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February 26, 2010

Jen Calonita Wants You to Be Careful What You Wish For

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In BROADWAY LIGHTS, the fifth novel in Jen Calonita’s Secrets of My Hollywood Life series, teen celebrity Kaitlin Burke is starring in her first Broadway show. As always, she has a fabulous new bag to carry around her new city, and it is the allure of the must-have bag that Jen wants to warn you about.


The Secrets covers are designed to look like “it” bags that my protagonist carries throughout each novel. Since Kaitlin is a well-paid celebrity who also gets a ton of freebies, money is no object when it comes to her bag habit. In the latest Secrets, she carries a posh snakeskin number that would probably cost thousands of dollars if it had a designer label attached.

Last year I started dreaming about the kind of bags Kaitlin has. I’d check out the bags others were carrying --- big, small, designer, not --- and catalog them all in my mind. What kind of bag would I carry if money were no object? Bags became a sort of obsession of mine, and finding the right one was something I thought about a lot. I made a decision: I would save up to buy a bag I would adore and feel guilt-free about it.

I saved for months and was really dedicated to the cause. Every time I’d reach another hundred-dollar mark, I got excited. The “it” bag was almost in reach. Kaitlin may switch bags monthly, but whatever I bought would have to last a long time, so I knew I had to be smart about my choice. Being smart about bags reminded me of my grandmother. She was the type of woman who believed in having one or two nice things, rather than nine dozen items that looked good and fell apart. When I was a senior in high school, she gave me one of her hand-me-down bags to take to college --- it was a thin bookbag that looked brand new, made by Gucci. I didn’t appreciate Gucci at the time, and the bag actually spent a few years in my closet (I know! What was I thinking?). During my kids’ diaper-bag years, I would pull it out from time to time and use it when I was going out to dinner. I took good care of it and I always got compliments whenever I used it. When I worked at a fashion magazine, one of the fashion editors actually asked to buy the now-vintage bag off me because it was so en vogue. My new bag had to be as special my grandmother’s Gucci.

Once I decided which designer bag I wanted, I brought my girlfriend to the store with me --- there was no way I could make a decision like this on my own --- and we spent two hours looking at handbags. Big ones, small ones, ones with large straps, ones that would hang on the crux of my elbow, ones with leather trim, ones without. At a standstill, my girlfriend and I asked the salesgirl for help. “You do know that this bag is not meant for everyday use, right?” she told us. “You’re supposed to rotate the bags because a bag like this will wear out pretty quickly if you use it all the time, and it can’t be repaired.”

Let me get this straight: a bag that costs a ton, was ages to save up for, and took a month to be hand-sewn in a faraway country, isn’t meant to be used every day?

What fun is that?

“I didn’t know that,” I replied nervously as I handled the two bags I had finally narrowed my choice to. “Which one would you pick?”

I had a feeling she wouldn’t have taken either. But she leaned in close and said, “Get the one with the leather trim on the bottom. It will hold up better than the fabric.”

“I’ll take it,” I said, thankful for her intervention. I handed over my money excitedly. “But remember,” the girl said as she handed me a thick, posh shopping bag that cradled my fragile “it” bag inside. “Never put the bag on the floor. Take care of it or it won’t last.”

Her warning had me so worried that I didn’t take the bag out of the protective carrier for two weeks. I came close to returning it twice, eventually returning to the store to look at bags again and questioning my decision to a second sales girl. She politely sent me on my way. “You’ve got the best one for what you want,” she said. “You’re going to love it!”

I did love it so I took the bag out of the box and let it join the world. I gave myself a few bag rules to live by: Carry only the essentials so that I don’t wear out the leather strap. Hold it on my lap at the movies and refuse to get popcorn for fear of getting grease on it. Never use the bag when I’m out with the kids.

After a few weeks, I got tired of the rules. I hated being worried about a bag, of all things. Because at the end of the day, it’s just a bag. So I put the purse back in its protective sleeve and stored it in my closet. Maybe someday I’ll take the new bag out of the box again, but for now it was just too much to worry about. And I have enough important things to worry about.

In its place, I use my grandmother’s durable Gucci again. And you know what? I feel better. I feel freer, less anxious, and I walk taller using my grandma’s bag than I did carrying my own.

-- Jen Calonita