Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dana Squared And The Dirty Orb

Over a month ago, while riding my bike to the park, I noticed that one shade in a row of outside lamps was missing. I wondered way too much about what happened to it. Every time I passed the building I looked to see if it had been replaced yet and it hadn’t. The lonely lamp became a landmark for me, slightly irritating, and intriguing in a boring way; the lamp shade had twisted itself onto my obsessive brain.
So, when I saw a dirty white orb floating in the pond at Washington Park I knew exactly what it was. It was just some nameless business building; nobody would even notice if it was replaced. Every time I rode to the park it was still there. Finally, I showed it to my friend Dana on a bike ride, and her enthusiasm about it pushed me to act. I edged down next to the water, but my arm was about eleven inches too short.
“We need… sticks,” I said, but the park wasn’t forthcoming. “A park has no sticks?”
Luckily, my cries of irony were heard. A man fishing nearby shouted, “There’s a fallen tree branch over there!”
Dana and I each grabbed a stick and hooked it into the shade which was heavy with water, and after a ridiculous struggle we succeeded reeling it in. I thanked the fisherman, explained my project, and asked him for a photograph, since he’d become a part of the project too, and he calmly agreed.

So, I poured out the smelly brown water, and attempted to wipe the slime from the outside of the shade, but it was stained a pale brown by what Dana dubbed the Easter Egg Effect. Whatever. After this effort, I didn’t care what it looked like; we were going to bring that damn thing back—somehow.
We spent about ten minutes attempting to rig the shade to Dana’s bike rack, using our cable locks. The shade kept popping itself out and escaping onto the sidewalk, while we laughed hysterically, and a passing couple, who were obviously entertained, stopped to ask us what we were doing.
“Oh we’re just trying to hook this to the bike,” and with my terse explanation they were off on their way.
Oops. The point of the project was to elicit curiosity and they were curious, but in all the excitement I had a brain fart and I’d responded in public default instead.
When we got back to the building and were replacing the shade, a thirty-something walked by with his lab. He stopped for a second and watched us struggle, then continued walking. I called out to him and asked him if he would take our picture. He took it, then asked us what we were doing. When I explained the whole story to him and got his picture, he said, “I was wondering what was going on… my landlord owns this building and I think she’ll get a kick out of this. Oh, and one more thing: is this a pay-it-forward kind of deal?”
I was taken aback because I hadn’t realized that this task was a good deed in someone’s eyes. It felt kind of neutral and or even silly, but certainly not noteworthy in any sense. But here it was: a good deed, and now for the unanticipated question: do I tell this guy that he’s required to pass it on?
“Nope. You don’t have to do anything; you experienced the moment with us and choose not to dismiss it—that’s all this is about.”
And that was the end of the task. My biggest problem was that I should have taken more pictures (if Dana hadn’t of been there I would have had next to none), but I know now for next time. It was incredible how every single person we who helped us had no idea what we were doing, but they agreed to help us prior to an explanation. I was having my doubts, but I feel like this may just be wonderful.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Strangers Who’d Understand Me And My Mission, Or; My Possible Past / Future Incarnations.

It’s hard to explain what exactly drives me to commit mundane mischief, and I realize that some people just won’t get it, but here are some who would:

  • Amélie Poulain, freeing ordinary people from their lives by stealing garden gnomes and composing fictitious love letters.
  • Willard Wigan, a man who makes houses for ants… that don’t have poison in them.
  • Butoh dancers, heaving themselves across stages, half-naked and grimacing like demons, while they render and transmute death, sex, and suffering—all for our pleasure, disgust, and enlightenment.

  • A playful level 4 Poltergeist, not setting things on fire, but maybe just moving stuff and giggling.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What is Mundane Mischief?

I want this blog to be a vehicle for me to experience and share instances of the benign mischief and small good deeds that make my days worthwhile.

We are playful, communal creatures at heart, yet it seems that in our culture we are required to conceal our interest in others. We ignore the people that we share our days with: those beside us on the bus or on the sidewalk. We practice our public self- absorption with our iPods and our cell phones: talking and thinking of places other than this. When something unusual happening in our environment catches our attention, most of the time we stop ourselves from looking and from asking. We turn our heads downward again; we edit ourselves, because it is none of our business and because spontaneously talking to strangers (beyond a few neutral comments, “Wow, is this is a long line!”) is creepy.

Then we go home and we check Post Secret and FMyLife. We use them to fulfill the intimacy we denied ourselves earlier in the day, when we were face to face with the very strangers who sent in these secrets and these stories. These websites are wonderful. Still, we know that the brief moment where we look into a stranger’s eye is one million times more meaningful than anything revealed in an online confessional.

I want to do my part to establish community in the moment. I want to take the chance to acknowledge and connect with the present and the people I am sharing it with, and give them the chance to do that too. I want to my acts to be just silly or strange enough to push me and those around me to react in the moment, and bypass the inner editor and its carefully constructed representations.