For most of the last year, I’ve concentrated on writing my memoir, the working title for which has long been Excerpts From Ally Sheedy’s Purse.

The title is a nod to the scene in The Breakfast Club where Ally Sheedy’s character Allison Reynolds dumps her purse onto the couch in front of Andrew, played by Emilio Estevez, and Brian, played by Anthony Michael Hall. This title calls out the anxiety and insecurity I feel about writing and, presumably, one day publishing my memoir. It reflects a hesitation to air my dirty laundry – and the responsibility I feel about sharing these stories in a way that retains my self-respect and doesn’t insult yours.

Mostly, though, it’s just been a joke between me, myself, and my tags at the end of my posts on The Nervous Breakdown.

I didn’t give much credence to the value of thinking about the process this way until I read an article recently that describes what Janis Joplin was carrying in her purse the summer she was 27, just before her death. The description is taken from Rolling Stone writer David Dalton’s 1972 biography of Joplin, Piece of My Heart. The contents are truly boggling: movie stubs, a pack of cigarettes, an antique cigarette holder, several motel and hotel room keys, a box of Kleenex, various cosmetics, an address book, dozens of bits of paper, business cards, match box covers with phone numbers written in near-legible barroom scrawls, guitar picks, a bottle of Southern Comfort (empty), a hip flask, an opened package of macadamia nuts from American Airlines, cassettes of Johnny Cash and Otis Redding, gum, sunglasses, credit cards, aspirin, assorted pens and writing pad, a corkscrew, an alarm clock, a copy of Time, and two hefty books – Nancy Milford’s biography of Zelda Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel.

What does this list say about Janis Joplin the person, I wondered? Something? Nothing? Can I approach this description as, say, an archeologist would? David Dalton did the excavation; what can I discover through analysis? What conclusions can these items reasonably lead me to? The night of Joplin’s death, she went out drinking with a band mate and was found dead from a heroin overdose in her hotel room the next morning. Perhaps the contents of her purse are evidence of a life of non-stop partying. I can’t say for sure. The only things I know about Janis Joplin are what I’ve seen and read. Only Janis Joplin knew for sure whether the bottle of Southern Comfort, the aspirin, and the box of Kleenex were her go-to remedies for a perpetual hangover, or whether they were remnants of a bad cold from which she’d recently recovered.

But while I may not be able to draw definite conclusions from Janis Joplin’s purse, I realized after reading this article that I do have the luxury of excavating the depths of my own metaphorical handbag. And that my job – really, my only job – is to offer a fair and impartial analysis of its contents. Which, again, leads me to the scene in The Breakfast Club.

After Allison dumps out her purse, Brian asks if she always carries that much shit in her bag. Allison replies, “Yeah, I always carry this much shit in my bag. You never know when you may have to jam.” The conversation ends with Andrew telling Allison, “Wait a minute, now you’re carrying all that crap around in your purse. Either you really wanna run away or you want people to think you wanna run away.”

Why does Allison have dozens of tampons in her purse? Is she a heavy bleeder? Does she hope to spread them out over many cycles should she ever have to “jam?” Is she hedging her bets that she won’t have money to buy more? Or, perhaps more likely, is she just trying to shock people unfortunate enough to have the contents of her purse dumped on their lap? The point is, when writing my memoir, I don’t want to tell what seems to be the story, but what the actual story is.

If what I carry was inspired by artifice or a desperate need to be seen a certain way (as, perhaps, some of the tales from my adolescence were), that’s what I need to convey. Because while memoir is essentially similar to a giant purse dump, a skillful, professional, and respectful approach necessarily involves that I do all of the culling and categorizing for you. And if I treat the excavation, sorting, and labeling of the contents of my metaphorical purse as archeology, I can shed the nettlesome insecurity that has slowed me down until now and I can, finally, just tell the story.

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GLORIA HARRISON is a writer whose work has been featured on The Nervous Breakdown, Fictionaut, and This American Life. Gloria was the lead editor for The Portland Red Guide: Sites & Stories of Our Radical Past by Michael Munk, which was published through Ooligan Press in 2007. She was also a contributing editor to Pete Anthony's book, Immaculate, for which she received a high five and a ten dollar gift card to Stumptown Coffee. Gloria graduated from Portland State University with her B.A. in English in 2006 and now focuses on her own writing. She had a work of flash fiction published in The Bear Deluxe Magazine (No. 26). You can follow her on Twitter here.

Gloria lives in Portland, Oregon with her school-age twin boys. She is currently working on both a memoir and her first novel. You can contact Gloria via her Facebook page.

133 responses to “Excerpts From Ally Sheedy’s Purse”

  1. Ally Sheedy has that many tampons in her purse because right after Judd Nelson raises his fist to the stirring notes of Don’t You (Forget about Me), and the credits roll, The Breakfast Club II: Allison’s Song begins. Sheedy heads back into the school and does an art installation in which negative space and post-consumer issues are thoroughly investigated through the use of found objects and tempera paint. Meaning, she glues those Kotexes to a pre-stretched canvas, gets extra credit, and is later accepted to Berkeley on a full scholarship. She and her best friend, the now thoroughly out of the closet Emilio Estevez, then get involved in the anti-apartheid movement, living in a protest tent city on the quad. The film ends with Sheedy having an affair with a 50 yr old Semiotics professor, having learned that hiding behind black mascara and Captain Crunch sandwiches was diminishing her true self.

