Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Introduction to Alex Robert's "Tiny Art Show" Best Practice Demonstration at the Dot-2-Dot Gallery, Spring 2023

This speech was given to introduce Alex Robert's "Best Practice" demonstration about making a tiny art exhibit at her Dot-2-Dot gallery.  To learn more about the Dot-2-Dot gallery, please click here.

- Of the many life skills the visual arts teaches us (observation, expression, persistence, engagement, craft, community, exploration, expression, reflection), reflection is perhaps the hardest life skill to practice for young people.  This is for a few reasons; 1, young people are young.  They don't have a lot of life to reflect upon yet.  They must also create a piece of artwork to reflect upon, a step many students never reach for a variety of reasons.  

But a tiny art show appears to be a lesson with reflection baked in.  Curation means that there must be editing at some point, a boiling down.  The minimal, the poem, the haiku, when masterful, say so much with less.  

Students struggle with "fomo" and focus.  They say "I don't know what to draw" or "I can't decide what to draw".  They become frozen spending their time not being able to decide what to do.  

I have 45 class sessions as a 5th grade public school visual art teacher.  1 class is 48 minutes.  45 x 48 = 36 hours.  Therefore, I see my students for a total of a day and half of their lives.  

If you live to be 80 (rounding up from 77, the average life span of an American), you live (rounding down) for 29,200 days.  Divide that by 7 and round down to the nearest 100 and you get 4,000 weeks.  Therefore, 36 hours of 29,2000 days means that they will have my art class for 0.00005% of their lives if they live to be 80.  

With this math in mind, it seems silly to waste precious minutes being anxious about what to do.  There is a joy of missing out, of choosing, going deep, letting go of anxiety and saying no to the million things we could possibly do to focus on just 1 thing, the small, the minimal ... the tiny art show.  

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Letter to a Friend Upon his proposal to make a Dystopian RPG

 Hello X,

I have a free moment to respond in depth to the idea you presented.  I think that we SHOULD, at our own leisurely pace, create an RPG game together.  Why not?  A lot of the critical success in my career came in part to seeing music, art, writing, etc. as just a fun thing to do. With this approach, one without expectations, I think we can, at the very least, have a creative, positive, rewarding activity to pass free time.  I know that right now your free time is probably non-existent.  Please, reply at your pace.  Any reply at all, considering the circumstances, I would be honored to receive.  

  Ironically, it was when I started thinking of my skills in the context of a career did they cease to be interesting or became problematic as I attempted to model them for target audiences.  For example, an early graphic novel I made was purposely "Lynchian", made in a haze of marijuana and instinctual, meditative, impulsive "decisions", regardless of narrative.  This was done to mimic the impenetrability of fine art, of which at the time I was attempting to court the patrons of.  This is a particularly Marxist analysis, of which is controversial in some circles, but there's some truth to this.  To quote the great I.F. Svenonious, 

"Popular art always reflects the ideology of the ruling class, and is used by them to corroborate their position of dominance in the culture.  (...) Fine art also serves as a moat between the bourgeois and the proletariat; its inherent and purposeful impenetrability serves its patrons like a gated community and simultaneously explains their superiority through implications of depth and difficulty." (Svenonious, "The Psychic Soviet", pg. 247).  

Due to the fact my comic was about gentrification and was making a mockery of it, it is beyond obvious why the ruling class didn't want to touch it or promote it.  On top of that, my own attempt to imply difficulty and depth was in bad faith.  I definitely agree with Mao that there is no such thing as "art for art's sake".  I sincerely believe that such a philosophy is a fantasy as the material world is inescapable; the materials an artist uses, for example, is a reflection of their class.  Therefore, all art, no matter how pointless the artist tries to make their art, is political.  

I am a strong believer in the power of art, more-so than the average bear.  It should come as no surprise that Hitler's favorite opera composer was Wagner as it inspired him to campaign towards Stalingrad, fully aware of the task's impossibility (he's reenacting a Wagner heroic Martyr).  Similarly, it should come as no surprise that Stalin's favorite movie is Alexander Nevsky, a historical Soviet action flick in which the Knights Templar are attacking a backwater Eastern European kingdom.  Their leader, Nevsky, instead of meeting these enemies, allows them into his kingdom in which there is a large lake covered in ice and snow.  Once in the kingdom, the knight's templar plunge to their watery deaths, trapped when they thought they were besieging.  This shockingly parallels the events that took place in Stalingrad, Hitler's last stand.  

