Today feels like a good time to focus on gratitude.
I am grateful for fizzy drinks when my stomach is upset. I think the dodgy noodles with Kit last night was a bad idea.
I am grateful that I had the time, yesterday, to get to Shoreditch to photograph a few pieces. One piece I wanted to capture was gone. I felt sad. Whenever a beloved piece gets painted over, it feels like the loss of a friend. I have had a lot of loss this year: a friend’s suicide, two deaths in the family and the expectation of more to come as sickness hovers. Loss and attachment has been a challenge for me, since my mother got cancer when I was 19.
Street art is becoming a good yogic guru. When Fanakapan’s balloon animals were painted over, I wanted to cry. And, when I turned the corner to see one of my favourite Plin pieces gone forever, yesterday, I let out an audible gasp that could be heard down the street.
Street art’s temporary nature provides constant and unexpected reminders of the pain of attachment. There are only so many legal walls and it is the nature of the gallery of the street to be ever changing. It is the ephemeral nature of the art that makes it so vibrant and so precious. As with love, attachment is the very antithesis of the ethos of street art. One day, perhaps I will grow tired of pain, and relinquish all attachment. Until then, I am grateful that street art is my teacher.
That said, it was a joy to find a beautiful pink Plin piece, that is new to me. I had seen it posted on Instagram, and did a lot of research to finally track it down. The effort to find it makes me treasure it all the more.
My experience of Oneness this week is esoteric and difficult to express.
I have been roaming the streets at night, (jetlag) and I have turned my attention to the graffiti writers lately. In Vancouver, there isn’t a big street art scene, but taggers and graffiti writers exist everywhere.
I first noticed street art and graffiti with Jim Cummins, when I was about 15, in Vancouver. I was drawn to the words and messages left on the walls. I am a writer so words attract me. The words at that time were political, disruptive, and spoke to my own youthful frustration and desperate desire to retain my individuality, my idealism and to somehow make my own mark on the world. The youthful spirit of social change is different to the middle aged longing for legacy. Both are a way of leaving our mark, but it is the latter that strikes me as being focussed on the self, not the former.
I followed Jim Cummins’ band and his O.G. crew of street and graffiti artists, but never fully entered their world. I was busy being reluctantly indoctrinated at University, losing my capacity for independent thought, and my time to devote to writing. I read Thomas Pynchon at University but could only look through the window to “freedom”, as I was dragged into the machinery of testing and parroting other people’s theories.
Like the secret postal system in The Crying of a lot 49, graffiti has it’s own coded, symbolic language. As far as I understand, this symbolic language is used by graffiti writers to communicate to one another about safety and opportunity, much like the codes of the American traveller in the Great Depression: a secret story of an invisible world that falls between the cracks of society. It is the outsider’s insider language.
I have always felt more kinship with those who may have to pass through the ordinary world in order to earn a living but who really belong to the extraordinary world that exists between the cracks and, for some of us, goes beyond the physical world and into the invisible.
And so, as I sought out areas where the graffiti writers dominate, I touched, (as I do, Plin’s creatures) the secret language of the walls.
Like an archaeologist, I stood on the doorstep – on the outside of the outside – running my fingertips across the symbols. I was comforted to know that the 15 year old girl remains. She has been covered in the rubble of a collapsing empire, this past decade, but she has survived.
My service today is to give space on my own ‘wall’ to remember writers of all kinds and from all times.
It remains for me only to ask:
For what are you grateful, today?