    All of which is to say, yes, Gloria, I totally agree about what that excavation can lead to. Glad you are embracing it.

    • Mary Richert says:

      I think Sean just won this round of comments, hands down.

      I would just like to add that in middle school, I was a cheerleader, and we had this sleepover at the school one time to make “spirit posters” for some special thing at the school. We decided it would be awesome to take a maxi pad, color it with a red marker, and stick it on the wall in the boys’ bathroom. We thought it would shock and upset them. In reality, the janitor probably found it before any boys did, but still, it was our first little venture into feminist guerrilla art.

    • pixy says:

      sean, you make me cry tears of rad.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Dear Sean,

      Please, please, please write The Breakfast Club II: Allison’s Song as soon as possible.


      • pixy says:

        i would gladly whore my body, mind and soul to finance this project.

        • Gloria says:

          That’s gotta be good for at least one big-named actor and decent catering during the shoot.

        • pixy says:

          good lord, i hope so! how’s about julianne moore? i like her. she’s sassy. or sam rockwell. he does nudity, you know. and i’m sure sean wouldn’t have any trouble writing in gratuitous nudity.

        • gloria says:

          I’d totally look at a naked Sam Rockwell.

        • pixy says:

          there’s a movie called “box of moonlight” where you can see that. it’s my 2nd favorite movie ever. my face hurts after watching it. and not because sam rockwell is naked in it, although it helps.

    • Erika Rae says:

      Sean, it’s this kind of comment that is why someday I will get the pronunciation of your last name right.

  2. SAA says:

    The corkscrew is too classy.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      And practical, too! Who among us hasn’t had to do the ghetto cork trick at least once in her life? If we just carried a corkscrew with us, we’d never spit cork again!

  3. Meg Worden says:

    “The point is, when writing my memoir, I don’t want to tell what seems to be the story, but what the actual story is.”

    This is a wonderful piece, Gloria. That you are finding the distance and clarity to write (and live) your “actual story” is apparent. Success is not far behind.


    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Thank you, Lady Meg, for your sweet words and even sweeter support. XO back at you.

    • Art Edwards says:

      I quoted the same sentence. Meg.

      It’s a far braver path you’ve chosen, Gloria. To really want to know what was going on during those times.

      As I’m searching for publication for my novel Badge, I’ve moved on to writing a memoir. Here’s something that really helped me deal with similar issues with my raw material (which means it’s sure to screw you up). Once I found the voice I wanted to tell my story with, what it all means became secondary and, often, irrelevant. The meaning is in the way I’m telling it, if that makes sense. So, maybe a search for the voice you want to employ is a good step.

      Again, sure to screw you up, but I thought I’d put it out there anyway.

      You’re asking all the right questions.

      • Gloria Harrison says:

        Actually, voice is a huge component here, Art. That’s a brilliant point. I’m pulling together pieces that have been written not only in the last year, but also at other times in my life when my writing style (voice) was very different, and combing and finessing it all together has proven to be a huge challenge. Sometimes I feel like I should just start over with the older pieces, but, again, they contain minable jewels themselves.

        It’s less like a purse and more like a junk drawer in your kitchen. I’ve at least opened the drawer, dumped it on the floor, and am now in the process of separating out the dried up rubber bands from the dried up super glue that’s stuck to the utility scissors, which has all adhered itself to the eyeglass kit, which is still super useful.

  4. Mary Richert says:

    Gloria, this reminds me of Vivian Gornick’s book The Situation and the Story. Have you read it? It’s not exactly the question you’re bringing up here, but it is certainly related. I reviewed it on my web site quite a while back… http://www.notitles.com/?page_id=20

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Mary – no! I haven’t read that. I will follow this link in just a moment. Thanks so much for the heads up.

  5. David says:

    I have always liked reading that allows my own conclusions. It is often what makes it seem personal. I think it must be a trick to present the contents, context, and perhaps even a insight or two, while leaving the analysis to the reader.

    It seems a lot of my self-reflection is centered on locking in why I did what I did, or why someone else reacted how they did. I am not sure one can truthfully answer the former, and I know I can only guess at the latter. I think the value of my experiences to others lies outside of any conclusions of that nature I may come up with.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      It seems a lot of my self-reflection is centered on locking in why I did what I did, or why someone else reacted how they did. I am not sure one can truthfully answer the former, and I know I can only guess at the latter.

      Sure. And I think that’s the real trick to a good memoir is getting as close to objectivity as possible. This is why I think treating the whole thing as a scientific process is useful, but it’s important to retain the human aspect and not offer a dry report.

      It’s important, I think, for a memoirist to do a fair amount of his or her own analysis. Otherwise, I mean, I might as well just come up to you, throw a pile of Tampax on your lap, and announce, “Have at it.”