In covert ways, art inspires us all, if we like it or not.  It determines the events in our lives and shapes our beliefs.  It does so even if we don't know it, like when elevator music is playing in a CVS or when a video game numbs us to carnage.  

Therefore, let us psychologically interpret your idea of an RPG of "prisons within prisons".  Upon first hearing of this idea, my first connection was to current events and the horrid state of Gaza.  The idea of an open air prison as an RPG, under the circumstances, could be seen as bad taste to a Palestinian.  

One cannot help but make a connection between the sorry state of Gaza and the John Carpenter action movie Escape from New York.  In an imagined future, New York City is an open air prison, monitored by a police state that surrounds Manhattan.  I sincerely believe that this movie inspired Zionists when planning Gaza.  A quick google search of Escape from New York Gaza brings you to this article ...

Keep in mind ... tech giants like Zuckerberg, Benjamin Net-in-dork-ho, Biden, Trump ... they're not that smart.  And they all DEFINITELY don't respect the arts (Biden making a lightning eye meme after the super bowl).  

So when I think about making an RPG, which is ultimately a story at the end of the day, what are we telling society when we produce a game in which there is never any salvation, it's just cage after cage after cage?  I find the premise just reinforcing hopelessness, of which the world does not need.  We are at a point where a lot of liberals just associate hopelessness with intelligence as an excuse to embrace hedonism, particularly hedonism in digital form.   

I also find the premise too much of a "trauma-industrial complex" as well.  I write about this here ----> -----> Essentially, each level is just a deeper nightmare, we have to constantly up the ante of hopelessness as the player of the game becomes numb to the hopelessness before.  I don't like the idea of "endless scroll" video games.  Once upon a time on the internet, web sites would end, and you would have to click a link to make a conscious effort to keep on surfing the web.  Now on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, there is "endless scroll", a manipulative design tactic to keep you glued to the glowing box (for more information on the subject, read Johann Hari's Stolen Focus.  It is a brilliant book). Endless cages feel too much like an endless scroll.   

The reason there is more dystopian science fiction than utopian is because it's easier to imagine blowing something up than it is to build something.  It's really easy to imagine a dystopia ... all we have to do is continue doing what we're doing right now.  I am far more interested in starting in a shit position and making a game that gradually gets BETTER.  

What about a grass-roots prison uprising? 

There is also a practical reason for this change of narrative.  A prison within a prison within a prison goes on infinitely.  But with a freed prison, the game has an end, and therefore the project becomes manageable.  Call me old school, but I like games in which you save the princess at the end and you get a "game over" screen with your final score.  It just feels a lot less dirty and we're not contributing to the epidemic of the attention crisis in which half the world is glued to a glowing screen for one reason or another.  Congrats, you played this game, you leveled up, here's your reward, and us as writers are not masterbatively imagining more and more sadistic situations that must escalate nightmarishly.  


But let's forget the narrative for a second.  Let's focus on the details of this prison world.  As I learned from Alan Moore, his process of worldbuilding begins with the environment.  This is because environments have effects on individuals. For example, imagine that, all of a sudden, the floor is lava.  You would start screaming, your heart would start pounding as you jump on furniture attempting to get to the window.  The environment has drastically changed your character.  This is an extreme example.  Another example would be maybe living in a desert in which food is scarce.  You'd all of a sudden be hungry, which would then potentially make you "hangry".  Again, the environment and its lack of food is changing the individual's personality.  

So in the name of fun, let me ask you questions about this open air prison.  The more questions we answer, the richer the environment and the easier it will be to construct a narrative.  I've done this process before in my D&D games and in my graphic novels.  The process feels like ALCHEMY, the stories write themselves!  So let's try it ... 

