We have tried to find significance throughout history for the meaning of stuff. Shaman’s and soothsayers, seers, witches and warlocks would take mystical readings of signs revealed only through their extra sensory powers. From an eye of newt or an eagle’s claw the fortune teller could predict the future and our place in it.
Some signs we must obey. Some signs can tempt us to misbehave. Other signs we ignore at our peril. Quite a few signs seem so absurd they seem meant to make us laugh. The Five Man Electrical Band had a groovy song about being pissed off with so many signs. Here’s a version of that song with some far out signage someone posted on YouTube.
When I was in my late teens I got interested in calligraphy. I was fascinated with stories of how some criminal cases could be solved by examining the handwriting found at the scene of a crime. I practiced my signature and settled on a swirling capital T that apparently showed I had an artistic sensibility. Nowadays the signing of a document can be digitally formatted. Codes and passwords have become the way we determine the validity of an individual. We have vestiges of these olden times with the language we use. I can’t remember the last time I used my ‘John Hancock’. A signature is still required on a business contract. When you get married does one still sign the register? I signed a cheque months ago for a deposit on a rental. I recall enticements to get things on credit: All I had to do was ‘Sign on the dotted line!’
My grandson’s first fascination was with signs on posts. On toddling walks he would point out the little squares and rectangles and I would tell him what they said. The circle that said STOP was important. He puzzled over the triangle yield sign but his little feet scampered and got all tangled as he approached all the instructional messages posted near garbage cans.
A barefoot life is freeing but I have to check my feet regularly to look for calluses or other signs of road wear. The other day I noticed itchy, red and roughened toes, a hot sensation even though my feet felt cold. I typed the symptoms into a web doctor on my laptop and gosh a picture of my feet came up on the computer screen. ‘Chilblains’ declared the caption. I was aghast that somehow I had contracted something with a nineteenth century sound to it. Vicks VapoRub came to the rescue.
Being a Boy Scout taught me some cool tricks about survival. I learned how to spot trail markers that serve me now as a metaphor for finding my way. It’s a sign of our times that we have become distracted by inconsequential stuff. I fear we’ve lost our ability as a society to pay attention to signals. Climate change is telling us something and because of light pollution we can no longer determine what might be written in the stars.