The Medium is the Message

January 3, 2007 at 2:56 pm | Posted in personal | Leave a comment

On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, I was sitting in a coffee shop in the East Village with one of my oldest friends, when I suddenly realized that New Year’s was my favorite holiday. For most of my life I have considered Halloween my favorite holiday; this is because I love costume and carnival and celebration. New Year’s doesn’t usually involve costume, but I realized while talking to my friend the simple truth that while many people do Halloween halfheartedly or not at all, almost everyone does something for New Year’s, and it’s often something outrageously decadent. What’s more, all this decadence is in the name of renewal, a celebration of the fact that we survived one year and now have a chance to start over again with another.

New Year’s resolutions are a tricky business. Many people, including myself, aim too high and wind up angry at ourselves by February. But this year, I have found a source of inspiration. reversegraffiti2.jpgOn New Year’s Day, frazzled and recovering from the previous night’s carousing, I picked up a copy of the December 10th New York Times Magazine that was lying on the floor of my parents’ living room. It was the 6th annual Year in Ideas issue; therein I found an article on “reverse graffiti.” British artist Paul Curtis selectively cleans the dirt and soot from surfaces such as subway walls so that the original surface stands out to form words and images. The city council in Leeds has accused him of vandalism, which is pretty interesting, since all he’s doing is cleaning. From the NY Times:

“Once you do this,” he says, “you make people confront whether or not they like cleaning walls or if they really have a problem with personal expression.”

What I resolve to do this year, then, is not to try to clean all the grime off the subway walls of my life. Rather, I should tackle smaller projects. I should clean up what I can, and and accept the grime I can’t remove as the background against which my cleaned bits will sparkle. I should make of my life a message, a picture, something to make other people smile.

The new year is an arbitrary break, to be sure — but on the streets of New York, people howl and sing about it. All night long, when you pass people on the street, they will smile and call out to you and wish you well. This is surely significant. Happy New Year.

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