Symbolic gestures

When no one's looking anyway

There is something precious, I think, about the symbolic, the ornamental. A mailed thank-you note when a text message is faster. The turn signal used while parking your car in an empty lot. It’s more flourish than act, an expressive display, and probably a lot more valuable to the person doing the flourishing than anyone standing nearby. But I’m not sure insignificance automatically subtracts value. I remember reading how Frank Ocean gets his cars modified in ways that no one will ever notice but him, and that he doesn’t care that no one notices. “It doesn’t matter if you can see it,” Ocean told the reporter. 

A tree doesn’t make a sound when falling in an empty forest—but what if it falls with style?

A few years ago, I learned that you can request an American flag to be flown above the US Capitol. Contact your representative, pay something like thirty bucks, and the Architect of the Capitol’s office will raise a flag in honor of whomever you like, then mail you the flag to keep. This fall, feeling angry about our federal failures during the pandemic, I requested a flag flown in honor “of those who died from Covid-19. As Ermias Joseph Asghedom once said, FDT.”

Ermias Joseph Asghedom, otherwise known as Nipsey Hustle; FDT, short for “Fuck Donald Trump,” a song by Los Angeles rapper YG, featuring Hussle. During protests over the last couple years, that song was a constant. On the day that President Biden won, it was playing from every corner, every car speaker.

The flag I ordered arrived this week in the mail. First thought, as I opened the box: how soon before or after the election did it fly? And whose flag, in whose honor, was flying on the day of the Capitol attack? I don’t know how many flags are flown each day, or if they even keep track of whose flags fly when—as far as I can find online, the record isn’t public—but how weird to think it could’ve been mine. 


What is this? A weekly newsletter by novelist Rosecrans Baldwin consisting of (very) short essays about things he finds beautiful. Any books mentioned should be on this Bookshop list. Rosecrans’s next book, Everything Nowis now available for preorder. 

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