      (Hi David!)

  6. Ah, I’m a sucker for craft talk, and I love having this peak into your memoir-writing process and how you’ve arrived at the point at which you could “just tell the story.” I think the purse-dump scene in Amelie may describe me better, unfortunately. That scene in the beginning when the narrator explains how Amelie’s mom likes to unpack, clean, and repack her bag over and over again? Yes. That’s me. Caught in an endless revision loop. Ay.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Wow. My purse and your purse are absolutely opposite purses. If they met in a seedy bar, they may be attracted to each other.

  7. Sarah says:

    “The point is, when writing my memoir, I don’t want to tell what seems to be the story, but what the actual story is.”

    In the part of your memoir where you talk about me, feel free to write what seems to be the story. It will probably be more interesting.

    Now for serious, I completely get what you’re saying here. There’s a very delicate balance to strike that makes memoir so difficult to write and so wonderful when it’s done right. If you tell the truth, whole truth, and nothing but, or simply what the story actually is, it could start slipping into dry, non-fiction fact stating and scenario recounting. Your story is unique and beautiful because it is how you experienced your story, or how it *seemed* to you. Your story *seemed* different to others in your life and could seem different to a reader. Do you want the reader to be an observer of your story or do you want them to be able to inject themselves into it and take your journey with you? Things like that go a long way in deciding how many items in your purse you want to explain why they were there.

    Good luck with your writing adventure!

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      I think that’s right. I think the archeology metaphor, though, allows a memoir writer to strip her story down to, essentially, the bones. Once that’s done, the writer can then unpack her adjectives and put some flesh on the story. Give it a pulse. Pretty it up with the element of objective truth at its core.

      I’m nothing if not a incurable idealist.

  8. pixy says:

    gloria, i look forward to seeing what’s in your giant bag. i’m certain it’s a lot more exciting and wonderful (in the end) than a dozen tampons.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Geez…my bag’s not that giant. Wait…what are we talking about? Um, are you hitting on me, Pixie?

      • pixy says:

        wai… uhm. hm. i dunno.

        i think we have different ideas of bags. and their giantness. maybe we’re just better off as friends. you wouldn’t want me hitting on you, it’s not pretty.

        • Gloria Harrison says:

          We have that in common, then, as my flirtatious overtures are generally a flaming pile of awkward for all involved as well. But you can read more about that in my book.

        • pixy says:

          see? ALREADY it’s more exciting and wonderful than a dozen tampons!

  9. James D. Irwin says:

    I would read this, but as a gentleman it would be rude for me to look into the contents of a ladies’ purse…

    • SAA says:

      You just inadvertently reminded me of this:


      • James D. Irwin says:

        Well you see, that just isn’t very gentlemanly.

        Not at all…

        I think that’s very similar to a mistake most young boys make at some point in their lives. I remember when I was younger I used to do the family shop with my dad and if we had to get such items for my mother my dad would give them a code name. I didn’t understand why, but who doesn’t like pretending to be part of a covert operation?!

      • SAA says:

        What was the code name, though? Like Operation Red Menace, or something to that effect?

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Well… well… the particular brand in question were ‘Super Tampax’ and/or ‘Super Tampons’.

          My dad and I both support the same football (soccer) team— Tottenham. There is a crowd song which boils down to combining the words ‘super’ and ‘tottenham’ into a chant.

          And that was the unbreakable codename no-one would have been able to decipher…

  10. James D. Irwin says:

    In all seriousness this was a fascinating read. If I ever die young I won’t have a purse and the contents of my pockets are incredibly boring. Just a wallet and a house key. At least they’ll know I wasn’t homeless…

    Even my metaphorical pockets are fairly empty… this reminded my of Stephen King’s book On Writing. I’m reading it at the moment. I always imagine memoir writing to be much harder than writing fiction… with fiction you can change the story and there aren’t any unrelated but entertaining anecdotes that you might be tempted to include. With memoir the story is already there to tell and… well… personal stories, I think, are harder to tell.

    Incidentally after my first comment I scrolled up and just caught ‘maybe she’s a heavy bleeder’ and started giggling. I am so mature…

  11. Richard Cox says:

    What I like best about this post is the link to archaeology. At least you sent it to Wikipedia and not to the scene in Jurassic Park where the helicopter screws up the raptor dig.

    No, what I liked best was the metaphor of spilling your inner secrets like Allison did.

    Or maybe it was your acknowledgment of inside jokes with the tags.

    On fourth thought, I think the whole thing might be half-baked. Or maybe you were. Or maybe I am.

    Actually, it’s a poignant piece. Nice work, Gloria.


  12. Jessica Blau says:

    This is great!

    If that Zelda book is the same one I have, it’s the size of an encyclopedia. How big was her purse?!

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Well, the purse in the picture in the article I linked to doesn’t seem big enough to contain half the contents in the list. Maybe it was a Mary Poppins bag.

  13. “Retaining self-respect and not insulting yours” There’s the rub.

    As I go through draft after draft myself, I also wonder sometimes if I’m digging deeper or just afraid to actually, definitely finish. Though that may be another point altogether. Again, as I’ve said before, we stay-at-home Dads are lost without purses.

