Spills: A Collage for the News

The road needed replacing.

The road: a ramp between I-95N and 128N in Peabody, MA, perhaps one of the most used for commuters working in Boston but living north of the city.

On March 9, a UPS tractor-trailer rolled over on the ramp. Reports continue to fly around causes, none emerging as definitive: the driver lost control of the turn. He was cut off. He was…who knows?

After the rollover, the damage control shut down a major artery that shoots from the urban heart of New England.

Here’s what came spilling out of that artery: Gallons of industrial printer ink—purple, black, and green blood slicking the asphalt like evidence of so many cuts and bruises.

“The problem is the viscosity,” an official said. This damaged flow of black eyes seeped into the road’s pores, essentially turning it into a giant screen-printing machine–car-tires creating rolling etchings as they careen endlessly.

It is not just a spill; it is a stain that can’t heal itself, and therefore the entire injured area must be replaced. Even though not a single human injury was incurred, why does this viscous scene scream bloody murder?


In a scene that many herald as an Egyptian Romeo & Juliet, March 5 found two men dead as a result of a Muslim woman and a Coptic Christian man engaging in a kind of romantic relationship–one the public can only interpret, based on the reports, as “illicit” and “dishonorable.”

The lovers’ secret leaks; and then, come the spills: someone’s version of honor, wounded; a house of worship, burned; and then, trucks rolled in to “set up roadblocks in major arteries” in order to organize a localized protest. From there, more bloodshed.

This is how the news gets made: blood is spilled; ink follows.

Lives are wasted and then words slide forth in polyphonic floes, skidding against one another to sate a communal addiction to report what happened, what spilled, and who did the spilling.

But what gets replaced? Just the road?


The problem is viscosity, that is, of who has the thickest skin.

Skin is the body’s road, and when blood is lost, blood commutes over pores, some of it slipping past, some of it re-absorbed.

Like a memory’s purging, we let pained images flow out of our mind, hoping to forget it and move on. But, spilling brings a necessary staining.

The road must be replaced, but not with words.


Why can’t I stop making this collage of spills?


To make a report is at once the desire to help and the desire to not get involved. We praise the journalist for skirting dangerous barriers because we know we can’t get there ourselves. Their pens become a bucket to be filled with the voices of the voiceless. They let the scene speak for itself. Which, of course, is impossible. The victim speaks once and already we’ve lost our chance at primary observance. Putting quotation marks around these words is like drilling a hole in that bucket, spilling voices through the scrim of self.

When we receive news, we are being invited into a transaction of words, but we are not told what to do with them. We respond—Tweet! Comment! Horrifying! Inspiring!—hoping this will complete the transaction. When words respond to words, we call it “education” and “dialogue.” When blood responds to blood, we call it “war.”

Perhaps, then, we are in a war of the words, and we are losing our ability to determine the source.


Number of Sources That Published the Same Article to Report on the March 5 Clash in Cairo: If I could calculate it definitively, the number would make your eyes spill.

Within that list of sources, it is hard to find words not pulled from conglomerates like Associated Press, Reuters, The Assyrian International News Agency, and The German Press Agency.


Topically, there is nothing wrong with reporting, and even though most of the internet news world is a giant copy+paste job, it is at least an attempt to start something.

But, too often I let the headlines slip by in anticipation of the next update, essentially acquiescing to a tunnel-vision that feeds on carpet-bombs and soccer moms, the release of nuclear radiation and the release of the iPad 2. I can read about an interreligious affair in the center of the page, and with the slightest retinal shift, see an ad for the hottest singles in [your hometown]. Too often, I don’t think about the juxtapositions forced upon me, these corporate collagists that strip me of my human need to make connections.

However, headlines don’t have to pass you by on the conveyer belt. They are raw materials with which to build something. If I put the image of ink next to blood, then something happens—those two dusty pebbles are shined into diamond tessarae on their way to becoming an image. Words move from a flooded economy into something precious—information turned into art.

Jackson Pollock merged his brain with the canvas, Phillip Glass revealed advertisements as the off-rhythm drek they are by setting them to synthesizers, Hieronymous Bosch combined the horrors of the id with reality. We call these people geniuses, but really, they are just masters of the 2+2—simple logicians placing seemingly disparate objects together in order to reveal their capacity for truth and transformation.

When we rescind our right to make connections–between articles, artifacts, and of course, people–then it gives us temporary license to disengage with our surroundings. In other words, we let things spill. According to one news site, one reason the Egyptians who burned a house of worship justified their actions was by citing a list of items they found in the building. They didn’t finish the contextual equation these items presented, and instead created a rumor that their opposition was a bunch of sorcerers, “based on books with strange designs they found, beside pieces of papers at the altar with Muslim names scribbled on them, wine bottles and some women’s clothes.” There is a connection between these items: how far will we go to find it out?


Perhaps you will call it artsy, creative, quirky, when I see blood as ink. But, can’t you feel it all seeping, threatening to spill forever? There will always be people to replace the roads, but here’s what cannot be replaced: the ink, the ink, the ink.


IMAGES: Title photo is a collage by the author, involving images c/o Stan Forman/WCVB & Khaled Ali/AFP/Getty Images. Artwork is: 1. crop of “Pollock 8” by Jackson Pollock, 2. crop of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch, and 3. crop of original sheet music from Einstein on the Beach by Phillip Glass/Robert Wilson

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4 thoughts on “Spills: A Collage for the News

  1. Beautiful piece, Bryan. Honest & challenging. I watch—and feed my part of the communal addiction—daily as “Lives are wasted and “words slide forth in polyphonic floes,” but far too often I don’t allow myself the time to reflect and make connections.

    So, in one sense, I read your piece as a challenge to step back from the frenetic pace, reflect, make connections. But I also read something of a call to action – precisely because the ink “cannot be replaced,” I find myself reluctant to pause and reflect lest I reduced to a passive and/or apathetic state.

    I suppose the aim, then, is to claim our right to make connections, to make them in real time, to reflect as we live, to live in a dynamic tension. Make connections as things spill, create a collage. Live a collage.

    Good stuff.

  2. hey bp. hope i’m not to old to understand. trying. this was a good piece, i missed a little in the middle. it may have been because lightfoot was on. just wanted you to know were still here, still reading, still thinking. hope to see you soon.

    1. Lightfoot will do that to you. I’ll happily play 2nd fiddle to Old Gordo anyday. thanks for reading, and chewing on the grisly bits.

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