1.  What is the year? 
2.  Is this prison on our Earth, or another planet?
3.  What do people eat in this prison?
4.  What is the scale of the prison?  
5.  What do people do for fun in this prison? 
6.  What do people wear in this prison?
7.  Is the prison a men's prison, a women's prison, or is it unisex?
8.  Are there families in this prison?  
9.  What is the prison's economy (if any)?  Is there a marketplace?  Is it an official or black market?
10.   Does this prison have any Fascist or Racist overtones?  Is there a specific type of person in this prison or is it for criminals in all shapes and sizes?
11.  What is the weather like?  Are there seasons?  Is it tropical?  Arctic?  
12.  Is this prison neglected or is it highly survillenced?  
13.  What is the crime rate?  Do prisoners see one another as comrades or is it every man for himself? 
14.  Is there wildlife in this prison, or is it a complete concrete jungle?  

Answering these questions will lead to more questions.  We could do this process forever until every street has a name and every building an address.  Narratives will just start happening organically, especially once we introduce characters to the environment.  

I am at the point where everything I create I want to be in service to imagining a better world and to solving our most pressing problems.  My goal in Deerskin Dan, for example, is to truly imagine how we deal with the climate crisis so that it becomes a bit of history in the rear view mirror.  Like, imagine in 30 years our kids being like "Dad, tell us about the climate crisis, it sounds really crazy."  and we'll be like "Well, every summer there were just more and more wildfires to the point the entire species went extinct.  Sadly, for a long time nobody did anything because our focus was destroyed by glowing boxes.  But then one day it got so hot the electricity grids blew out because everyone was pumping air conditioning.  It got so hot people's insides started boiling.  So ... a lot of domestic terrorism started in response, primarily because electricity went out and nobody could be pacified by glowing screens anymore.    On mass, people started slashing tires and blowing up private jets of celebrities.  With this mass pressure, policy changed.  We just stopped using electricity all together.  The horse population exploded as people stopped driving cars.  It was a scary time.  A lot of people died.  But what needed to be done happened. Sure, we no longer have avocados to eat due to supply chains breaking down, but you have a future.  Now, let's eat our dinner of acorns, hunted venison and cider."   

So in conclusion, I like the idea of an open air prison.  I just want to make a game with a happy ending.  I psychologically cannot take another dystopian RPG.  

Hasta La Victoria Siempre,
Your Friend,
Jack Turnbull 

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Speech Given to the Cape Cod and Islands Art Educators Association (CCIAEA) at the Closing Reception of Art Teacher Art: 20 Years of the CCIAEA

As Lenin once said, there are decades where nothing happens.  And there are weeks where decades happen.  I propose that our culture is at a crossroads and the present moment is one in which we are facing dramatic environmental, political, cultural and hegemonic change.  

         Evidence of our drastically changing times can be found everywhere, from the daily weather to declining housing affordability rates to endless acts of brutality both nationally and abroad.  It feels that we are in an era of decline. 
         Do not regress to a state of petrification.  The time for action in the arts has never been more paramount.  
         We have a gift and a curse which is our country's rhetoric of "freedom of creative expression" which has enabled my speech today but also enables fantasy versions of world events.  Remember your history books, remember the USS Maine, yellow journalism, Hearst's newspaper misfeeding that enabled the Spanish-American War on false pretenses.  Remember how the New York Times buried their own false apology on page whatever after misreporting weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  "Freedom of creative expression" and the right for art to be anything, say anything, do anything, can be used as a Jedi mind trick to lie, manipulate, coerce and even traumatize our youth into misogyny, racism and resentful, bitter, hurt fascism.   
         Make no mistake my Cape Cod community.  The honor of president is a title I take great pride in and I do not take the title lightly.  And I will give you all no false illusions.

We are at war to win the hearts and the minds of the youth. Our handmade stuffed felt animals battle against mass produced, mass advertised cheap pieces of plastic, created on the other side of the planet for its exploitative labor. 

It is of the utmost importance that you all continue to make art that is in opposition to the status quo and all of its contradictions.  The status quo is currently destroying man and earth at an alarming rate.

If you feel you are powerless, remember Martin Luther's 1517 98 Thesis and how a piece of paper on a door changed the world.  And remember Martin Luther King saying "I have a dream". These are mere words.  Think about what we can do with felt.  Paint. Clay. Film. Fiber.

