Leaving Your Mark on the World

Hey, look, I’m still alive.

The funny thing about the fact that I haven’t posted in more than a week is that I specifically took the time to make some posts early last week–enough to see me through the entire week.

I’m not sure if I somehow sabotage myself doing this–if, in making posts ahead of time, I suddenly turn into a post hoarder–or if it’s just coincidental timing with the fact that I’ve been more or less avoiding the internet for days, simply because I get frustrated by how slow it is and how much of my time gets wasted waiting on things to load over dial-up.

Anyways, I skipped exercising first thing this morning (which will probably mean I don’t end up doing it… or cleaning house, either) and vowed to get back to blogging. And I started my day, not by posting one of my carefully-hoarded, pre-prepared posts, but by going through my e-mail and reading blogs that I’m subscribed to.

When Does Vandalism Becomes Art/History?

Fellow writer, M. H. Lee, had a post on his blog today about art, and how, once it goes public, it becomes changed by the public in ways the artist never intended. This goes not only for art installations, but for fan-fic–even entire spinoff books, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

It made me think about a question I’ve asked myself before: when does vandalism become art/history?

Unnatural Bridge

450px-Natural_Bridge_VA_sizeWhen I was in college in Roanoke, VA, my parents and I went about an hour up the road to a local point of interest: Natural Bridge. (Who says I don’t remember all the educational trips we made.)

It is a stone face which has been carved out by nature, until only a bridge of harder stone has been left at the top. (I don’t remember the precise geological occurrences which caused it, but it’s one of the few in the world; usually water erodes from the top down, not from the bottom up)

On one side of the stone, there are names and (mostly) initials carved. Graffiti, right? Except for one set of initials: G.W. The Bridge owners have pretty good reason to believe that George Washington surveyed the area as a young man and that those are his initials. And, let me tell you, they are mighty proud of those initials.

Which begs the question: at what point does graffiti become art or even a piece of history?

How Much Rock Could a Rock-Stacker Stack if a Rock-Stacker Could Stack Rocks?

PaulnabroneAnother story: When I was in Ireland in 2001, I went to the Poulnabrone Dolmen–a prehistoric site with some huge flat rocks stacked up like a box. In the field with this object were a lot of little rocks, and tourists had, for some time, been stacking these little rocks into pyramids. The entire field was littered with little stacks of rocks.

The tour bus driver hated those little stacks of rocks. He was quite angry when he told me that he didn’t like to see people doing that because then people paid more attention to the stacks–or even made the mistake that they were or were part of the Dolmen–and it took away from the real Dolmen.

To which I replied, “I find it rather interesting from an anthropological perspective.” (Yes, I was fresh out of college and said things like that. …Although I still sometimes say things like that.)  “Once upon a time, there were prehistoric people here, stacking rocks. Thousands of years later, despite all of our modern technology and advancement, people are still stacking rocks. Why? Why do we have this primal need to stack rocks? What purpose does it serve?”

I think I gave him pause. Unfortunately, when I went back a year later, someone else had not taken my interest in the little piles of rocks, and every last stackable rock in the field had been taken away.

Why, when prehistoric people stacked rocks, is it a historic and cultural treasure, but when modern people stack rocks, it’s an eyesore that needs to be removed? How long would those little piles have had to remain there to become worthy of the same veneration as the original stack of rocks?

I Was Here

The Dolmen was a type of crypt (there were people buried under it), although it also might have been a center for some sort of religious activities long after the Bronze-Age Celts stopped putting people in it. (Ancestor worship, perhaps?)

800px-Schindlergrave_-_side_viewToday we still use rocks to mark where we bury our dead. Jews even use rocks (rather than flowers) to pay their respects when they visit a grave. (You can literally tell how important a person was simply by the number of rocks on the grave; if you’re ever in a historic Jewish cemetery, be sure to seek out the graves covered in rocks; someone of interest is buried there.)

There is obviously a need for people to leave behind some sort of record that they once existed, and also a need for those who survive to have some sort of tangible connection with loved ones who have died.

And, I think, we also want the whole world to know that our loved one existed, both for the exhalation of his memory, and also as a way of leaving a marker to ourselves. “Beloved father” tells us as much about the children as it does the man. Here lie the remains of someone who was loved. For someone, this man was the world.

shoe2

A medieval shoe that was worn out and thrown into a trash pit. It is now housed in the Museum of London and used (by nerdy people like me and my husband) as a research object.

It’s a mistake to think that history is something that happened long ago. We are recording history every day of our lives. We are constantly leaving little reminders that we once existed. Even our trash becomes fascinating when it’s buried for a few hundred years.

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