    But good luck, I think you’re following the right instincts.

    Meanwhile, I miss movies where they say things like “You never know when you may have to jam.”

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Purses are incredibly practical. I’m a huge advocate.

      While writing this, I was trying to think of the male equivalent of the purse. I guess it would have to be the wallet. I don’t know many men who don’t carry a wallet at the very least. Only, there are different connotations for the wallet. Consider Capital One’s campaign (“What’s in your wallet?), which implies that a man carries his prestige and social status in his wallet. I almost wrote a whole section about this, but it’s not really germane to the subject and then I lost interest. Then I had to jam and I ate a snack.

    • Dana says:

      Nate, may I recommend “Heathers”? We just re-watched it last weekend and the slang, clothing and size of the telephones was hilarious. Plus, “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw” never gets old.

  14. jmblaine says:

    I once had a girl announce that she had
    figured out which character I was
    in the Breakfast Club.

    I think this was a popular psychological test
    of the time because not long before I was told
    Bender but this girl said
    “Ally Sheedy” – you are, like, totally Ally Sheedy.

    I changed shampoos after that.

    Either way, you are talking about writers
    being brave & I admire your spirit
    because I am not that brave yet.

    • Gloria says:

      Yeah, I’ll bet that was popular. It’s like the Luke vs. Han question. It kind of defines a generation.

      I could totally see the parallels between you and Allison Reynolds.

      For the record, I think you write with heart – which is not only brave, but beautiful


    • Irene Zion says:

      So jmb is a redhead?

  15. All the CHARACTERS on this thread, it’s like “Breakfast Club” all over again.

    Only online. And not in high school. And not speaking dialogue written by John Hughes.

    But the piece is great and the comments are so sassmatass and fun, very much in the Brekkie Club spirit 🙂

    • gloria says:

      We’re a fun lot around here, aren’t we? We should all start commenting in character, based on John Hughes films. Though I haven’t clicked on Simon’s link below, so maybe I’ll change my mind in a minute.

  16. D.R. Haney says:

    When I was nineteen and living in NYC, a woman came up to me in a bookstore and said, “You look exactly like James Dean, and I want you to meet a friend of mine, who wrote a book about Dean.” The friend was David Dalton. I never met him — the bookstore woman took my number and failed to call — but I subsequently followed Dalton’s career with interest. Most of his books are bios of titanic figures in pop-culture history — among others, Dean, Morrison, Warhol, and of course Joplin — but, even with his credentials, I wonder at his ability to list so precisely the contents of Joplin’s purse. I suppose he could have made a note about it at the time, yes? That’s got to be it.

    Of course, technology has rendered a number of items in Joplin’s purse obsolete. It’s much more revealing to learn that Joplin (according to Dalton) carried cassettes of Cash and Redding than to hear that those artists were two of 750 on somebody’s iPod — and, for that matter, it’s a big deal that Joplin bothered to carry those cassettes with her everywhere, as it isn’t a big deal even remotely to carry an iPod everywhere. So it seems to me, but I’m writing this quickly and more in the spirit of forensic psychology than archaeology.

    • gloria says:

      You know, I thought about that, too, Duke. It is a little suspect. I mean, the photo of the purse in question (in the article I link to) hardly looks big enough to contain half of the items on the list, much less, as Jessica points out, an encyclopedia-sized book. And how on earth did he get that inventory? Did he ask Janis to hold on for a minute so that he could write it all down before she put it back into her purse? It does beg the question about whether or not he included this information merely to add to the Janis Joplin mythos. I wonder, though, if it’s outright fabrication.

      You make a good point about forensic psychology. I think this is a better approach than even archeology, but I’m not going to bother rewriting this post. I like your metaphor better though. Either way, I think the implication that taking a scientific approach to telling the story of real people (whether in memoir or biography) is probably the right path.

  17. While I wish you all the very best on your memoir, Gloria, this explains my hatred of John Hughes far better than I ever can:


    • gloria says:

      “Yeah she risked getting pregnant and took up a life threatening habit, but I’m wearing a fucking sweater over here.”

      That cracked me up. And, yeah, teen movies are insidious. My daughter quit watching them (see also: America’s Next Top Model, Extreme Makeover, etc) with me around because having her, me, and my soapbox in the same space cramped her style a lot.

    • gloria says:

      “Pro Tip: In real life, the guys lining up to walk your hammered ass home from the party won’t look like 1999 Heath Ledger.”


  18. Now you’ve made me wonder what it says about me that I have a giant red purse that I obsessively organize every week. It is big enough to hold a throw pillow, yet contains around six small things. It remains perpetually empty and clean, unlike my head. So… is a messy purse a sign of an organized, peaceful mind?

    That writing insecurity is quite nettlesome, isn’t it? I hate it. It makes me want to figure out the worst possible way to humiliate myself in print, and then DO it, just to finally be free of inhibition; to get over myself. Nowhere to go from rock bottom but up, right?

