Tagging has always been an art form I am a little embarrassed to appreciate. Even before I understood the graffiti in downtown Cleveland, I think I understood that people were making their mark on something in the hopes of immortality or at least bragging rights. Even in suburbia, tagging was valuable. By developing a tag, you were able to declare just who you were and what you were all about. Most of the coolest kids I knew had developed tough tags that they were proud to scrawl onto the backs of the chairs in Social Studies during the 2nd viewing of Tora! Tora! Tora!. They had beautiful curved letters, and sometimes, even blood pooling at the bottom or interesting characters within the design. And everything within the tag meant something. Every letter represented a part of the person drawing it. It was a thing of suburban beauty.
My tag, however, was absurd. I am no graffiti artist, and I could not come up with anything rugged or overly intimidating. What I came up with was GPSAF, written with angles, kind of like this:
And what menacing ideas did GPSAF stand for?
Giorgio Perogies, Scrooberdeeds, and Freakinbobins.
That’s right. A food item that I have never tasted and two made up words that have no reason for existing. This absurd abbreviation was simply the work of my imagination and my interest in using non-sense to make the world seem just a little bit more sane. In those days, I did not have a well-defined passion. I did not have direction or even something concrete to rebel against. What I had, instead, was placeholders for those things. I had Scrooberdeeds and Freakinbobins. I had the alternatives for swear words, the search for significance, or simply the need to belong to something that I didn’t quite understand yet.
It was the absurd that allowed me to fake my way into understanding the need for identity. It let me be original without having to stand for something. It also allowed me to try things on to see if they fit.
I continue to try absurd things on when I’m not exactly sure what else to do.
Last night, I was taking an aptitude test for a summer program I am applying for. In this test, I was given 4 minutes to come up with as many uses for a tin can as possible. Along with using it to cut fruit and making an old-school walkie talkie, I may have written an entirely absurd suggestion of making love to it. Now, clearly I do not want to make love to a tin can, nor do I really understand how that might be done. What I do know is that by placing that type of a response into such a test, I am able to try out the boundaries of the question itself. By figuring out just how good of a sense of humor the graders have, I can see if I would like to be a part of the program or not. By suggesting the impossible, everything else seems like an incredibly good idea. Or, at least I tell myself that.
For me, the power of the absurd is about letting me have a choice to either dive in completely and invest myself fully or back out without losing too much face. It is about short-circuiting or sabotaging the process so that I can be in control. I’m not sure why it matters that much, but I think that having the control over whether or not you are going to take something seriously is invigorating.This is why I don’t type out “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” whenever I sit down to a new blog post. Instead, I type out things absurd strings of ideas that will inevitably spark something new. It is why I didn’t learn the names to chords on a guitar. I simply made oddly grotesque finger shapes on the fret board that made music I was proud of. It is why I always start with questions when I am talking to a group of people. I am looking for the absurd answer, the one that I cannot possibly anticipate or pre-formulate a reaction to. I sometimes get those answers too and that is when I know that my mind is working right. It is when I can actually replace those absurd suggestions and ideas with things that really matter. It is when we can move beyond the silliness and see what the real values of a tag can be. Because at this point, we don’t have to abbreviate nothingness. We all have the character that will stand up and claim its rightful place, so long as we have put something temporary in first. If, instead, we have put in ideas and beliefs that we only kind-of agreed with then it will always be a process of walking back what we have said about who we are. If we claim absurdity, we will always be given a second chance. If we give a false claim, we will always be considered charlatans.