implicit art… restart (on Mo Gawdat’s Solve for Happy)

With the pending release of my new book (Ecological Aesthetics: artful tactics for humans, nature, and politics) in June or July of next year, and all the goings-on of the last couple of years in my life / the world, I’ve decided it might be time to reboot the blog I began back in Johannesburg circa 2002, and which teetered off and eventually died after two continental moves. Whereas that site began with my writings on art and politics, moved into regional discussions of aesthetics and culture and back again, here…. um, well… yeh, it will similarly be on whatever I feel like posting about, that I think is interesting.

For now, the new tagline is “art and ecology, fiction and geek stuff, culture and philosophy, parenting and life, etc”.

Forthcoming: a bit on my new book, some interesting tidbits from students in the classes I am teaching this semester (two Digital Studio courses, and one in Mechanical Engineering, plus some extra-curriculars), and thoughts on some great new art and books I’ve seen and read this Summer. You can expect to hear from me about once per week from now.

For now, a briefiew (yeh, I just made that up, a “brief review” portmanteau.  Tho I’m sure someone else has used it before, and it may not have gone down well. I decided against googling it, and ruining it for myself….) on Mo Gawdat’s Solve for Happy.

There are some lovely, and funny, and sad moments in this book, about a Google engineer’s quest for contentment, where he found and lost and found happiness before and after the death of his son. Gawdat hopes to share, simply, how to live with ourselves, and others, in the moment. He has an actual equation and formula, with numbers and lists and drawings (I’m actually listening to the audiobook, so I just imagine them, tho it comes with a PDF; his voice is very soothing). Honestly, Gawdat’s outlook mostly feels like a contemporary (and geeky) take on Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now (which my mom likes way more than I do).

In the end, overall, it’s worth your time (even if, like me, there are few self-help books you are into – non-fiction is, of course, much broader than this!). The author is likable, his stories moving, his personality generous and relatable. And I’d like to share my favorite bit, which more or less goes as follows: the voice in your head is not you.

That person, who you think is you, who criticizes the way you eat, or move, or work out? The one who replays conversations in your head (or in my case, out loud), or wonders why that person at work is being that way towards you? That voice, which questions you, or the world, or the ones you care about? Overall, your inner monologue… That person is not you. That’s a construct of a person, the one who got praise or punishment from parents and teachers, and followed suit; he or she is the one who performs for others. That is not the real you. YOU are the one observing that criticizer. And you do not have to listen to the voice.

I’ve named the voice in my head Ferdinand. He is a bit of a dick, and I like to roll my eyes at, and make fun of, him. It has seriously changed things around here. So… thanks for that, Mo Gawdat’s Solve for Happy.

Why make it elusive?

He's our guy... entity... talking-thing... to do the job

A while back I listened to the audio version of Steve Martin’s biography of his time as a standup comic, Born Standing Up. In it, he talks about getting a whole new kind of reaction from the audience by passing on the stand-up’s standby: the punchline.

So I started kicking this idea around. Could Steve Martin’s idea of humor… that is, basically, of never letting the air out of the balloon, be adapted into comics? Maybe.

I decided to try it. So, allow me to introduce my comic: Eat the Babies. It’s about a walking talking TV. There is no continuity to it, other than the fact that the TV does have friends. The two most frequently recurring friends are Woody Guthrie and John Maynard Keynes. It veers into social and philosophical issues a lot, but mainly its concerned with using the TV’s confusion about humans to create a humor that is elusive.

It means to be elusive.

The idea is you’ll get to wanting to look for it and find it in your own places.

I don’t know if I’m quite getting there, but if the comics don’t make sense yet it is because that is what I am looking to do. To explain my thinking behind strips would be to defeat the purpose, but let me point you to a few favorites so far.

TV gets mugged.

TV talks to Woody Guthrie about songs.

Woody explains adulthood.

TV is a talking head on tv (my personal favorite so far).

If you’ve seen the Charles Schulz tribute site, 3eanuts, that’s the best example I can give of what I want to do so far, though it’s not quite there. Well, it is there. It is awesome at what it is. It’s just not quite what I want Eat the Babies to be. But it’s close!

For the hardcore arts crowd, there are genuinely avant-garde webcomics out there. You should check them out. I don’t think I’ll be going to any conferences with those guys, as much as I might like to. So, if you’re interested in seeing someone try something, that’s the trick I’m trying. Feel free to click any of those links above and, you know… come see.