I used to work at a magazine, Real Simple, that has a feature called New Uses for Old Things. It was my favorite section, even though there was no way on God’s increasingly less green Earth that I’d ever try to get more out of my turkey baster by conscripting it to change the water in a vase, or have the forethought to save a votive candle holder and reuse it as a pretty little toothpick bin. I’m way too frantic and discombobulated most of the time trying to get my kids to use our household objects for their original, intended purpose. (Things I’ve actually said: “That’s a barbecue skewer, not a backscratcher!” and “Sweetheart, toilets are for peeing in and beds are for sleeping in, not the other way around.”)
I think what appeals to me about New Uses for Old Things is that it’s essentially saying, You are not your Formerly, or in some cases, You are more than your Formerly. Of course, it’s saying it about bubble wrap and clear nail polish (you can use it to seal a letter that has lost its adhesive!) and not about human beings who are a bit adrift in their 40s and could use a good solid new use, but I’m running with the concept.
So right this second I’m working downstairs in this groovy little cafe on Orchard Street, near my house. One could write an entire chapter in American working class and immigrant history on Orchard Street itself, but suffice it to say, Formerly a Rank, Overcrowded but Flourishing Marketplace for Poverty-stricken Tenement Dwellers, currently Hipster Central. The walls and ceilings of the grotto are what look to be the original brick. Without too much effort you can visualize a shoeless urchin c. 1888 weaving her way through crowds of smelly, hardworking and drunk men in search of her downtrodden dad to drag him home at the behest of her pregnant-again mother.
But I digress! What I really want to talk about are the lights in this cafe, which are simply those little colanders you use to steam broccoli, welded onto light fixtures and clamped on the water pipes that run across the ceiling. Genius. The little holes let light shine through, creating something of a disco ball effect, and the collapsible leaves of the steamer can open and close, depending on how much illumination you need.
A new use for an old thing if ever there was one. And considering I rarely use my steamer anymore (I associate steamed veggies with dieting and lord knows I don’t do that anymore) this strikes me as ingenious. It’s making me think about new uses for other things from my previous life as a young, hot person with disposable income and leisure time.
You know those teeny evening purses that can hold only a lipstick, a cell phone and an ATM card? I once used them when I went out at night (I used to go out at night!) before I had to tote fruit roll-ups, glitter glue and extra sweatshirts everywhere I went. Maybe I’ll stuff them with cotton and lavender and make them into soothing eye pillows for all the relaxing downtime I have. Oh, wait, I don’t have much of that. Or I could solder together all my too-high heels and make some new protective latticework for the terrace, so neither daughter takes a header off the 19th floor. The yoga mat I no longer have time to use for yoga I can use to pad the walls of the cell I will eventually wind up in if I don’t find the time to do some yoga. And I can cut the skinny jeans I can no longer zip in half at the fly and use the legs as insulation for that steam pipe in the bathroom that causes third degree burns if you lean against it.
Or, more likely, I will do nothing with them except use them to torture myself, little reminders of my Formerly.
Any new uses for things from your Formerly? Post ’em!
January 23, 2009 at 7:01 pm
Great. Now I get to feel guilty about too busy to find new, clever uses for crap I shouldn’t have bought.
January 23, 2009 at 7:45 pm
Oh, gosh, that was not my intention–you must know. That is the complaint about magazines like that, though.
January 24, 2009 at 9:39 am
old yoga mat? i use james’ old yoga mat (mine , i still occasionally use to — wait, wait — do yoga!) to go under the guinea pig cage, so it doesn’t ruin the wooden shelf upon which it sits… (and by ruin i mean, get smeared by that ever-expanding pile of guinea put-puts that grows in the corner until it finally spills over and rolls down the sides and all over… the yoga mat). i hope my husband never plans to do a child’s pose on that mat again… pi-chon!
January 24, 2009 at 10:12 am
I found a new use for the way things ended with my college girlfriend. Instead of just being an ongoing source of pain and regret, it has now become therapy material, so I can use that experience to understand myself better.
Does that count?
Come to think of it, if your question applies to people, isn’t that what Facebook is all about? Reconfiguring previously inert relationships with people from your past, and breathing new life into them by making them easier to maintain, because of dramatically reduced expectations?
To answer your question more literally, I ran into a friend on BART yesterday who said he was thinking about using the output of his paper shredder as bulking material for a composting toilet.
What I find most interesting about the question is that reusing old items does two things: (1) saves the old item from being landfilled; and (2) avoids the need to buy a new item. So mixing this with your core concept of “formerly,” should we be thinking in terms of of how to transform other people in our lives, rather than ourselves? Very different from missing, acknowledging, saying goodbye to, etc. a former version of ourselves, which seemed like the starting point for the whole blog. Put differently, if my spouse was formerly hot, and I was (just supposing here), can we now accept each other as middle agers? Or, to put a finer point on it, can we embrace the fact that it’s a different kind of relationship now than it was before, that we’ve lost some qualities we had before, but gained others?
Or maybe that’s a bad analogy. The vegetable steamer hasn’t lost its ability to steam. It’s more of a giving tree type situation where the demand has changed. With formerlys, we have actually lost some features we once had, independent of whether the demand has changed.
I guess I’m having trouble with the question, trying to figure out how I could have a new use for something that doesn’t really exist anymore. Or maybe my confusion is the result of composing this while simultaneously trying to watch “Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages” on my computer.
One final note, though. Your post shows how much of this is in one’s head. (Duh, you will inevitably say.) What I mean is, while it’s obvious that how we react to our formerly is all up here, you also illustrate that the formerly itself may just be a projected construct. I steam vegetables all the time. I don’t associate it with dieting at all. I like the taste of, say, steamed fresh beets, and I also like how healthful they are. I mean, how the hell else do you make spaghetti squash? Sorry to question the question, but I guess I’m a bit of a troublemaker this morning.