I bought 15 black t-shirts. I went through my drawers and closet, removing every shirt with a printed image or statement, meticulously folded them and put them in a crate for storage. They are in my basement, waiting for a use as dust rags or some other sense of purpose. I’m not Steve Jobs. I just feel increasingly uncomfortable with a society of strangers that can’t stop signaling to each other. Every social media post. Every statement on a t-shirt. Every bumper sticker. It’s part of our very genetic makeup…to signal. And for some reason I want to get away from it, maybe not completely, but at least less openly. It’s a ridiculous attempt, I know, to transcend our genetic lineage. We are communicative and cooperative beings, motivated by the dual functions of survival and self-interest. So to live above our signaling motives is to become, in a way, suicidal. Still, it feels so silly, to project ourselves out into a society of strangers, seeking a useless sense of validation. Every Facebook post. Every instagram photo. Every blog essay (this one especially). Every t-shirt is a signal to others for that desperate validation, that desperate cooperation, or at least the sense thereof, because in a society of strangers and fleeting communication, the projections and signals flicker like dying lights.
I bought 15 black t-shirts, which is funny because even they are signals. They are signals that I’m the type of person that doesn’t want to be a part of signaling, which is a signal. Everything speaks. Silence is deafening they say. There is something, however, about signaling less blatantly. It’s harder to be pigeonholed, to be assumed. You can leave people guessing.
A woman walked by this morning, “Lift” written on her shirt, as if the butthugger tights painted over her bulging thighs didn’t say it already. I was in a black t-shirt, saying nothing. As the sun rose, however, I was throwing down 8 x 3 minutes hard and 1 minute easy for 10 miles. When I was done, I was in a black shirt, drinking coffee poured into a protein laced smoothie for breakfast. I could have just woken up as far as anyone could tell.
One of the founders of Patagonia is still a climber in his old age. In the documentary 180 degrees south he is going to climb a certain route and is asked, “What do you want to name it?”
“Nothing. I don’t want to name it. I just want to climb it and let that be it.”
His disavowal of owning the climb, of putting his human expression on it, signals nothing and signals so much at the same time. There is something in that which speaks to me deeply. I love the idea of signaling in the act. When I run my body says so much, my movement conveys all it needs to convey. When I stop running, the signal turns off. I shower, put on my clothing that hides the abilities, says nothing to no one, and then go about the day.
I’m not above signaling. No one is. It is a part of our very biology into behavior, but I do enjoy the game of understanding it, recognizing it’s motivations, suppressing it’s useless exaggerations, and using it to it’s most effective outcomes. When it comes to running though, there is something pure and satisfying about letting the run be the signal, then killing the switch the moment the effort stops.
If the new age phrase “Just be” has any value, it’s not in the signal of the phrase, but the literal, physical act. Outside of running, a black t-shirt is the closest I can get to killing the signal.