupations as doctors, teachers, writers, and preoccupations such as teaching online effectively or figuring out a commute in the snow.
After watching the film short “What do we have in our pockets?” by Doran Dukic (2013) and then took a few minutes to read the text of the original short story (text below) by Israeli author Edgar Keret, before sharing our impressions, thoughts, and observations. Our first commenter reported “smiling throughout the entire video” and then reading the written text in which “things got more serious” without the colors, the background music, and the upbeat narrator. Another echoed these thoughts, adding that the two versions were “two different works of art.”
One person thought that the text was about a man saying people only ask surface questions and that the man wished there was more depth to asking and wanting to get to know another. More than one participant resonated with the narrator who wanted to fill his pockets in order to be prepared. Another participant remembered feeling like a pack mule, when her children were young, and also the lovely exchanges she had with people who needed a band-aid or Kleenex or something she carried.
Another commented on the gender difference of having pockets and having a purse/bag, which feels like a burden for women to carry. Still another was disappointed that the story was an encounter between people of the opposite sex. “Why couldn’t there have been another kind of story told?” she wondered. A contrasting response expressed relief at the wish to find a girl who is ‘charming’ rather than beautiful. There was a suspicion that the title leaned on Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a very serious account of what soldiers carried in Vietnam. Someone wondered if the narrator takes the Boy Scout Motto to extremes.
Despite what she called “perked-up music”, one participant said feeling sorry for the narrator, who “sounds like he is preplanning so as not to find himself unprepared.” We wondered if “you miss out on a lot if everything has to be staged.” We talked about the many objects as possible bridges to connect with others and that “all the objects together create comfort.” Another person heard that the narrator’s list of things in his pocket could lead to a tender exchange between people.
The majority of participants expressed enjoyment while watching the short about what one man called “practical optimism” and a “tiny chance not to be embarrassed” while admitting it was only a tiny chance. “I’m not stupid,” the narrator says. We thought that “Pockets” might suggest “being open to happiness – whether it happens or not.”
Comparing the visual and the written text one person mentioned the former as a collage art. Another said, perhaps, the short story is about wish and the animation is wish fulfillment. Another said they responded to the elements of magical realism–the narrator’s pockets magical enough to hold so many things and the way the girl drops out of the sky. “The animation wasn’t quite real but wasn’t entirely out of this world.” We considered the “magic” of being young, with resources, and a willingness to freely offer those resources.
We wrote to the prompt “Write about what is in your pockets”. We read out loud the many directions in which this prompted writing led us:
- after eleven months of family being together almost constantly, how reaching for Airpods offers the chance to tune out squabbling tweens and be able to listen to an author read a book. The case of the earbuds like a pocket.
- still hearing a mother’s words on “how to be a lady.” The reader told us that being taught it was “bad form, a bad habit” for a woman to carry more than a Metro card in her pocket. She still carries only that slim card until using it in the subway, and then slipping even the card back in her purse with the rest of her things. “So there!” the author throws out in her final sentence.
- Memories of girls having to wear skirts to school, how then the rules changed in highschool and even blue jeans were allowed. How liberating – blue jeans have pockets!
- what is needed in the pockets to ski in Quebec in 2021: a face mask, Kleenex, a phone for COVID alerts, a granola bar, a health card “in case I break my neck,” and $30 “even though all the shops and restaurants are shuttered.”
- the varied nature of elements in one’s pockets: a mask, hand sanitizer, scraps of paper, three pens, a penknife, a miraculous medal, a walnut palm cross (a gift from the family of a former patient), a rosary–the touch of which calms and quiets the man who carries these items.
Listening to these readings, we realized how what is in our pockets reveals identity.
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What Do We Have in Our Pockets?
A cigarette lighter, a cough drop, a postage stamp, a slightly bent cigarette, a toothpick, a handkerchief, a pen, two five-shekel coins. That’s only a fraction of what I have in my pockets. So is it any wonder they bulge? Lots of people mention it. They say, “What the fuck do you have in your pockets?” But most of the time I don’t answer, I just smile, sometimes I even give a short, polite laugh. As if someone told a joke. If they were to persist and ask me again, I’d probably show them everything I have. I might even explain why I need all that stuff on me, always. But they don’t. What the fuck, a smile, a short laugh, an awkward silence, and we’re on to the next subject.
The fact is that everything I have in my pockets is carefully chosen so I’ll always be prepared. Everything is there so I can be at an advantage at the moment of truth. Actually, that’s not accurate. Everything’s there so I won’t be at a disadvantage at the moment of truth. Because what kind of advantage can a wooden toothpick or a postage stamp really give you? But if, for example, a beautiful girl—you know what, not even beautiful, just charming, an ordinary-looking girl with an entrancing smile that takes your breath away—asks you for a stamp, or doesn’t even ask, just stands there on the street next to a red mailbox on a rainy night with a stampless envelope in her hand and wonders if you happen to know where there’s an open post office at that hour, and then gives a little cough because she’s cold, but also desperate, since deep in her heart she knows that there’s no post office in the area, definitely not at that hour, and at that moment, that moment of truth, she won’t say, “What the fuck do you have in your pockets,” but she’ll be so grateful for the stamp, maybe not even grateful, she’ll just smile that entrancing smile of hers, an entrancing smile for a postage stamp—I’d go for a deal like that anytime, even if the price of stamps soars and the price of smiles plummets.
After the smile, she’ll thank you and cough again, because of the cold, but also because she’s a little embarrassed. And I’ll offer her a cough drop. “What else do you have in your pockets?” she’ll ask, but gently, without the fuck and without the negativity, and I’ll answer without hesitation: Everything you’ll ever need, my love. Everything you’ll ever need.
So now you know. That’s what I have in my pockets. A chance not to screw up. A slight chance. Not big, not even probable. I know that, I’m not stupid. A tiny chance, let’s say, that when happiness comes along, I can say yes to it, and not “Sorry, I don’t have a cigarette/toothpick/coin for the soda machine.” That’s what I have there, full and bulging, a tiny chance of saying yes and not being sorry.
Keret, Etgar (Israel, 1967-) Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston Short. Ziegler, Alan, Ed. Persea Books: New York. 2014. Pp. 238-39.