Until Victory, Always.  

Reflecting upon the Fall 2023 JV Soccer Season at Monomoy Middle School

    Soccer is one of the world’s simplest games and therefore one of the most accessible.  There are few to no gatekeepers in the game of soccer and it is enjoyed by members of all social-economic classes.  For example, Pele, arguably the greatest soccer player of all time, began his career with a “ball” that was a sock stuffed with newspaper.  

With the exception of offsides, which seems to confuse American audiences so much that the Washington Post has to routinely publish articles explaining the rule during World Cups, the rules and goals of the game are simple.  Don’t touch the ball with your hands.  Keep the ball “in bounds”.  Don’t grab, push, check … but as long as the player is going for the ball and not the man, all is fair. Try and score a goal. 

This simplicity is the game’s beauty and why it has taken over the world in popularity. The simplicity allows each individual player to develop their own style.  It allows each team to develop their own tactics and strategy.  As a result, no two soccer games are exactly alike. 

The 2014 World Cup Championship German team is known for their almost telepathic teamwork.  The 2022 World Cup Championship Argentina team gained glory and victory through pinball resembling passing sequences.  The 2006 Italian World Cup Championship team is known for their stellar defense and brilliant counter attacks.  

There are tried and true formulas and strategies for winning the game.  We also sit on the shoulders of giants who inspire us to play our best games and study their styles.  But at the end of the day, there is no right way of playing soccer and each team must find their way of playing soccer.  

This year was the first year I was given a team that had a distinctive character and culture.  I have never seen it before in all my years of playing and coaching soccer.  The team supported each other with an empathy that was not performative, but genuine and came from the desire for glory.  I will never forget watching one of my players get hurt from a blasted shot at net that hit him in the body during a cold day.  Anyone who has experienced this knows it can be painful.  The injured player demanded vengeance for this pain, but a teammate came up to him, wrapped his arms around him and acknowledged “I know it hurts.  It is painful.  It’s OK.  You OK?  Let’s keep playing.”  The level of focus, teamwork and determination was off the chart.

The team was comfortable with one another.  Frustration and exclusion only occurred when it was unclear if a player’s heart was in our scrimmages.  As a result, we won all of our scrimmages.  The players performed the improbable on their way of one day achieving the impossible.    

There is a natural human desire for glory; for praise, honor and distinction.  We desire to be seen and our efforts acknowledged.  This can be achieved academically, athletically, socially, artistically and many other ways.  Right now, it is time to recognize the Boys B soccer team and give them glory.  It is well deserved and their record stands as evidence of their achievement. 

I will leave you with this - when our future seems grim, when the odds are stacked against you, when hope is lost … remember that in the town of Chatham Massachusetts, there was once a group of 5th grade boys who routinely played teams who were larger and older than them.  They were the underdogs, but their hearts were in the right place and their focus was undeterred.  They ended their modest season with a 4-0 record, they surprised everyone and they played each game like it was their last. 

Monday, January 29, 2024

Punk Rock is a Trauma Industrial Complex (Abstract)

