Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Stick 'em up

When I was in London in December, something I did almost caused an innocent cab driver to get sent to the police. I'm telling you this since the issue of "different perspectives" has been coming up lately. The example with the cab driver is sad ... and, whilst I understand the circumstances, I cannot help but laugh in disbelief.
I had started a spontaneous Post-It project when I was in Toronto in October. I would leave positive messages written on Post-It notes whenever I rode on the subway, trams, went through a turnstile, was in public toilets, etc. Each message would begin with the words: "This is for you:" - to make it seem more personal and specific to the person who found it. (N.B. Perception: By sticking Post-Its in public places am I littering or uplifting random strangers with positive notes?) I felt that these messages 'out of the blue' in public places would brighten someone's day, offer guidance just when they needed it, inspire them, etc. Once I was on a tram with my friend J and I stuck a Post-It on the tram seat in front of us so we could observe the person who found it. The note simply said: "This is for you: Tonight is a magical night. Don't miss it!" Eventually a couple came and sat in that pair of seats. The way the girl's face lit up when she saw the Post-It note was priceless. Her mouth flew open (and remained open for quite a while). She detached the note, showed it to her boyfriend (who looked equally happy about it), then read it again and put it carefully in her handbag as a keepsake. When they got off the tram they were still smiling.

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A post it note left on the menu card at Garfunkel's in Leicester Square, London

There is pleasure in leaving these notes for random people to find. It's different doing it in TT, because I drive a car and rarely take public transport. So I leave Post-It notes in other places - like on the ABM machine after withdrawing cash, in public toilet stalls, on a random product in the supermarket, etc. It has to be done very quickly and surreptitiously so no-one sees.

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This Post-It note left on a snowy trail in Switzerland says:

This is for you: may you be guided along the right path always.

This post is getting quite long ... and the London cab driver story deserves a page of its own, so I'll continue that story tomorrow ... but will leave you with two more Post-It photos.

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This Post-It note stuck in a London phonebooth says "This is for you: The world is so big and yet so small. The things you do are small and yet so big. Do good things." When I looked at the photo afterwards, I realised how a perfectly innocent message could be interpreted very differently because of where it is placed. Note the 'Exotic Massage' and 'Exclusively for you Magical Moment' sex ads in the background. "So small and yet so big ..." might mean something else to an eager male customer.


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This man on the London underground was so deep in thought that he never noticed the fluorescent pink Post-It stuck to his right. Unlike the Toronto transport system, which was so clean that the Post-Its stood out, the London underground had more clutter to it. More strategic placement was required.


Friends in Toronto and London have been continuing the project.

Why not try it yourself?




Blogger Kaivalya said...

A link to a photograph of the Tonight is magical, do not miss it post-it note.

I've continued to leave post-its with inspirational messages on the subway and in public places during my travels around Toronto. It feels fun, playful and magical. I sometimes loiter on the subway platform after I exit, steal a peek into the train to see who has sat near my post-it.

Lately, I've also been leaving photographs (Lomograph prints) from my participation in the SWCNWG Project (the link is to my Flickr set of project photos). Leaving photos is a different experience. Perhaps because it's my own artistic work, leaving photographs feels more substantial.
I have left dozens of these photographs (mostly on subways, though other places as well) and two things have surprised me.

First, I've been amazed by how easily one can leave things stuck to the wall of the subway and yet no one notices! People on the subway seem SO absorbed in avoiding eye conctact with other passengers that I've found that I can stick up photos (or post-its) in full view of a carriage full of people at rush hour, and not a single person will pay the slightest attention! As I'm doing it, I sometimes feel a bit invisible.

Second, each photograph I've placed has a message on the back providing information about the SWCNWG project, a link to my Flickr set and my email address. On most, I've highlighted the email address and left a hand-written note: "Send me feedback!" or "I love email!" Yet, not a single person has chosen to write me a note.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous theglasshermitage said...