    I enjoyed this, and especially enjoyed reading that you are finding it easier to work on your memoir from an archeological angle. As much as I love your texts on my phone, I can’t wait to read more of you in the form of a book, my dear friend. xoxoxo.

    • gloria says:

      Huh. Yes. Clearly the worst possible way to humiliate myself in writing is going to be a boon for me. 🙂 Actually, I’m pretty okay in writing. It’s when I open my mouth to interact with the normies that I bring on the greatest embarrassments for myself. I wish I were like Holly Hunter in The Piano – just passing around notes all the time.

      • Notes would be awesome. Most of the time when I’m physically speaking to people, there is a mortified inner monologue happening in my brain along the lines of: “Oh my god, why did you just say that? Stop talking now. Nooooooo! You kept going! Please stop talking. Stop it. Why do you always say weird things to people? Why can’t you say normal things? You’re making them uncomfortable. Please stop talking now. Please stop talking forever.”

        • gloria says:

          Your internal dialogue matches mine note for note. It’s amazing we’re not regularly curled in the corner in the fetal position.

    • dwoz says:

      “…So… is a messy purse a sign of an organized, peaceful mind?…”

      …and here we have the rather awkward moment where one redhead asks another redhead if “the purse matches the hat.”

      which ironically seems a very apt metaphor for the topic. Metaphorically speaking…

  19. Becky Palapala says:

    I have never carried anything but tiny purses. Now that I no longer smoke, even my tiniest everyday purse–that is of those that aren’t clutches (I’m going to say it’s about 9″W, 5″H, 3″D)–has extra room in it. I carry my wallet, my phone, my keys, and a pen, plus maybe a few coupons or business cards or receipts in the side pocket. I have tried to carry a larger purse but can never find anything to put in there.

    (It occurs to me that attempts to carry big purses were, to keep things topical, a gesture of artifice. I worried that my tiny purse was somehow a mark of immaturity. No shit. Because of course, adults have shit and stuff–it is important evidence that they have shit and stuff and business going on and need to be prepared with the shit and stuff to meet the challenge of their shit and stuff and business.)

    I am told that my ability to carry a small purse will change once I have a child. And certainly, the diaper situation will necessitate something larger.

    But I am optimistic. I simply don’t have that much shit. Tawni has a child and she doesn’t have that much shit. It can be done!

    Mom Purse, I defy thee!!

    Wonderful to hear you’ve a plan that makes you feel capable and confident. You should. Good luck!

    • Sarah says:

      Purse size is truly dependent on situation. Most days I carry no purse. Wallet in left back pocket, phone in right back pocket, chapstick in left front pocket, keys in hand. Bah-dah bing, bah-dah boom, I’m gone. This is by far the preferred scenario.

      Other times it’s a small bag with those items plus a pen, small note pad, daily planner-type thing, tissues, etc.

      Then there are the going-to-be-gone-all-day-with-kids days that involve diapers, wipes, Ziplocs filled with Goldfish and Cheez-Its, sippy cups, crayons and paper, X’s Nintendo DS, etc. Those are the days my shoulder tries to secede from my body.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        This, too, gives me hope.

        As a child, I was pretty sure 90% of the stuff in my mom’s purse existed for the sole purpose of getting in the way when I wanted gum or a quarter to buy something cheap and plastic out of the machines at the grocery store.

        “I know I’ve got some, but I can’t find it. I can’t stand here forever looking; let’s go.”

        Likely story, Ma! Geez!

      • gloria says:

        See. I did the whole “don’t carry a purse, just put everything in my pockets” thing and I tend to break my cell phone that way. Once, I dropped a brand new cell phone out of a hoody pocket into a flushing toilet and watched it go down the pipe. Purses save me from myself.

        • Did that happen in the restroom of the bookstore at which you bought me the awesome redhead/Klimt card that I have pinned to the wall next to my bed and the Best Sticker Ever of a girl reading a book that I now have in the back window of my car?

        • gloria says:

          Um, yes. Fortunately, I’m pleased to report that I’ve only flushed one cell phone. Now I just carry a damned purse.

        • Sarah says:

          Oh dear lord what were you thinking? A hoodie pouch? That thing is only good for awkwardly shoving your hands into when you don’t know what else to do with them.

          Completely unreliable as a holder of things. I mean, it’s open-ended for crying out loud. Any postural shift in equilibrium creates a slide in either direction!

          Gah, I hope you learned your lesson, missy.

    • “Tawni has a child and she doesn’t have that much shit. It can be done!”

      It can! You, too, can be completely OCD with a child in your life! Haha. Aside from medical/ID/debit cards, I have a small plastic Ziploc bag of wet wipes for cleaning the face and hands of Destructo, a tiny notebook, a pen, a Burt’s Bees lip gloss, my phone, and an emergency asthma inhaler in my purse. That’s it. I bought the big purse to function as a diaper bag when the boy was wee, but now that he’s older, I could be carrying a small purse again like I used to, no problem. The only reason I keep it around is because it has these outer side pockets on both ends into which my sunglasses and a tall sippy cup full of water (or small bottled water) fit perfectly. They are the pockets of the gods! I keep trying to downgrade to a smaller purse, but then I want a place to store my sunglasses and a drink for the kiddo on a car trip, and go back to the big old purse. I got it at Target four years ago, and if I ever see a purse with the same outer side pockets feature, I will buy it immediately.