 Punk Rock is a Trauma Industrial Complex 


Punk rock, from Pink Flamingos to Pig Destroyer, is a "Trauma-Industrial Complex".  It both repels and allures.  The audience of punk rock is exposed to traumatizing sounds, physical experiences and imagery, from brutal chicken murder in Pink Flamingos to injuries suffered from mosh pitt beatdown; certain members of the audience become shocked.  This upsets the default reflection mode of the brain which is responsible for analysis.  When this becomes overloaded due to the shock, the audience becomes depressed and anxious as they try to process what they have witnessed.  This sometimes means returning to the scene of the traumatization; the punk show, the midnight porn theater or starting back up Grand Theft Auto on the computer.  This normalizes the trauma.  As Warhol says, "the more you look at the same thing, the more the meaning goes away and the better and emptier you feel." 
               The peddlers of the trauma-industrial complex, hardcore bands, pornographers, avant garde artists, must therefore continue traumatizing more audience members for them to keep coming back.  The level of shock must increase, shift perspective or transform somehow.
               Many of these artists and peddlers are themselves often traumatized, having the false illusion that they can cathartically release their emotions as an exorcism through the act of punk rock.  While punk can serve as exercise, (a natural antidepressant), occasionally an exercise in community building (although when "freedom of creative expression" is prioritized over community building, venues can get shut down), documentation and aesthetic design for material, by its very queer historical origin, is not heteronormative and is therefore shocking to heteronormative society by definition.  Punk is norm breaking by definition, the word punk originally coming as English street or prison slang for homosexual.  
              The only way out of the Trauma-Industrial Complex is to internalize and understand the Trauma-Industrial Complex and apply it directly to one's life. This enables us to see that those who have scorn and betrayed us only did so because they were somehow traumatized or marginalized themselves.  While it is vital to communicate and address the pain that  occurs when injustices are committed upon us and it is vital to speak up for our rights, have no illusions.  Art cannot exercise trauma from the body.  There is currently no cure for PTSD.  Do not get caught in a trauma-industrial complex.  In extreme situations, attempting to exorcise trauma from the body only makes it worse because it makes more trauma.  Be selective about the sounds, imagery, news, and generally speaking, content you consume as much of it profits from exploitative labor of those who have histories of intergenerational trauma, sexual trauma, physical trauma, trauma from racism, trauma from sexism, trauma from homophobia, trauma from transphobia, and trauma from watching video games.  

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Introduction to Jan Rapp's "Mask Making" Professional Practice at the Cape Cod Accademy

  Jan Rapp is here to speak with us about Masks.  Masks can be found as artifacts in all the corners of the globe and have been used for a variety of purposes.  They are used to this day for a variety of purposes.  In a few days time we will see the streets lined with Captain Americas, zombies, infants dressed as pumpkins, Fortnite characters, Disney Princesses, Harry Potters, Hulks, little Batmen and Jokers.  

The purpose of a mask is to hide one's identity to take on the identity of another.  This experience, however, means that two identities are being represented in one body, that of the mask wearer and the illustration of the spirit or identity the mask represents.  For example, in the 1994 Jim Carey classic the Mask, Stanley Ipkiss, a timid man experiencing a losing streak, puts on an ancient mask that contains the spirit of the Norse trickster Loki.  By changing his face, Ipkiss is empowered by Loki and transforms into a supernatural Cassanova with a vibe similar to Bugs Bunny.  He is charming and confident, funny and extroverted.  The Mask changes his life.  

So it was In 1890, the Ghost Dance ceremony was incorporated into numerous indigenous American belief systems. The ceremony as it spread through the Indigenous American world, involved elaborate costumes and masks.  According to its originator, the spiritual leader Wovoka, the dance would reunite the living with the spirits of the dead who would help the living fight westward colonial expansion and bring peace, prosperity and unity to the Indigenous peoples of the region.  The ceremony was first practiced by the Northern Paiute people of Nevada in 1889. The practice was adopted quickly in the western United States from Oklahoma to California.  Different tribes would put their own spin on the practice and emphasize select aspects of the ritual.  The Ghost Dance is still practiced today by the Caddo people of Oklahoma.  The Ghost Dance has been accredited by Lakota Sioux elders for influencing their resistance towards colonization and environmental destruction in their lands.  

So in both our western colonial world as well as in the natural spiritual world of the historical indigenous American, the mask can reanimate our individual or culture’s damaged hearts.  It is a rare moment in which all entities can assemble as one; by taking on the personality of another, our own Egos are damaged in the process as we must sacrifice an element of our individuality in order to take on the form of another.  This ego death is perhaps why we love Halloween so much; we let go of our socially constructed identities for an evening to connect with the spirits of others.  How ironic that such a “spooky” holiday can also bring us closer together through mutual affection for spirits.  

This is merely my introduction to Jan Rapp’s Mask Making Proffesional Practice.  Rapp is an art educator that needs not to wear a mask as she is a spirit, a legend, on her own right.  A quick google search of her name will let you know she’s been in this art teaching game for well over a decade and her art practice is invested and interested in the natural world.  She is also a “behind the scenes” member of our non-proit whose efforts consistently go unsung.

