The fire that engulfed a Wellington storage facility this week also consumed most of the possessions I left behind me when I came to New York.
It’s a sign.
These possessions amounted to a Script Writers Association of New Zealand trophy, a box of kitchenware and a nice Frida Khalo pillow.
Still. It’s a sign.
Several of the items were only in storage because they failed to meet reserve when I tried to sell them on Trademe.
Even so. The significance is not lost on me.
It’s a sign that I must never return to New Zealand. Or, it’s a sign that a fresh start awaits me on my return. Perhaps it’s a sign that the building lacked sprinklers. I’m not sure. I haven’t had time to process it fully, to sift through its entrails, consider its tea leaves or read the palm of its hand. But something innate within me, as a human being, means that I cannot help but note it, tag it, and deposit it in my mental sign vault until such time as I need to retrieve it for the purpose of informing or justifying a future decision.
As compulsively as we eat, shit and breathe we are sign-hunters and gathers. Logic, the HTML of our intelligence, is nothing more or less than the instinct to identify and stack signs into a sense-making order for use as food, fuel and weaponry.
As humans, the manufacture and consumption of these sign stacks (collective noun ‘stories’) takes up most of our waking and sleeping lives. Every time we listen to a song, watch the news, gossip, touch, taste, smell, dream - the moment we sense, we are sign-stacking.
Our sign-stacking skills have developed over the course of human history, but remain no more fixed or less arbitrary. It is easy to scoff at our ancestors’ notion that floods, earthquakes and bolts of lightning are signs that we’ve angered the gods, and total annihilation is only a botched sacrifice away. But it is we who would be the subject of contemporary ridicule if we tried to dispute the clear and obvious signs that anthropogenic climate change is exacting a hefty and seemingly terminal toll on our planet and species. What is that but a modern manifestation of environmental catastrophe as punishment for human sin? We may say we’re reading clearer, better signs in a more sophisticated way, but to be frank, our ancestors were just as right, despite our protestations that they lucked out by reading the wrong signs, or reading them poorly.
The most important signs we’ll ever stack are those we choose to create the story of our lives. Due to the need to provide regular executive summaries on the matter we are constantly forced to choose what signs to include and what to disregard for simplicity’s sake.
When I’m asked how I came to be involved in the theatre, I avoid the complex row-and-float reality in favour of the time Mark Hadlow chatted to an eight-year-old me as I sat in the audience at Downstage and he waited to go on stage. It does a fine job of signifying the ignition of my awareness, the opening of my eyes to powerful potential of the ability to manipulate the space between me and mimesis. It either thoroughly satisfies or thoroughly bores the questioner because I am never asked to elaborate.
As for the the fire that gobbled up my stuff, it’s not a question of whether I will chose to interpret it as a sign, the question is what interpretation, and what prominence I will give it in the sign-stack of my life. Will it be fashioned into a structural support, like my thirty-second interaction with Hadlow? Or will it be biffed into the attic like a dusty ab-cruncher, like my first kiss with the cold-tongued minister’s daughter?
At this moment, if the fire signifies anything to me, it’s that I am as beholden to signs as I am to nutrition. I can chose what to eat, but I must eat something.
 Here's a link to a very interesting article by George Monbiot about how we’ve been destroying the planet to our detriment since WAY before the industrial revolution.
PROFIT & DELIGHT
What I'm thinking about what I'm doing. This blog aspires to a more profound definition of 'profit' and the bog-standard sense of 'delight'.
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