I wrote “Standing Stones” about the human need to scratch our symbols on the world.
When I was in school, I covered all my textbooks in brown paper bags and duct tape so I’d have a blank canvas for scribbling. Song lyrics in every corner, notes in every direction, doodles dividing and transecting every word.
Everything I wrote faded. The scuffs of backpacks and lockers wore down my words til they disappeared, leaving me space to write new ones or retrace the old.
A lot of the artists I know share with me a funny nihilism-slash-egotism – a powerful and contradictory sense that nothing we say could possibly matter, but We Must Say It Anyway And People Should Listen Dammit.
I was in the powerful grip of this paradox in my late twenties. I surrounded myself with scraps of scribbled poetry and with passionate bohemian unshaved and uninsured friends. We stayed up all night arguing about art in freezing apartments in Anchorage, proclaiming that legacy is an illusion and all our works would crumble, then dreaming up twenty new things to start making in the morning.
Leaving a mark is just what humans do. We can hardly help it.
It’s what the very first humans did, marking space and time with rocks and rituals, across every continent and inhabited island.
It’s the scratches of bored children on library desks. It’s the twigs that hikers snap to mark the trail, the profane curses of drunks on bathroom walls, the marks of mothers in doorframes, the towering statues of slaveowners, the symbols scratched in slave huts, the scholarly illumination of sacred texts, the X’s of illiterate laborers in the windows of cathedrals, the hash marks on the walls of solitary, the tags on train cars. It’s the city skyline. It’s the sprawling slums. It’s the forgotten field of crumbling illegible grave markers. All we leave are standing stones.
This irrepressible artistry is not necessarily good, it’s just what we seem wired to do. There is a deep bed of darkness under the passion in this song. Maybe we have marked our world a bit much by now? Our impulse to change our environment has gone too far, our instinct to shout about our existence has become an unceasing overwhelming clamor. I don’t know how we could possibly stop. I hope we can collectively pull back, slow down, react, redirect without suppressing something elemental in ourselves.
We might start by listening more. Some of the least heard people on the planet have an awful lot to say right now, and they are saying it. Today is a good day to slow our scrawling and leave room for one another’s voices. Make a space on the crowded and overwritten wall. If we read what we are all trying desperately to say to one another, to ourselves, we might find more purpose in all the graffiti we have spread across the globe.
however long our species lasts,
however glorious and awful our story,
I am certain
that I am certain
that every mark we have made – from the finest to the folkiest, from the oldest to the newest, from the universally lauded to the never-seen –
all of it will be swept away just the same.
And that’s okay. We already know how this story ends. We have always known.
So scratch and sketch and sign your own. Love, Marian.
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