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Excerpt: Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People

Matt Berger Nov 29, 2010

The following excerpt is from Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People by Amy Sedaris. Listen to the Marketplace interview and learn more about the book.

The Joy of Poverty: Introduction

Most sensible people look at poverty as an appalling condition in which one is deprived of even the most basic human needs, but do you know how I see it? A fortunate opportunity for creative resourcefulness. Whenever I take a little field trip to the rundown shacks of the most needy, I am always delightfully impressed by the inventiveness I see, such as the use of charmingly simple strings to replace missing hardware on a well-worn dresser, or rubber from an inner tube to fashion a terrific makeshift door hinge. With the exception of the squalid living conditions, widespread humiliation, rampant disease, and the lack of quality meat, I envy the poor.

Our desperate ancestors used every scrap of tatter in a variety of ingenious ways. Nothing went to waste. Even an old stove was not left for the scrap heap. It was disassembled to make wind chimes, paperweights, and other kinds of weights and whatever was left over was woven into a quilt. Nothing was discarded. Even though we are amused by the abject poverty of our forebears, their spirit of making something out of nothing is one we should still embrace. We can feel a sense of pride when we turn what most consider “garbage” into an eye-pleasing creation. It would be hard not to feel delight when a neighbor glares at your new front lawn black rubber flower planters, giving you the opportunity to say, “Believe it or not, those used to be tires!”

Each morning, after a long night’s sleep upon my Queen Coil Plush-O-Pedic mattress, a breakfast of croque monsieur, and a full-body facial, I am faced with the daunting task of being creative for creative’s sake. I don’t have the benefit of pauperism. Being poor is a wonderful motivation to be creative, sort of a perennial carrot on a stick, but not an actual carrot because easy access to free food would only defeat the lucky stroke that is poverty.

The Ten Commandments of Craftting

I. Remember the crafting day, to keep it hobby.

II. Thou shalt not attempt crafting beyond thy intellectual capacity — a nitwit can’t knit.

III. Thou shalt not craft graven images of thy neighbor’s wife.

IV. Thou shalt remember to replace the glue cap so the top of the bottle doesn’t dry out and then thou hast to get a pin to poke a hole but thy glue never really flows as well as it did before.

V.Thou shalt not fill envelopes with glitter and confetti and send them through the mail.

VI. Thou shalt remember that Popsicle stick crafts only have the illusion of being structurally sound.

VII.Thou shalt not force a mollusk out of its shell by boiling it alive but rather coax it out with a fork when making a shell necklace.

VIII. This craft book, which towers above all other craft books, is a jealous craft book. Thou shalt have no other craft books before it.

IX. Remember to honor thy crafting and pastimes for they are a great way to get your mind off all the damage that thou parents did.

X. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s crafts, even though those crafts look like they are supposed to and thouist crafts resemble a random pile of yarn.

Photo courtesy Jason Frank Rothenberg

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