This one is rough. Rougher than the hands that once held it. A small cardboard sign with black sharpie lettering, employing some extraneous looping and swirling that simply reads:
“Rugged and handsome only go so far.”
This is not news. _______ and_______ always only go so far, but this visceral lesson in context brings a pang to my heart. On the ground, it’s just roadkill. I think about context as I ride the bus home, the filthy little sign tucked inside my jacket. In my jacket, it’s a treasure. I would like to think that if I had seen it in some hands (ostensibly the hands of someone rugged and handsome and down on his luck) that I’d smile and toss my change into whatever was set forth to catch it. I’d like to think that, but clearly the sign did not perform its function in the hands of its creator (that the advent of jokes in these, the most basic and abject of human pleas, indicates we are no longer extending tokens of charity so much as rewarding cleverness is a source of consternation for perhaps another time). It’s been abandoned to the world of cultural detritus to seek out a second life as a piece of found art. In my home, it’s my art. Its function is to freeze the moment of discovery and serve as a symbol of a tender heart that I am increasingly neglecting to maintain. I know this is okay, because the context of a home is sacred. Its journey is still plain and evident. Its theoretical issues are not my concern. But what does it mean to have it become someone else’s concern?
If someone did take interest in this artifact, they would be tasked with conjuring up a sum in accordance with the depth and breadth of meaning it’s picked up along the way. On a large white wall, it’s about divorcing craft from meaning. And the meaning might be outlined on a little placard nearby. Its journey will be made evident. If there is an ethical element to this, it doesn’t bother me. If it’s just a dirty little sign on a bookshelf, it’s okay that I haven’t quite divorced myself from the image of its rugged and handsome creator.
—Christina C Martinez