I’ve been working the last 3 months on paperwork to build an ADU in Los Angeles. It’s been a slightly opaque (haha, JUST KIDDING, it’s been a muddy river filled with food dye) process which brings into question a lot of things around what politicians mean versus say and the PURPOSE of what people say is important. Never-the-less I’ve tried to just jump into it like a seal learning new tricks trying not to think about its own captivity.
Today I had to resubmit a section of paperwork because it was a scan of a page and not the original, but having thrown away the original, I had to bike to a notary before heading to the department of building and safety.
Signatures on signatures.
I pulled up to UPS and placed my document on the seat of my bike, only to watch it blow away into a puddle. With original signatures called “wet signatures”, the thought that an original document with wet signatures now was a wet document with wet signatures seemed like a good fit of language.
And as I stood there dabbing the document off on my shirt (wondering where this water even came from…) I looked over at a tangled coat hanger laying next to a tree planting and thought about the convolutions that had gone into the process that I was in that simply was a coat hanger at heart: something quite simple to keep a shirt off the floor.
On the bike ride to the building department I pass one of my favorite buildings in LA: the Promenade Tower Apartments. It truly looks like something out of Belgrade or Chisinau; all angles and glass and concrete coming together like a crescendo of a brilliant composer; that soviet-style where it looks both accessible, but at the same time there is zero daylight that reaches its interior. As you get close to it, however, it is absurdly simple. Low resolution and a bit like fitting square blocks in square holes. It is only from a distance that we can pretend that it holds some complex meaning.
I think a lot of human endeavors are like this. We wish to stay far away and make things always seem complex in order to guarantee ourselves something to do in the future. We are terrified of the moment that we must just sit. The complexity and drama is the purpose… outcomes are not really the point.
Endless scrolls on a news feed is a bit like doing paperwork for the city. It is the paperwork that IS THE POINT. All that ink, wet or dry, perched on pages like the front row of a gospel choir singing its own praises.
I just finished reading a short story about a conscious mechanical machine that runs on air: air pushes through it to activate its enormously complex mechanisms. On opening itself up, however, it realizes that the mechanics of itself are actually just recording states of the airflow. In a way, the air itself is the consciousness it believes the mechanics were holding.
I think paperwork is the same. I think a city is just a manifestation of 8.5”x11” paper (or A4 if you’re in Europe) being passed from one person to another. It is all that fiber and ink like strings to the toes and fingers of its inhabitants.