Until tonight.  Please welcome the one and only Jan Rapp, a spirit whose heart burns like a furnace, a woman with no need for a mask.  

Hasta la Victoria Siempre,

Jack Turnbull

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Modeling Fisher's "Book Meme"

This writing is mimiced from Mark Fisher's "Book Meme", written on June 28th, 2005. The Form can be found in is collected book "K-Punk"... 

 How many Books do you own?

 - Guessing? 500. More if you count periodicals, comic books and magazines. To paint a picture, I have about two shelves worth in my studio, a few on display in my hallway, a bookshelf worth in the attic, a small bookshelf worth in the bedroom, a small bookshelf worth in the living room and another bookshelf worth at my work office.

 What was the last book you bought?

 - Ceremonial Costumes of the Pueblo Indians by Virginia More Roediger 

Haven't read it yet.  Beautiful illustrations.  Bought at an antique book store, written in 1941,  this edition is from 1991.

 What was the last book you read? - 

The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow.

     An excellent read, just know it is not exactly relaxing beach reading. While very funny at times as well as vulnerable and intimate at others, the authors of this book are out to prove their argument, not entertain the masses. Their argument is that recent discoveries in archeology and anthropology demand us to re-write the way we tell the story of history and how societies develop. For example, the history of the indigenous peoples of California prove that a city can come about without agriculture and therefore the creation of surplus reserves. The indigenous Californians were a forging society but still created large cities. Another example is the retelling of the enlightenment not as originating from the brainy writings of Rousseau but from the critique of European culture coming from what Rousseau called himself “the noble savage(s)”. Specifically, Graeber and Werber tell the story of Kondrionk, a Wendat Indigenous leader from the Great Lakes region who debated the governor of Montreal in Paris Salons on the topic of which was superior; Indigenous American culture or European culture. It is this critique of European culture coming from indigenous Americans which is what inspired the Enlightenment, and therefore the American Revolution, French Revolution, Haitian Revolution, etc. 
     While long, the book goes by quick as every page makes ones mind blown from the telling of practices of ancient and indigenous cultures that are so radically different from our society today. I was left believing that humanity, and therefore reality, is far more plastic and adaptable than we give ourselves credit. Life can be many things, and we are not constricted by imaginary social constructs. 

 Name Five Books That mean a lot to you: 

    The following books are listed in no particular order of preference.  All of these books are books I read at least five years ago with the exception of one. This is because I have a tendency to be particularly jazzed on whatever I just read.  

 1. Che: A Revolutionary Life by John Lee Anderson 

     Ernesto “Che” Guevara is a controversial figure, particularly in the United States. The left celebrates him, the right villianizes him and the intelligentsia critique him in an attempt to separate the man from the mythology. It is hard to know who Che was when everyone tells a different story. But by most accounts, John Lee Anderson’s expertly researched biography is considered the definitive, most trustworthy telling of Guevara’s life in the English language.
     In the United States, there is a segment of the populace that embraces rugged individualism. As a teacher, I myself prescribe to this philosophy to a certain extent; the achievement of self-sufficiency is one of the ultimate goals of a US public school education. This rugged individualism can be traced back to the abundance of land that European settlers and colonizers claimed upon their invasion of American shores. There is not much need for proletariat camaraderie when everyone’s needs are met thanks to the abundance of resources provided by the acquisition of under inhabited land. Thoreau wrote beautifully of this. Unfortunately, in 2023, there is a housing crisis and the nation is roughly 4 million units short of housing everyone. This has created a homelessness epidemic in which average citizens cannot get roves over their heads. As evidence of this, it is estimated that half of the Los Angeles homeless population is employed to some extent. 
     The philosophy of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, “Guevaraism”, which is, essentially, his own spin on Marxist-Leninism, is based around principles of camaraderie, love and anti-exploitation. His philosophy was so foreign to me it was straight up exotic. Nobody in the United States makes statements like “Individualism as such, as the isolated action of a person alone in a social environment, must disappear in Cuba. Individualism tomorrow should be the proper utilization of the whole individual, to the absolute benefit of the community.”
     Guevara not only made me think in new ways, but he made me believe that the impossible was possible. Today we champion people based on identity and their “takes” on twitter (I guess now “X”) but in Che’s time, those who were championed were the people who sacrificed the most for their causes. The activists of today may be far more “woke” than Che ever was due to their access to the internet, but in terms of actual actions accomplished in real life, Che has us all beat. 
     If there is one quote from Che we should be left with it is “Be Realistic; Demand the impossible.” Che is a historical figure who did the statistically impossible. Though humanized and humbled later on by his failures, the Guerilla Warfare of the Cuban Revolution will go down in history as one of the greatest military campaigns of all time. Politics aside, how does a crew of 20 smelly, hungry, half-alive guerrillas take over a country of 7 million in the course of 2 years? It sounds impossible. And yet it happened.
     The Cuban Revolution is just the tip of the iceberg of Che’s adventures and accomplishments. This mammoth 800 page book will keep you riveted as you travel from Argentina, to Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, the USA, Cuba, Ireland, France, India, Japan, China, the former USSR, the Congo, Tanzania, Bolivia and more. Che was a utopian thinker and a citizen of the world whose perspective was international. Again, the impossible is possible. We are living in a time where we must demand the impossible to preserve our environment and therefore, way of life. Figures like Che prove to us, once again, we are not constricted by imaginary social constructs and humanity can be many things. 

