What’s At Your Feet?

529. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

For the past several months I have been interested in the marks we make on the ground. I often wander the streets with my camera and take photos of the ubiquitous marks at my feet. City engineers spray alien looking symbols in green and orange paint on sidewalks and streets. There are symbols everywhere if you pay attention: the universal walking man to demarcated crosswalks and walkways, bicycle shapes indicating lanes for things with wheels, “stop here” in bold letters, lane lines, curb lines, crosswalk stripes, chalk drawings, sprayed messages, stencils, scratched names and dates. I imagine I am an alien from another planet gathering samples of culture and ponder what does this overwhelming impulse to make marks, to define and apply symbol on the ground say about earthlings in the USA, 2012? They are beautiful when you pretend that you don’t know what they mean. My inner alien has sometimes exclaimed, “These earthlings like to draw on everything. They have an extraordinary impulse toward beauty and expression!”

Someone once told me that the unique challenge facing our culturally diverse democracy is that we must constantly define ourselves; we do not share a common narrative, we certainly have wildly divided ideas even about the simplest of terms like “marriage” and “patriotism,” so each day we must work hard to know where we fit, we must daily reinvent ourselves to know who we are in the absence of really knowing. We debate, not to clarify, but to know what we believe. The good folks on Madison Avenue, working so hard to sell us stuff, would have a miserable job if we truly knew who we were (secure in our identity, we would laugh at the notion that red shoes or a new car would make us more appealing).

The marks made by the engineers are practical: the sewer line goes here. The crosswalks, bike lanes, lane lines, directional arrows, etc., are also practical if not highly revealing; my inner alien eventually comes to recognize, much to his chagrin, that these marks are not art but rules: walk here, ride here, go this direction, look both ways; the earthlings in the USA, 2012 are an ordered bunch! Despite their rhetoric and emphasis on individualism they like their rules. They prefer the pre-determined path; they like to know which way to walk and when. They value conformity and compliance; this, at least, does not warrant a debate: all the evidence you need is waiting at your feet.

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