Discovering the Relevance of Words
The little sign on the corner just said ‘YES’.
‘YES,’ it said, in answer to a question no one asked.
It’s not the first sign I’ve seen on this corner. Even out here in the country people have a lot to say, usually in monosyllabic form and basically consisting of their support for one cause or another. But this one was very vague…
Normally, when I see these signs, the initial affirmative or negative sentiment is followed by the name of a candidate or a ballot measure. Local politics seems to be the last bastion of great curbside advertising, with the possible exceptions of garage sales and the guys who pass out business cards for hookers in Las Vegas. So I was very surprised as I pulled up to the intersection that this sign seemed not to be shilling for any cause in particular, but for positivity itself. It just said ‘YES’ in big block letters.
I feel like you might be misled by my use of the word sign. If you are envisioning a glossy, 12 by 18 inch lawn sign of the type typically purchased by campaigns and placed in the yards of supporters in the hopes of encouraging resentful, silent disagreements among neighbors, you are wrong. Think smaller.
The sign that turned my whole day around today was very small, about the size of an index card. In fact, I’m almost positive it was an index card. A pink index card taped to a ruler and stuck into the ground under a stop sign in the middle of nowhere. A one-line poem floating above the dust.
It was meant for someone. To be at once so exposed and so without context, it had to have meaning to somebody. Some author wrote that word and planted it here and, like all authors everywhere, did it FOR someone. And whether or not it was that author’s intention, at this point that someone is me.
The relationship between the artist and the audience is an interesting one. I’m not sure that symbiosis is the right word, but as an artist I like the way it sounds.
Without the audience, an artist is a tree falling unheard in the woods. That’s a terrible cliché, but, again, I like the sound of it.
Back in college, our poetry workshops had a gag rule. While a piece was being discussed, the author was forbidden to speak. No matter how much your fellow students missed the point, or focused on the wrong aspects, you could not answer their questions. The piece needed to stand on its own, and as a writer you needed to know what parts of the piece required clarification. I get this now. At the time, it infuriated me.
But the more I thought about the subject, the more this rule made sense. Once a piece is published, in many ways it ceases to belong to the author. The reason people, (the audience,) fall in love with a piece of art is because it resonates with them personally. Whether it’s a movie or a song or a poem, when a piece speaks to you it can do so in ways totally unintended by the artist.
Maybe that little sign was just the latest in a series of little signs, a private conversation taking place in a very public way that wouldn’t make any sense to anyone outside of it. That seems kind of cute; like it could be a plot device in a movie about young hipsters falling in love. Maybe it was a new communication method devised by drug dealers, like how they used clocks and a Thomas Guide in The Wire. Or maybe it’s an analog version of what I’m doing right now. I’ve often thought that the earliest blogs were written in the form of placard signs and sandwich boards.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter who wrote it, or why. It meant something to me and became a part of my story. It inspired a few hundred words that might inspire someone else to write a few hundred more and the whole cannibalistic cycle keeps cyclin’.
Am I saying that all works of art might as well be anonymous?
Maybe. But that would change the symbiotic relationship to a parasitic one, since we all know that the reason the artist gives us their precious works is in exchange for our attention and praise.
Or maybe that’s just why I do it. In any case, perhaps it would make this piece resonate more if I did sign this one,
*By DORAN SIMMONS!!!!!**
**I couldn’t do it. I’m weak.