Dear Elspeth,
I think these acts fall in the category of “Random Acts of Kindness” and definitely not littering. I’d say that you find more of what can be called garbage in the ads all over the public transit system. When people actually see these notes, I feel that the majority feel that they have been personally touched by another human being and in a very good way. Someone reached across the unknown and shared a human touch. That mask that we put on when in the company of strangers is a defense mechanism I think. Many of us are overwhelmed by anonymity, in the sense that it is distressing to be among so many people who do not know you. A Trinidadian must find these situations even more stressful. On the PTSC bus or a Maxi Taxi, you can sing a greeting upon entry and you will certainly get some responses. If you see a person’s face more than once, you’ve already begun to develop a rapport. You can smile at someone and be shocked if they do not return the smile. I remember being in London when I was much younger and feeling the lack of male “sooting” as an alienating and tangible absence. I had become so accustomed to Trinidadian men who were not my relatives calling out with what they thought were seductive tones, “Famaley!” The lack of the familiar sibilant soot told me that I was alone, unrecognized, anonymous. Most people do not want to be trapped in their expressionless bubbles.

On the subject of sticky notes, once when travelling, I saw the yellow corner of a sticky note under a refrigerator in our room. My curiosity getting the better of me, I got down on my knees and fished it out. There were just two words scribbled across the note: “Get divorce.” I remember feeling something of its writer’s despair and grim resolve. We are not immune to the feelings of others even when the communication is unintended and serendipitous. Definitely continue to reach out. Your blog is one beautiful pad of sticky notes. Keep on writing.

1:56 AM  
Blogger Elspeth said...

I was in Subway buying a sandwich yesterday and I stuck a post it on the counter saying: "This is for you: We need your bright light in today's world. It's important that you don't hide it." Four women came after me in the line and could not help but se it because of where it was and where they were. Each woman appeared to be thinking after reading the note, but none of them took it. That's good - more people will get the message. Silvergull, maybe people don't respond by e-mail but what you leave for them inspires them in some other way. Hermitage - that "Get divorce" note is intense and sad - the thought that someone would have to write it down on a Post-It (note to self).

6:25 AM  
Anonymous Ting said...

its littering only cause the message is positive then its good? but if the message wasn't then what would you be considered doing? Maybe because its a postit no one is taking it seriously. and just cause people might smile at that particular time doesn't mean its beacuse of the postit.


9:43 AM  
Anonymous theglasshermitage said...

One man’s inspiration is another man’s nuisance. Ting, you made me think. How would you define litter? And having defined it, could you say that there is good litter and bad litter? Sometimes I feel that because we accept formal definitions of what is right and wrong, we are often set up to be cheated because other evils or blessings slip outside of our neat categories.

I’d like to sweep away:
-The litter of sour faces and gestures, carelessly left over from some earlier negative attitude or event, unfeeling masks to chill and infect unsuspecting onlookers.
-The litter of inane “goat songs” blaring at travellers and pedestrians, urging them to empty their minds and focus on mass wining and the intricacies of waving something, anything, like they just don’t care.
-The litter of billboards and television advertisements costing millions of dollars which could be put to better use, instead of being thrown at cluttering onlookers lives with more nonsense, or worse, creating false needs.
-The litter of wrong values that we pump into our children in the name of progress or “bettering” themselves.
-The litter of the false personas that we feel compelled to adopt, to survive, to make it in this world, we say, the accoutrements of success, the right shoes, right hairstyle, right makeup, right jewellery, right job, right spouse, right religion.
And on and on and on… We might be very sure about our definitions of what is litter but we continue to accept so much garbage as just a necessary part of life. It really is a matter of perspective.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Elspeth said...

Well, if it's littering, I'd much rather 'litter' with the post-it messages than by throwing things out my car window, leaving bottles and styrotex on the beach, pouring oil paint down the drain and leaving plastic sweetdrink bottles to choke up the rivers and drains.

4:54 PM  
Blogger allan said...

Take a bag of fruit with you on a the cherry in the Andalucia and throw the pith to the earth- A cherry tree will grow
Eat the Mango in Jericho, throw it to the ground- the sapling will sprout...Spit out your Mellon seeds in Uganda.. . a vine will follow.
Take a pack of post-its with you on a sojourn...leave a note on the Tube...Write a message on the A train...maybe to get the seed out you have to eat the fruit first.

9:00 AM  

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