In 2012 I created an account called “YoureGonnaDoIt”. I would search through the timeline for phrases like “I hope I can” or “I’m trying to” or “I’m worried that” and retweet with a positive message. For example: someone might say that they’re worried about their entrance exam and I would tweet “Keep studying and I’m sure you’re going to do great!” It was great fun and I got a number of positive responses.
And then one morning I woke up, checked my email and saw that my account was suspended. Apparently I’d violated the terms of service for “Spam messages”.
In the early days of the pandemic, a related idea occurred to me. As an adventure I would write encouraging and hopeful messages on the sidewalk in chalk. I could do it in both Hindi/Urdu and English (Urdu is the second most common language in our neighbourhood after English). I went to Daegan and asked if I could take his chalk from his art supplies and he graciously gave it to me. I put it in my desk and promptly got paralyzed. What would I say? Was this a stupid idea? Would people be upset? I imagined waking up at 5:00 AM before most people were out and doing it to avoid anyone seeing me but even that wasn’t enough.
And so the chalk worked its way deeper and deeper into my desk, the idea being literally pushed away until I’d only see them every 3-4 months when I’d tidy my desk.
Today’s adventure was created by Sage and was a mystery. On camera I open the first task:
“Write down as many positive words as you can.
You have 1 minute.”
The timer starts and I write frantically: “Happy, generous, good-natured, open-minded, driven, hard-working, adventurous, kind, friendly, devoted, loyal.”
Then with that done I’m handed the second task:
“You are about to become a juvenile delinquent.
Remember how much you love positive graffiti?
Today, you’re going to make your own.
Your time starts now.”
It’s true, for example, I love every time I see this anywhere in the city:
This means “Everything is possible” in French – a really lovely message and it makes me happy to know someone put that up hoping to remind people of this, to cheer them up or to give them hope.
But the idea of taking a can of spray paint and doing this somewhere is a little bit too much of an adventure for me. And then I remembered my chalk.
I’d like to say “And then I remember my chalk and ran outside, scrawling positive messages everywhere.” but it’s not true. I agonize over where, how to do it, how not to bother people or get in the way or write a message that could be taken the wrong way by someone. In the end, though, I pack the chalk into my bag and Sage and I go out.
Fall has arrived and it is a glorious day outside – sunny but also cold and windy. I’m wearing a shirt, sweater and leather jacket but when I get to the sidewalk I am still cold. I put on a black hoodie I have in my bag. Now I feel like I look the part of someone who does graffiti. I find myself trying to delay further, finding the right place, waiting for someone a block away to walk over. And then I just start.
Each one is a challenge. I am breaking no laws but I feel like I’m doing something wrong, or someone’s going to say something mean – as if that’s a big deal in the grand scheme of things. And then shouts come from a couple of guys in a passing car and though I don’t know what they’re saying I’m not surprised.
But then, a few more messages later I get off the sidewalk to let a man pass and he slows and reads each one. Then as he turns back he smiles at me. That little gesture made me feel good – at least for one human this had the desired effect.
The chalk runs out surprisingly quickly with each message requiring almost a full piece even with thin lines. I’m enjoying writing these and the idea that some may enjoy them, but I’m also a little relieved when it is over.
Looking back now I can see that every one of these adventures is actually about vulnerability and I’m learning that I find some ways of being vulnerable easier than others. Many told me that riding a bike from Delhi to rural Rajasthan made me very vulnerable – mostly physically. When I first started learning other languages, talking to a native speaker made me feel incredibly vulnerable and a small mistake could replay in my head for days! (I still remember mistakes I made speaking French in 2008) but now those are easier. Singing felt vulnerable at first but grew easier as it went. In fact, most of the scary adventures I’ve had started out scary but eventually got better. Even hanging off the CN Tower 116 stories above the city got easier as time went on.
But it’s interesting to note that the simple act of writing nice words in chalk on the sidewalk left part of me feeling incredibly self-conscious until the time ended. Who knew that being earnest could feel so risky? Clearly this is something I must explore more.