      It’s all about the pockets. Isn’t always, though? Isn’t it always.

      P.S. I got a Diaper Dude diaper bag. It was a brown faux suede men’s messenger bag with a screenprint of guitars on the side (http://www.diaperdude.com/store/guitar-pr-16156.html). A girly Mom Bag just wasn’t my style. (:

      • Becky Palapala says:

        I have a moderately girly diaper bag on the registry. (Little known: I also wear a great deal of pink. And lace. And pearls.) But I really chose it because the color scheme matches the stroller we registered for. Black, red, gray.

        Palani registered for his own diaper bag, considerably smaller, a very unassuming gray backpack-looking sling style. It’s something either of us can use when we don’t want to carry the Cherry Blossom Satchel of Inconceivable Preparedness.

        • I can’t pull off lace (too chesty- I look slutty in it, rather than pretty and feminine), but I own two antique pearl necklaces, one white, one cream (my inner fourteen-year-old boy just snickered as I wrote “pearl necklaces” and “cream” in the same sentence, btw). I think pearls are classic and timeless. I love them. I really want a black pearl necklace someday (SHUT UP, INNER FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD BOY).

          Cherry Blossom Satchel of Inconceivable Preparedness = Awesome.

        • pixy says:

          “my inner fourteen-year-old boy just snickered as I wrote “pearl necklaces” and “cream” in the same sentence, btw”

          BAH! HAHAHhahahahaha!

          t-dawg, you’re SO my interwebs girlfriend.

        • gloria says:

          I own a faux-pearl necklace, but it looks like the real thing. I like to pull it out once in a while. It’s classy and shit.

        • gloria says:

          Pixie – my friend once told me he was going to buy me a pearl necklace and then sent me this link:


          I admit it: I giggled.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I use my my faux-pearl necklace (and a pair of heels) to turn a rock t-shirt or tank top, jeans, and my Sgt. Pepper-looking blazer into business casual.

          If I feel under-dressed, but REALLY don’t want to dress up, that’s always the first question I ask myself. “Can fake pearls and high heels fix this?”

        • pixy says:

          @gloria: THAT is a pearl necklace that i would wear.

          @becky: you surprise me every day. i like that about you. something tells me there’s not a whole lot that heels and pearls can’t fix in becky’s world.

        • In my original comment, I had written that sometimes I even wear pearl necklaces with a cool T-shirt, but I edited it out because I’m a babbler and usually cut out 50% of what I comment/write. I LOVE this look you describe. I do that too. It’s rock and roll and girly, all at the same time. Good stuff!

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well now I’m neurotic about how I’ve surprised you. That I wear rock t-shirts? Tank tops?

          I’m wearing a London Calling shirt in my facebook profile pic!

          I’M HIP! I SWEAR TO GOD!

          I DID ACID AT LOLLAPALOOZA!!!!!!!!!

        • Becky Palapala says:

          HEY! I’m wearing the London Calling shirt in my gravatar!

          Same night.

          We went bowling.

        • gloria says:

          You’re very, very hip and still completely relevant, Becky.

          **pets Becky’s hair**

          **hands Becky her Cherry Blossom Satchel of Inconceivable Preparedness**

          **dodges the punch that Becky throws**

        • pixy says:

          don’t be neurotic!
          yeah, i just said that.

          i very much enjoy surprises, especially yours! for whatever reason, i wouldn’t have thought that a spunky rock t-shirt wearin’, brain-nerd lovin’, bowlin’ mama like yourself would be a pearls, lace and heels gal. it’s my totally limited perspective and you opened it up brilliantly.
          i shall go and find a string of pearls now and be on the lookout for the ever elusive kitten heels (no one wants me wearing anything 3″ or more in heels because i surpass the 6′ mark and my tall gangly “elegance” [clumsiness] becomes overwhelming for all) and give “the becky” a shot.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I like to think of it as the Chrissie Hynde approach to femininity:

          Is she a glammed-up lesbian or a potentially aggressive straight girl?

          I don’t know how often Hynde wears pearls, but her jeans, tees, and stilleto boots make life worth living.

          She’s a tall girl, Pixy. We can totally pull that shit off.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          That question should be in quotes. Chrissie Hynde is straight.

          And potentially aggressive.

        • pixy says:

          i’m waiting until i land myself a 6’3″+ hunk of something to screw on a regular basis before i venture into true high-heel territory. i’m (apparently) intimidating enough to fellas as it is wearing chucks or pretty flats, i don’t even want to imagine the awesome “ursula from the little mermaid”ness i would be should i attempt heels in public.

          admittedly, i do have a pair of stripper heels that i wear to sweep my house every day. i think i’m 6’4” in them because they have that cursed platform. they work the butt and legs nicely.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Yeah. That kind of height doesn’t fuck around.

