Sarah and Janet had just come out of the bank after a meeting and were sitting in the park de-compressing when Janet raised her eyes to the second story of the building across the street and saw a new sign. Psychic readings, and a phone number.
Well, she said, theres something we havent tried.
And they laughed.
Because, honestly, their small-town business is hanging on, and some day it will be profitable. Theyre not Tribune Company, moving into bankruptcy protection, and theyre not GM, or Lehman Brothers, or Merrill Lynch, or the government of Iceland.
But business is probably booming for psychics, and thats just a reflection of the disease of the times. Its a perfect time for a new approach, and, with the new year approaching, its a time for resolutions.
Maybe you tried lose ten pounds, exercise more. Or maybe you got on the bandwagon with the small changes gurus who encouraged us to think small: Walk to work one day a week, or skip coffee in the afternoons. Those little changes were supposed to build, but thats so last- century. This year, its time for a resolution that can really make a change.
Something like my neighbor, Lucy, tried in 2008. Make everything valuable, was Lucys resolution.
She had intended to just make her own stuff valuable, meaning that when she went to the store and bought something in a plastic bag shed use it over and over until it was in shreds, then she would recycle it. But, pretty soon, Lucy saw value everywhere. She picked up plastic flower pots from a landscaping site and took them to the greenhouse at the high school. Then, she drove past a bunch of duplexes and noticed that when people movelike when they take a job in a new placethey leave a lot of stuff. A LOT!
It was the stuffed bear that got to me, she said, remembering two tiny eyes peeking out of a black garbage bag. I thought there was a kid that could love it. She took it to the Good Will store and, after that, when she saw piles of discarded stuff, shed stop. I just take the low-hanging fruit, she says, I dont even touch stuff that looks icky. Here are a few things shes found:
A new computer and printer, complete with instructions.
An old, but working, sewing machine.
An antique lamp.
Decals used in the production of artists ceramics.
Boxes of art suppliesbrushes, cleaners, paints, and canvasses.
Ladders of all sizes.
A washing machine.
Wooden closet doors.
Lucys resolution means that people she knows get things they can use. She kept the computer, and who wouldnt, but the recipient of the sewing machine could hardly believe her luck. The decals went to an art facility for handicapped people and the ladders are stacked up by Lucys house as loaners. Every couple of weeks, somebody stops by and borrows one, and then they bring it back, she said.
The doors are re-born on my farm as shelves in our harvest house. We have a saying around here, when we need something. It will come to us. And it does.
Lucy doesnt know what her resolution will be this year. She considered, Make every person valuable, but who knows where that would lead. She thought about opening a second-hand store, or getting into E-Bay, but shes not really an entrepreneur. Maybe, she says, shell take art lessons.
Finding value in discarded stuff is more important than ever. Nick Paumgarten, writing in The New Yorker, imagines walking around the city and seeing empty store fronts and giant empty pits where builders dreamed of putting skyscrapers. The clothes in our closets today will be the ones were wearing when were old, he writes, wistfully. We imagine him in last-years knickers and hat, walking to work embarrassed on the sleety streets. Heres a resolution for Nick: Learn to sew on buttons.
The cities, which increasingly seem like bubbles in parallel universes, where developers are part of an international market, with international financing and international corporate tenants, will have a hard time recovering from these market crashes. Here in Middle America, our local banks and businesses havent felt the troubles as keenly. Yes, business is off, and weve just learned that Anheuser-Busch, now called A-B InBev after its buyout by a German firm, is firing people, even though, lets face it, the cheap beer business will boom if layoffs keep coming.
In 2009, small towns and rural areas might finally get the toe-hold weve been waiting for because consumers might realize that if theyve been buying local, and preserving food in-season, they have some insulation from the grocery store prices.
So, its time to learn to sew on buttons, to cook, and to make everything valuable.
And, yes, the clothes in our closets will do just fine.
Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, Jan. 1-15, 2009
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