A couple of years ago, I started an art project that I only told one other person about.
The art project was this: I floated the labels off interestingly shaped bottles, and then I decorated those bottles with glitter, wrote a note on a kind of parchment-y stationery, stuck the note in a bottle and then stashed the bottle behind rows of books in various libraries up and down the Hudson Valley. Most of those bottles were empty liquor bottles, but a few had once been salad dressing containers.
This was not a mass production project! I completed maybe eight bottles over as many months.
The note I wrote was always uplifting. I assumed eventually some person would run across those bottles. You are a special person, I wrote to that person. Good things will come to you! Variations on that theme.
In a very real sense, this was a kind of prep for the novel I’ve been writing (and not finishing) lo, these two years past. My protagonist, June, goes quite mad two-thirds of the way through the novel; she’d been a thief her entire life, but after she goes mad, she starts giving back the weird scavenged things she’d been stealing and collecting all her life! She does this by leaving them in weird places around New York City. In fact, the name of the novel is actually If You Find This, Take It: It Was Meant For You, so you might say this reverse scavenger hunt is actually the heart of the novel.
June is a character quite unlike me! Her motivations are almost inscrutable, as the motivations of people in whom madness simmers before it boils over almost invariably are. In the end, she kind of heals herself by giving away this treasure trove of small, purloined valuables she’s collected over the years.
I knew this about the character from the moment I started writing her, but it was hard to get an emotional fix on it.
Hence, the art project.
The only person I told about the project was my beloved but deeply, deeply crazy friend Eleanor H. whose life had tendrilled closely with my own between the ages of 19 and 40.
I did not tell her about its connection to the novel because believe it or not, though I blab about my writing incessantly in my journal, I never, ever mention it in Real Life.
Eleanor thought the bottles were the greatest thing in the world! I had to forcibly stop her from giving me a thousand-dollar Michael’s gift card, which would keep me in enough supplies to spend the remainder of my life making little gilt-covered bottles and writing smarmy notes.
(I need to call Eleanor. I haven’t spoken to her since the pandemic began. I’ve thought of her, but I’ve also thought that her level of crazy would drive me straight over the edge. And it’s already hard enough to maintain any balance.)
Anyway. I thought of that art project when I ran across the above picture again.
It hangs on a signpost at the base of the Walkway Across the Hudson.
But the post has no other sign.
How cool would it be, I wondered, to start making collages like this, frame them, graffiti the frames, and then start hammering them up on anonymous signposts up and down the Hudson Valley?
I did the Walkway instead of Vanderbilt Park yesterday. It was more crowded, but not so crowded that it wasn’t perfectly easy to maintain a 10-foot distance from the other walkers, runners and cyclists.
About half the people were wearing masks. I didn’t—but I did make a point of carrying one so I could put it on in a hurry it in case anyone shot me a dirty look.
No one did.
Masks have become the latest Facebook controversy! I don’t understand it in the slightest.
Wearing a mask isn’t supposed to protect me, after all. It’s supposed to protect other people from me! And I’m 99.9% convinced that I am not infected, since I’m extremely careful about social distancing when I’m out and about.
So, you know: I see it as a form of social signaling. And I'm happy enough to comply as a matter of civic duty. But am I convinced of the necessity? No. And do I think that people who aren't wearing masks are ruthless murderers who want me to die of novel coronavirus? No.
The controversy is really raging.
Of course, divide and conquer is the oldest dirty trick in the book. Whether the dirty trick is engineered or coincidental, it has the same effect.
Different flora growing this close to the river: