I used to run a Tumblr called I Am Here. The premise was simple: I took pictures of city limit signs and then posted them on the Internet. At first, I wanted to document the limits of every city in the 9 Bay Area counties. Eventually, the scope expanded to encompass anywhere I went in a car.
I crossed highways to get a shot of a Welcome to Point Reyes Station or Los Altos or Pacifica sign. I trolled Google Earth to find the most likely locations. For one particular set of photos, I cruised El Camino Real from Burlingame to Palo Alto, cheerfully jumping out of my car when I crossed city limits. I enjoyed the work, if that’s what it was.
I’ve tried to explain it, knowing that no explanation was inadequate. After all, the same phone I was using to take the photographs could map any location. I could just as soon find these signs with Street View and take screenshots — all from the comfort of my couch or my bed. Why did I feel the need to go out there and find the physical signs? Did I think I was making art?
I came to feel like a character in a short story. Would the tale end with me driving off into the sunset, headed for unknowable borders? (Or serving as the body in a Law & Order cold open, discovered by a pair of wisecracking inmates on highway cleanup duty?) Did the character of Marcella dream of a borderless world because her own life was so carefully and intentionally circumscribed? Were the photos snapshots of possibilities, other possible spaces she could have inhabited before Irreversible Decisions were made and her X on the map was marked?
When I started working full-time, my obsession slowed abruptly, then stopped altogether. I still took occasional pictures of city limit signs, when they were easy to get, but I never updated the Tumblr. I thought of the exercise, I suppose, as a strange and childish pastime that was over. After all, I no longer had to fill my day with unimportant activities. I didn’t have time to drive out to San Leandro just because.
But it still nagged at me. The work was undone.
So, as my penance for missing two days of NaBloPoMo, I’m going to update my Tumblr with the dribble of Population Signs images I’ve accumulated. I feel it’s some existential thing I’ve been too tired or busy to pick apart, and I temporarily have the space to think about it.