 2. The Adventures of Tintin by Herge 

     Today, Tintin is criticized for its colonist, even racist, satires of cultures. But I would be lying if I didn’t say this series of books didn’t profoundly inspire me growing up. While the authors political implications and leanings range from right to left, we are ultimately left with a promotion of a world view that can be described as Cosmopolitan although problematic. 
     To put it simply, The Adventures of Tintin makes you want to travel the world and interact. It promotes curiosity about those who are different from yourself and ultimately comes back to the representation of our shared humanity. Herge’s skilled ability to kinetically put his characters in constant motion or progression of plot is a treat and a must study for anyone wishing to make graphic novels. 
     With this said, not all the volumes in Tintin are created equally. “Tintin in America” seems to be a historical artifact of how poorly Europeans understood what life was like in the United States and nothing more. “Tintin in the Congo” should be straight up ignored and let to live in racist obscurity, an embarrassment to the integrity of the series. It’s bad enough that Africans are depicted in blackface through out the series, let alone this particular volume which is specifically damaging. 
     Still, if Che didn’t read Marx’s Das Capital due to Marx’s casual anti-semitism and racism towards Mexicans, Che arguably wouldn’t have accomplished what he did. Therefore, the cartoonists, writers and artists of our era must learn from the successes of Herge to progress the form, therefore correcting his problems with our new art. 
     The lessons of form and design that Herge can teach us are endless. Even Warhol himself was a deep admirer of the Belgian cartoonist. Herge’s aesthetic mimics the elegant minimalism of Ernie Bushmiller mixed with the research and reference engagement of the best 20th century illustrators. He is a master of observation drawing, facial expression and he’s a good writer to add. Tintin has been translated into 35 languages, an irony due to its subtle colonial perspective. This is evidence that while still a product of its time, the ultimate message of Tintin is a message of Cosmopolitanism; that the world is thrilling and worthy of exploration. 
     There are 21 Tintin books excluding early works and Herge’s unfinished book he was working on upon the time of his death. A good starting point is “The Black Island”. This adventure is arguably Herge’s most kinetic; each page feels like a cliffhanger and the attention to the books environment is fantastic. Other recommended titles would be “Cigars of the Pharaoh/The Blue Lotus”, “The Secret of the Unicorn/Red Rackham’s Treasure”, “The Calculus Affair”, “Destination Moon/Explorers on the Moon”, “Tintin and the Picaros”, "The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun” and “Tintin in Tibet”.
     I have visited Canada, Sweden, Belize, Italy, Spain, England, Hungary, Germany and France. I have been to the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Nevada, California and Oregon. My desire to travel was deeply inspired by the Adventures of Tintin of which I am grateful.  

