On each of the final three days of 2016, people talked to me about lucky pennies.
“I thought of you recently,” Leah said as she dropped ice cubes into her wine, adding to the list of wonderful people who’ve helped me realize ice in wine is a fine decision. She told me she’d seen a penny, remembered my post from last year, and decided to pick it up.
The next day, Katie told me how she and Nicole have a separate jar for the coins they find, saving up for something for the cat. “Well, mostly I find them,” she said. “Nicole will only pick up folding money.”
Then on New Year’s Eve-ternoon, Gabrielle brought out her phone to show a photo she’d taken after she’d been reminded of lucky pennies by Paul. “A shiny 2016,” she said of the penny taped inside a Christmas card which had been stuffed with lotto scratch-offs, the coin’s luck noted in an inscription.
After another year of picking up abandoned change (and documenting it), these small exchanges helped reinforce something I’d spent the past year thinking about.
What do I value; what do we as a society find valuable? Money, and the accumulation of wealth, seems important to Americans, and yet so many of us pass by it when we see it on the street.
“We all know that nobody picks up actual pennies off the sidewalk,” an MIT professor and founder of Citizens to Retire the Penny told the New York Times after about $86k worth of penny blanks spilled across a Delaware highway in September.
After three years of picking up actual pennies off the sidewalk, I know the value. For me in 2016, the value was $34.29:
$1 (bill) x 2 = $2
$1 (coin) x 1 = $1
$0.25 x 43 = $10.75
$0.10 x 107 = $10.70
$0.05 x 42 = $2.10
$0.01 x 774 = $7.74
But the other things I value? I had a lot of time this year to think about that, and very challenging times at that. Each time I stood waiting for a train with the notepad application open on my phone, or sitting at my laptop staring at the blank space beneath the jump for a new entry for Lucky Penny, which Paul described as “sort of a stream-of-consciousness journal,” I thought about value, and about what’s most important to me. People and relationships are at the top of the list, and, like the negotiations involved in choosing to skirt a penny on the street or to pick it up, those can be complicated.
So mostly I thought about the value of words. What I say and what other people say. How hard it is to say some things, but how necessary. How easy it is to be misunderstood. How we speak without thinking, and how quickly that leads to trouble. About the process of writing, and editing, and how we hope that leads to better communication. And how, this year in particular, even that hasn’t always worked.
I value written communication because while speaking I’ve often been misunderstood, or gotten into trouble for speaking without thinking. I value the change that written words can help create. I value the escape, the laughter, the inspiration that written words can provide. The relationships it can help build.
Throughout the project, I thought about this thing I value, and whether I was adding anything to it with those words. It didn’t often seem like it — it seemed flippant, silly — so I didn’t often share it. My one reader was kind and encouraging and good at catching typos, and I value all that, too (thanks, Paul). Sometimes, I walked past pennies because I didn’t feel like I had anything to say that day. But sometimes, I felt good about what I had to say. In the end, there are 253 entries, and I’m glad they’re there. However, I’m also glad it’s done.
I may still do more with 2016: A photo exhibit of all the entries, the captions made up of the words, or a zine or book compiling the entries, because the internet sometimes feels like an insignificant or unsustainable archive. But for now I’m done, and happy to be moving on with a new year.
This year, I’ll be thinking less about words, and more about the value of objects — and the relationships people have with them, and how, like words, they can connect people. For every coin I pick up, I’ll leave a token in its place and map its location. Each token is hand-hammered with the letters LP and its serial number, starting with 001 and going up to…we’ll see at the end of the year. If past years are any indication, it will likely be more than I found in 2016, which was a total of 967 U.S. coins and two dollar bills.
Will people find them? If people don’t pick up pennies, will they not pick these up? If they do pick them up, will they be able to find the source of them, and will they send me photos of their found tokens? Or will I be hammering pieces of metal and essentially just throwing them all away?
The first one has been claimed, by the first LP, and it’s safe on a key ring. If by 12/31/17 that’s the only one whose location I know, I’ll be satisfied, and happy to be moving on to a new year.