          I’m only 5’9″ so I can go up 3″ and feel intimidating without feeling Lurch-y.

          Admittedly, I enjoy feeling intimidatingly, “Attack of the 50′ Woman” tall, but that’s probably because I can take off the heels and go back to more or less blending in any time I want.

      • gloria says:

        It really is all about the pockets. Which is why I dress like a female construction worker, rather than super girly. Girly clothes don’t have enough pockets. I’ve actually thought about starting a clothing line for women with super femme clothes that all have pockets. One day, when I’m rich…

    • gloria says:

      You know, what’s interesting is when I decided to write this piece, I had this idea to inventory my own purse and, as Duke said, perform psychological forensics on it. But I started this post several weeks ago and, over the weeks, I’ve removed pieces from my purse. I’ve actually reduced the bag I carry from the large leather satchel that contained all manner of paperwork (receipts, notes, print outs, check stubs, calendars, etc.) to a much smaller shoulder bag that only includes the essentials. The full disclosure here is that this choice was absolutely prompted by the thought of taking stock for public consumption. The trick with writing this manuscript is to not fucking do that! Which is my point – honesty isn’t honesty when you manipulate the facts.

      On the other hand, I’m pleased with my smaller bag, because the larger one absolutely was a mom purse. I mean, when you’re bag is large and full enough that you can carry your son’s geodes around with you for week without realizing you’re schlepping rocks, then it’s too damn big!

    • Erika Rae says:

      Becky, I would just like to interject that when I read this post, I heard your voice in my head clear as day. “People with clean purses have nothing better to do.”

      And then of course, come to find out, you don’t carry anything in your purse.

      Still. My point remains.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        Since I don’t want you to feel let down, I can also offer that all of my purses, though containing very little in terms of utilitarian items, are remarkably messy; the only constant tenants being 3 year-old bar and/or bank receipts, loose tobacco, and pilfered sugar packets (some ruptured, some not).

        One of my purses even has honey all over the inside of it, from when I stole a honey packet from the coffee shop and forget about it, then sat on it.

        I didn’t know how to clean it out (and, pSHHHHHH, who has time for THAT?), so I just try no to put stuff in that part of the purse.

  20. Dana says:

    Loved this Gloria, and I can’t wait to read the details of your purse.

    • gloria says:

      “I can’t wait to read the details of your purse” is the greatest thing anyone has ever said to me. 🙂 And Sean’s comment is the greatest comment something I’ve written has ever received. This post has served up some great stuff.

      Thanks, Dana!

  21. I have a metaphorical handbag and a murse. I get shit for my satchel all the time. If people only knew what I really kept in it though…

  22. Matt says:

    Did you ever read Bill Clinton’s 2004 memoir My Life? It’s a fascinating read, whatever you think about the man. He is at times astonishingly blunt about his boyhood troubles and the dysfunction in his family as he was growing up, but then almost immediately veers away from any sort of discussion or reflection on how such incidents might have shaped him as a grown man. It almost like he’s away a certain reflexive denial mechanism might be in place and isn’t quite up to the task of sidestepping it.

    Good luck with yours.

    • gloria says:

      You know, I haven’t read Clinton’s or Obama’s or any other political figure. I don’t know why. I love autobiographies (Helen Keller’s is one of my favorite books of all time.) I guess I just presume that no matter how well written they are, they’re going to be full of shit. I know that’s probably an unfair prejudice.

      Thanks for the heads up. And for the well wishes, too.

  23. Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

    G, like everyone else, I loved your line about writing the real story. I totally get that statement. It’s hard to just put it out there, all fact. Unconsciously, we alter our memories to shine a light in the direction of what we feel comfortable to show. We avoid or bedazzle the dark corner to alter perceptions. Like, “come into bedroom, play in my weird knick-knacks on my dresser, and the crude art on the walls but WAIT!! Not THAT drawer! THAT drawer is ummmm….well…..locked. That’s it. I don’t even remember what I put in there anyway….”

    I know you’ve had mixed emotions about this project and I commend your determination. I, obviously, can’t wait to read and blab to every one I know about it.

    Another thought, Janis Joplin is/was awesome and knowing the contents of her purse just makes me love her that much more.

    Which brings me to thoughts of the crap in my pockets and purse….

    um….nothing……there is nothing in those places….they are locked anyway…..I don’t go in there….I can’t even remember….HEY, what’s that over THERE?!

    • gloria says:

      You keep the same unspeakable things in your pockets as you do that drawer in your bedroom? Wow. How big are your pockets?!


      Remind me to tell you sometime about the time that I busted my son going through my dresser… Oh, dear god…

      • Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

        OMG! I can only imagine…

        As far as my pockets…no, you’re right.
        I keep the same few things everyday; iPhone, carmex (strawberry) chapstick, spyderco knife, and bandana. Pretty boring….

  24. angela says:

    holy cow, janis joplin’s purse must have been ENORMOUS (that’s what he said).

    as for the characters in The Breakfast Club, although i love that movie, i’m none of the characters. i was always too chicken shit to do anything that would have me end up in detention.

    finally, i can’t wait to see the contents of your purse, gloria, tampons and all.

