X is for X
Originally published in Ink, or "V is for Vermilion as Described by Vitruvius": An A to Z of Ink in Architecture, Michelle Fornabai, Ed., 2014    

X marks the spot: a weary traveler has arrived. He or she has successfully navigated untold obstacles along the dotted lines of a purloined pirate map. Buried there are treasures too dear to name. By marking the spot on parchment, rock, or earth, X propels a journey across physical and narrative space.

X is anything to everyone. Moonshine, pornography, treasure, Christ, poison — by marking spots, it allows meaning to go unmarked.  

X is precious. Its value is measured in the length and sweat it took to get there — the harder we try to reach it, the more valuable it must be. In Stanley Kramer’s 1963 film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Spencer Tracey, Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Don Knotts, The Three Stooges, and countless others crisscross California in search of a fortune buried beneath “The Big W,” an X so-outsized that it morphs into another letterform.

X is a variable. For Valerie Solanas, X found meaning next to Y. In the SCUM Manifesto, she writes that “[t]he male is a biological accident: the Y (male) gene is an incomplete X (female) gene, that is, it has an incomplete set of chromosomes.”

X is destination, discovery, denouement. It marks the spot, but not the end.