Volume 18 • Issue 46 | March 31 - April 6, 2006

The Penny Post

Would a rose, written repeatedly, smell as sweet?

By Andrei Codrescu

I had to sign my name 400 times. It’s great meditation practice. The last time I had to do it was in elementary school as punishment for pulling Rodica’s pigtails. I had to write “I’m sorry, Rodica” and sign my name on the blackboard 100 times. The blackboard could only take it about ten times before I had to erase it and start all over. It took the whole hour and my writing got bigger and bigger until I used a whole board just three times. When the bell rang, I still owed the teacher 55 I’m Sorrys with signatures. She never pressed the issue, so I still owe her. I learned two things from that experience: If you pull Rodica’s pigtails you get to tell her I’m sorry many times and sign your name to it (I really liked her, which is why I pulled her pigtails) and secondly, that you can entertain people by just writing your name on the blackboard, making the letters bigger or smaller, depending on how entertaining you want to be.

Signing my name this many times made me also think of people who do this compulsively, like girls in love who practice putting their first names together with their beloved’s last name, over and over through several grades of school until it’s time to graduate. Another example of someone who signed his name over and over is Stalin. He signed death warrants, so many of them at times that his hand went numb and he had to soak it in iced vodka. A number of people got to live simply because Stalin’s hand was too numb to sign any death warrants on a particular day and they ended up at the bottom of the pile under the fresh warrants that came in next day.

The first man to deal sensibly with the problem of signature-exhaustion was Andy Warhol. Warhol made a stamp of his signature and then got one of his henchmen to stamp his works. After inventing the signature stamp, Andy figured out other ways to reproduce his work and his image, thus making the signature-stamp a productive idea as well as a means of reducing fatigue.

During the process of signing my name 400 times I also noticed that my signature changed after a while, so I wasn’t sure whose signature it was anymore. Then I started to wonder about my name and what it meant, if anything. About a 150 signatures later, my name started to lose all meaning and turn into a purely mechanical squiggle. The reasons for having this name vanished. I couldn’t remember why I carried this name and why it had so many funny letters in it. A few signatures later I considered every letter separately and I became interested in why it slanted this or that way. I was also quite baffled by the connection between these ink traces and the person they were supposedly referencing, i.e., me. About 400 signatures in, I was fully invested in self-analysis and psychoanalyzed myself until I severed all connections with my name and decided that the hand doing the signing was operating all on its own, like a rogue K.G.B. agent. I knew what it felt like to have a transplanted hand, like Orlach, the piano player with the hand of a murderer.

Signing your name repeatedly for a whole day at least is good therapy and excellent training for eventual best-sellerdom. I was just doing the therapy.

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