Monday, October 6, 2008

From My Front Porch in Florida


There was a sky full of rain this morning in Central Florida when I stepped out to pick up the paper. The morning newspaper in America is a fading ritual. There is so little news in it and so little paper (not to mention so little staff left in newspaper newsrooms) it continues in my life mostly as a ritual. I need to have something to do that engages my mind (and is quiet) while I drink my coffee and come to life again. And please, no talking right away.

What there was of the paper today was filled with articles and commentary about America’s economic problems and about America’s upcoming presidential election and the two subjects are intertwined. The new President of the United States will be faced with a recession right off the bat and it may even be a Great Recession—or worse. Everybody has been interviewed on the subject from former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan to former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, and the only thing everyone can agree on it that it was the fault of the other guy.

The truth is not all of this was done to Americans. Some of it was done by us to ourselves. Our parents and grandparents—the members of the Greatest Generation—taught us thrift and self sacrifice and we learned very little of either. We decided they were square and na├»ve and our way—wanting it all now, and paying for it all later—was a better way to do things. And that’s what we have. A whole lot of things. And now the check has come due.

I’m as guilty as the next person. My life is filled with far too many things and far too little sacrifice and thrift. When I moved last summer, for the first time in a decade, just going through all the things was a huge job. In the end, I was able to dispose of about fifty percent of my stuff, and though I still have too much the things that remain at least have value to me. Nowadays, I’m trying to follow this William Morris philosophy: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

In the end, things aren’t very important. The mystery writer Agatha Christie had a really bad time the summer her mother died. She had the sad task of sorting through the things that remained at her family’s once prosperous estate in Torquay, as she writes in her autobiography:

"For the last four or five years all kinds of rubbish had accumulated: my grandmother’s things; all the things that my mother had been unable to cope with and had locked away. There had been no money for repairs; the roof was falling in; and some of the rooms were dripping with rain. My mother had lived at the end in only two rooms … It was frightful: the moth-eaten garments, Grannie’s old trunks full of her old dresses, all the things that nobody had wanted to throw away but had now got to be disposed of … The schoolroom, which had been the scene of so many happy days in my youth, was now one vast box room: all the trunks and boxes that Grannie could not cram into her bedroom had gone there."

Christie is such a good writer you can almost see the moths flying out of the trunks as she opens them. It was an awful time and it might have been better if there hadn’t been so many things. It makes me think of my parents home with some concern!

A friend of mine, who is a social worker on a fixed income, lives in a pretty neighborhood near a local private college. Next door to her is a house that is often rented to students. This summer she called me and asked me if I would come over and help her put her computer and printer back together. As it turns out all she really needed was to have some help plugging them into one another, the surge protector, and the wall—and I was happy to help her. When I got to her house, she showed me a new computer table and chair the students next door had left out on the curb for the trash men. I guess the kids were headed off for summer vacation and didn’t want the trouble of moving their furniture. But the things weren’t junk! The table was expensive and the chair large and covered in leather and rocked back and forth like one of those ritzy executive chairs. The things were almost unused and together they were worth several thousand dollars. Their abandonment on the curb seemed to me a metaphor for America’s self indulgence and waste. Of course, this is just my two cents worth and what with the falling value of the dollar, you can calculate for yourself the value of my words.

4 comments:

lflarson said...

As of Sept 30, the Sacramento Bee no longer delivers to where we live. I miss a newspaper, for the reasons you cite!

And, yes, we own the blame for the mess we're in collectively and individually. While there are other forces at work, we cannot shirk our ultimate responsibility.

NAVAL LANGA said...

To Ms. Robin Chapman

It may be a rainy day, but the streets near your house is packed with light, conducive for the writing spirit.

Naval Langa

Bob Liddle said...

Hi Robin, you dont know me but I know you :). I miss you here in Portland even after 20+ years. KGW is not the same without you here. I cant believe I found you. You havent changed at all!

Hope you come back to Portland and straighten out the local news markeet someday. You are a PRO!!!

Bob Liddle said...

Hi Robin! You dont know me but I certainly know you. No, I am not a stalker, rest at east, just a loyal fan in Portland that misses you alot on KGW. I cant believe I found you, how cool! You still look the same, amazing!!
You are such a PRO!!
Anyway, I hope someday you come back to Portland and straighten out the local news market we need you badly!!

Bob