This piece and most of what I’m posting this month, I drafted as part of a writing exchange. I started writing it based on a prompt, so there’s no particular reason I was thinking about graffiti today.
I spent years riding Caltrain. I rode it when I was 11 up to San Francisco to work in my grandpa’s office, I rode it when I was 15 to my first internship in the Mission, I rode it many weekends down to the Mountain View public library.
From the window on the upper-deck, curled in the coveted backwards-facing seat, I saw a man peeing in the stark sunlight against a wall, the back of a burnt-out house, lots of graffiti. Lots of graffiti.
I tried to read it, whishing by so fast the bubble-letters blurred, unreadable. Sometimes I caught bits of phrases names, accomplishments and calls-to-arms.
I’ve heard there’s a bridge in Paris where, if you look closely at the shellacked wood, you can find the graffiti Napoleon’s soldiers left during one of his great wars. In other places, there are names and dates in Latin.
Graffiti is how people without ad-buy demonstrate that they lived, communicate to each other and across time, make their indelible impression on the constructed world around them.
Like a lot of other white, upper-middle-class girls I followed the careers of a few graffiti artists so unlucky as to have made mainstream-media names for themselves. I admired their dare-doing, I poo-pooed the starched-shirts who declared their work trash, I look their signs as symbols of a revolution of my generation.
I’ve never really carved my name into anything. I have ad-buy, even in the non-monetary, 21st century way of having a blog. I have the education it takes to write generally without grammatical error, the money to buy and maintain hosting of a website, the free time to write long thought-pieces on fandom and politics.
Graffiti is for people without those privileges, and I would feel appropriative if I were to utter the primal-scream of spray-paint on cement, to write my call-sign on the overpass near my apartment. The graffiti of my childhood looked like screaming as my train rushed by to my family-work, my internship, my public refuge. I’d clench my fingers into fists on my Lands End navy-blue clad knees, curl my toes, press my nose to the glass.
And to try read, knowing I would never be read in return by the writer.
“Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.”–Banksy, Wall and Piece