    • Gloria says:

      Wasn’t one of the people in detention there because she didn’t have anything better to do? Yes! It was Ally Sheedy’s character.

      Thanks, Angela. I can’t wait to see your tampons, too!! 😀

  25. Reno Romero says:

    Oh, this was a beauty. Very thoughtful and honest. You nailed this one, Gloria. Sorry. I’m late to the party. I’m sending this link out to some peeps that will benefit from your words. Carry on, G.

  26. Greg Olear says:

    We happened to catch a documentary about Janis Joplin. Wow, was she a mess. Shortly before she died, she attended her high school reunion…one of the more pathetic spectacles I’ve ever seen in doc form. You really felt for her.

    I won’t comment on Breakfast Club, except to say, “What Sean said.”

    • Gloria says:

      Yeah, she was a hot mess. I’ve seen interviews with her contemporaries and friends (like Jerry Garcia, etc) and all of them had nothing but the nicest things to say about her, which, to me, makes it all so much more tragic.

  27. Laura says:

    I love the reference to archeology (especially because I took the class last semester, and often had the same questions about my own trash that may survive into a future. Future archeologists will have to discern how I lived based on the “midden” or trash heap of my life dumped into a pile with all my fellow human being’s trash.)

    I think you can try to explain the contents of your purse in a specific way, and there will always be others who see it from their own perspective. I am also an art student, and have learned whatever my intent or reality is, there is always someone else out there who is going to tell me I was thinking something else.

    Just tell your story. <3 you.

    • Gloria says:

      Hi Laura!

      Art and archeology?! You’re a renaissance woman. A phoenix. This thrills me. <3

      What kind of art are you doing? How have your productions been misinterpreted? I have so many questions, Laura!

      Thank you for this comment. My love to your family.

      • Laura says:

        Gloria…(I am no renaissance woman)…but thanks for the Phoenix reference!
        I am completing the BAFA that I started 20 years ago BC (Before Children)…My art “BC” was traditional black and white photography. Photo has changed drastically, so I am reinventing myself in regards to the type of art I want to create. This semester, I did several different medium: ceramic, wire sculpture, video along with performance, and painting, all themed around personal expression, my life and what I do and have done the last 20 years. The misinterpretation was mostly centered on people perceiving that I am intentionally much deeper than I really am. I do things ’cause I like it, and ’cause it feels good, yet others see deep meaning beyond my capabilities. Maybe it’s because I truly operate entirely from an intuitive place in life.

        As far as archeology: I needed to fulfill a science with a lab and that’s what I chose. Art and archeology really do go together in many ways. I’ll be taking an art history class next semester about archeological ceramics and the Southwest.

        School at 46 has opened my mind beyond anything I ever imagined. I recommend it for everyone! Thanks for asking about me. Hope you and the boys, Sierra and grandbaby are well and happy!

  28. Erika Rae says:

    Love the concept of this, Gloria. I can’t wait to read your memoir! It’s going to be goooood. I’m sorta counting on a bunch of sand and grit stuck to the creases on the inside. Maybe a half melted peppermint fused to a pocket somewhere. And a black AmEx card tucked neatly in the side next to the lipstick, compact, and 9mm Beretta.

    • Gloria says:

      And a black AmEx card tucked neatly in the side next to the lipstick, compact, and 9mm Beretta. bwahahahahahha

      Oh, man, Erica Rae. You kill me. Also, I love that this is how you think of me. 😀

  29. Joe Daly says:


    Very illuminating post. What I took from it, and this might not have been your patent aim, was that we can learn more about you from careful descriptions of what’s in your metaphorical purse, than if you simply told us who you were. That’s half the fun of memoirs anyway- melding the subject’s experiences with your own and seeing how they fit.

    Stoked to read this, GH. Get thee writing.

    • Gloria says:

      Hi Joe.

      I guess that’s true enough. However, as I mentioned with Janis Joplin’s purse, there’s a whole lot of extrapolation that can take place. The real key, I think, is for me to do my own analysis, too, in addition to making sure you can view all the pieces well enough to do your own.

      I’m totally on writing kick. Thanks for the wind for my sails, Joe Daly.

  30. I can never make peace with the word “purse” in regards to the “bag” I carry. I don’t know what it is but there’s something about that word that makes me cringe. But damn, girl, I LOVE that word in your title. It’s perfect, perfect, perfect. I’d pick up that memoir in a second.

    • gloria says:

      Yes, I’m not a fan of the word “purse” either. I appreciate, though, that you appreciate how well it works in this context, too. “Ally Sheedy’s handbag” makes the scene seem so much more tame than it was. Thanks for reading, Robin!

  31. Irene Zion says:


    The more you have in your purse, the more material you have.
    The more material you have, the richer the story.
    Now you just have to put it in some order.

  32. Clutch Bags says:

    Clutch Bags…

    The Nervous Breakdown…

  33. Hold the phone – American Airlines used to give out macadamia nuts? WTF???

  34. titanium says:


    […]Gloria Harrison | Excerpts From Ally Sheedy’s Purse | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

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