As today is Saturday the 14th, yesterday was Friday the 13th, which was when I was going to write this post. I didn’t, though, so it’s maybe not as timely, but oh well.
On Boxing Day, the conversation somehow turned to bad luck. Apparently, in addition to all the black cats and ladders, cutting your nails on a Friday is bad luck. (Whether biting your nails counts was unclear, but the logic provided at the time was that it probably does because it’s just cutting them with your teeth.)
There seems to be no end to the things that can cause bad luck. Beyond the legends passed down by older family members, there’s all the superstition provided from within. I’m terrible for that.
I’ve never been particularly fussed by good luck and bad luck traditions. I regularly ignore chain letters, walk under ladders, and just chuck spilled salt into the sink. I could waste my entire life living by the rules of bad luck. It could become an all-consuming passion, keeping me trapped by an endless list of things meant to be bad mojo.
So I can’t be bothered with all of that. I see it as something akin to religion. It just doesn’t make any sense to me, so fuck it.
Yet I get very superstitious about some things. You know those nutjobs who wear the same pair of underwear because their favourite sports team is having a winning streak and they conflate the two? Yeah, I kinda get like that.
Not in the underwear way, of course, but in that same mindset.
At the end of last year, I went through a ridiculous interview thing for a job I didn’t end up getting. The first interview went well, as did a few other things from around the same time, so I looked for a pattern. What emerged was the use of a certain shower gel and a toothbrush that I wanted to get rid of, despite being brand new, because I didn’t like the stiffness of the bristles. The second interview came, and I made sure to use the same shower gel and painful toothbrush. When the third interview came, I talked myself out of my superstition and used a different shower gel.
When I didn’t get the job, I thought in passing that it might have been different if I’d followed my routine.
I know it has nothing to do with any of it. I know that in a rational way. But day in, day out, I find myself doing little routines that somehow fit a luck pattern. Each day that I do X, something good happens, or nothing openly bad happens. Therefore, I keep doing X.
The thing about all of this is that it’s inevitable that the pattern will break. There will be a day where I don’t have a new bottle of soda water to take to whist. That day, as any other, there will be a 50-50 chance that I lose. If I don’t, I find some other thing that has carried over. If I do lose, it’s all down to the soda water.
I know I do this, but I keep it so quiet. I’m a smart, logical person. I don’t believe in god (that’s a whole other story!), and think religion is little more than codified superstitions, yet here I am, tying achievement to the most mundane things.
Maybe it’s some low-level OCD, the same thing that makes me knock the water out of my toothbrush exactly 5 times, every time. Or maybe it’s some natural inclination deep-coded in the human genome that wants me to have some religiosity. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s nothing.
No matter what causes it, I do it and am a bit ashamed of it. It’s a way of downplaying both accomplishment and failure, putting it on something outside of me. It’s not my failure, it’s that I wore different shoes.
I don’t consider myself a lucky person. I’m more likely the person who loses the £20 that somebody finds on the street. I don’t win the lottery, I’m never the 100th customer.
But I’m not exactly unlucky, either. At least as long as I do the same routine, say goodnight to the dog in the same way, and keep that 2p piece next to the computer.
As a postscript, I should also add that I’ve never been afraid of Friday the 13th, probably in no small part because my mom’s birthday was on January 13, so I always associate the 13th of months with her rather than any concerns about luck.
So here’s the worst kept secret in writing at the moment… That Guardian Guide interview… I wrote it. There, I’ve said it. I wrote it.
What was published was edited, and the footnotes weren’t mine. The coverage of Adam Mclevey was, perhaps surprisingly, not all my doing. It was added in by the journalist or editor. But the answers… those were all me.
I didn’t do it as some great subversive move, or a highly intelligent commentary on the art world. Nope. It was a joke meant for a very small audience. Having been forwarded the interviewer’s questions (which were supposed to be for Nuts magazine, not the Guardian), I answered with my usual sense of humour. Apparently this was painfully clear to many who know me, even in the vaguest internet-y sense of the term. Who else harps on about CarPlan and comedy cocks?
Thing is, this little joke got sent around a bit and ended up published in the newspaper of record amongst the arty farties of the UK. I want to make sitcom references here, about how the extension of a joke beyond the intended receptive audience is a trope that is particularly prevalent in my beloved post-1990 sitcoms. I can elaborate if anyone gives a fuck, but I’m pretty sure nobody does.
So back to the tale… I wrote a joke for some friends and, as it so often does, it ended up published. I didn’t even know about it until somebody on Twitter put something up about a Banksy interview about Rolf Harris and penguins. That’s about when I started shitting myself trying to get a copy of the Guardian in this podunk town of illiterates. It had already been taken down from the newspaper’s website, so I had a tense ride into town (where I still had to go into three shops before I found any copies in stock).
I tried being cagey. I sent coy little texts to a wider circle of friends, alerting them to the mention of Adam (which was a surprise to me). They started texting back saying they smelled a stencilled rat and other such nuggets of highly appropriate wisdom.
Word started getting out — a combination of rumour and drunken storytelling. For my birthday, I was given a custom-made shirt declaring that I was Banksy. And, for that moment, for that day, I was.
And that’s what I find so damn interesting about all of this. I was Banksy. For that moment, forever locked in print, I was Banksy. But, really, who the fuck is Banksy? More importantly, does it matter anymore?
Banksy has become something of an urban myth, a legend. Banksy is no longer a person, regardless of what the Daily Mail would like to think. Just like every artist through history, Banksy isn’t so much a person as an institution. And that’s fair enough. The house of mirrors thing works for ‘him’. If everyone knew who Banksy was, and there were press junkets and photo spreads, the mystery would be gone. Half of the fun, half of why we all still care and queue up for hours to see the work, is that we don’t know who the fuck created them. Could be the person right there, or that one over there. Is that guy on the ladder Banksy (nah… too short, that one)? Or the guy painting that van’s bonnet (nah… couldn’t be)? Or the girl in the shirt declaring it (nah… too obvious)?
No, none of us are Banksy. And, really, it doesn’t matter. If we are Banksy, if we were Banksy, if we will be Banksy, it doesn’t matter. Nobody gets anything from being Banksy anymore. The pay is shit, according the the Freedom of Information documents. You’re better off being yourself.
But it’s still fun to add to the legend. It’s still fun to sit back and watch the scurrying about as every newspaper in the country (and some abroad) put pained quotes around the phrase “comedy cock”. It’s fun to laugh with friends as they marvel at this strange little story of how a morning joke email became a notoriously badly researched bit of journalism. It’s fun to keep people guessing.
So, yeah, I’m Banksy. So’s the next guy. Just maybe not that Banksy. But it’s better this way.