On the far side of Tarbes, a tag artist had been at work. Funky Chunky Mazee was the signature, and through the French, we couldn't figure out if Funky was saying that graffiti was an art, so in these days when art is a crime, that makes even noble Picasso a beast . . . or if what she meant was actually long live graffiti, the true art, and fuck Picasso that pretentious art world asshole. Funky's second message was clearer: Think for yourself . . . contest the authorities, advised Funky. Hibickina and I concurred with our absent new friend. We were inspired to take the airbrushed ads on the wall behind us in our own inky tagging hands. But the work day had just let out, and there were too many people on the sidewalks, hurrying past each other in high heels and wrinkled slacks. I stood between the rows of glossy ads and the busy people who were inadvertently guarding them. Everyone looked tired or worried and I thought again about the force of fear connecting all of us.
When we peel back all the layers of pain and distrust and neurotic surface fears, what lies beneath is that infinite primal terror of being stuck forever with no love. We have built our societies on the pursuit of success: traditionally that's meant beauty for women and power for men, although increasingly these overlap. Daily, we see around us the dismissal of the ugly, the weak, the old, the powerless. So we know that one day it could and can and will be us who are dismissed. Whether we have the tools to fool everyone until we are old, or whether tomorrow someone sees our cracks and stains and rejects us, the fear of isolation is valid because all around us are images confirming that isolation is our destiny. Buy your way out of isolation, out of dismissal and anonymity, say the corporations. Try this product, this shampoo, this razor, this cellphone, this car . . . blah blah blah. Buy in. But the billboards of sexy girls gaining the attentions of powerful men are empty promises of reward when below them an old woman sits along at a bus stop.
Corporations sell us tools to aid our division into leagues of power and beauty. But they lose customers when people start crossing the lines of their own volition. Often stories are the ways that lines get crossed. Stories enable us to imagine how it might feel, for a moment, to be the teller. They show us all the places where we overlap and help us understand the places where we don't. They offer us insight into other times and places, and through their intimacy, they make other worlds real. They show us that other worlds are possible.
Stories and streets are powerful venues for contradicting the imminent doom of loneliness. The public art we make of ourselves in the street, the languages of our bodies tracing postures and assuming them, the paths of our eyes grazing each other, are either participatory or resistant. Here, in public, we can choose to change our immediate world by remaking our myths and telling our own stories, by remembering how to ask and listen, and by learning to show our most real faces to each other and celebrating them. Show your warts and you defy the very process of airbrushing the truth. Risk smiling at the person sitting next to you on the bus, and immediately the message of isolation is undermined. Not just for the two of you, but also for those watching this unusual event unfold. The moment we notice that we can make fresh choices every minute, the moment we take Funky's advice and think for ourselves, it's easy to see that we're all in this together. Isolation was somebody else's bad idea.
-off the mapI love everything about this book. Cover bent back, pages annotated with blue pen, Powell's sticker on back. You can borrow it when I'm done.