 3. Censorship Now!! By I.F. Svenonious 

     Having gone to art school during the height of what is being called “indie sleeze” and the war on terror, I have been exposed to a culture of absurdity, provocation, obscenity and controversy in the name of free speech and art. However, as we have learned from the Trump administration, the obscene can be weaponized politically when there is no check on the freedom to our speech. It seems you can just blurt out “Hilary Clinton runs a child prostitution ring in a pizza parlor basement” without any consequence these days and there is no punishment for slander. 
     This is, however, not historically new if one remembers the start of the Spanish-American war in 1898 was caused by “Yellow Journalism”; the misleading reporting of the bombing of the USS Maine in Havana harbor. 
     Svenonious convincingly and persuasively argues for the need for censorship; not necessarily a state censorship or a government censorship, rather a proletariat or people’s censorship; the banning of false and toxic art and messaging. 
     Even if one does not agree with Svenonious’s cry for censorship, he makes you think about the sources of ones information and their potential agendas. He is correct about the bombardment of drivel we are exposed to on television, computers, the radio, ads, etc. and perhaps a little bit of “turning off” isn’t a bad thing for ones mental health. 
     As an advocate for censorship, I was an outlier in art school, a place where having all gates and doors open is romanticized. This is why in my graduate papers I coupled the writing of Svenonious with stills of the occasionally disturbing performance artist Paul McCarthy, who once performed a piece so disturbing and anti-social it was only over when everyone in the audience left. And yet, having the open mind to consider censorship as a tool for liberation has led me to being on the “winning side of history”.   I felt very venerated when the “me too” movement brought the guillotine to teaching artists whose assignments and behavior were justified by these “Free Speech” warriors. 
     Of course governments should not censor the people, but this does not justify public displays of aggressive anti-social behavior and making people do things they are not comfortable with in the name of artistic exploration. Justifications for allowing such acts only takes value away from the arts. Those who defend the obscene in the arts will say “It’s just art!” - without realizing how insulting to the institution of the arts they are being. Svenonious argues this is why art is undervalued in the United States, or, “The Free World”. 
     Originally published in 2015, this collection of essays, especially its title essay, has stuck with me. It suggests that what is morally correct may involve sacrifice. Ultimately, it is an empowering essay. It ends with a great quote. “The State can’t be the censor. The state must be censored. Along with its vile servants and its freakish masters, censorship. Termination, eradication and liquidation. Censorship until reeducation! Censor the state! Censorship NOW!!”

 4. Moby Dick by Herman Melville 

 The main reason why Moby Dick gets a bad wrap today is there is evidence that Melville wasn’t particularly nice to his wife. Again, our job is to progress upon the shoulders of our ancestors. In order to do this we must critique them, but ultimately our job is to surpass them in accomplishment, which only can be achieved when we study them. Therefore, I am a strong advocate for the reading of Moby Dick. 
     With this said, I think too many people read Moby Dick too early on in their lives and it sort of doesn’t work as a result. Moby Dick can only be read and loved by those who have experienced their scale in comparison to the planet. Young people eager to leave their hometowns to shoot their shots in the New Yorks, Nashvilles and LAs of the world will have a hard time appreciating Moby Dick. One must first be humbled to appreciate this book. 
     Scholars have made almost endless metaphor for the great white whale Moby Dick, but one thing we can all agree on is that Moby Dick, the leviathan, is big. To take him down is therefore an almost impossible achievement. Captain Ahab is hellbent on doing this so he can get revenge on the whale who took many of his loved ones along with his leg. He is obsessed with getting his revenge, even though doing so seems like a suicide mission. Captain Ahab thinks he is bigger than he actually is, he believes in himself and believes he can accomplish the impossible. 
     Doesn’t this sound like the goal of my first two books? “Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible?” - well, you should always try your best, but Melville message is a statistically true one; the world is large and we are very small. We should not expect that the world is going to bend to our needs. We are not at the center of the world. This isn’t a movie and a lot of people fail. But most importantly, sometimes the world brings you misfortune and there isn’t anything you can do about it, because the world is big and we are very small.
     Long story short, Ahab can’t accept this reality and Ishmael meditates on it. This is only my overarching take-away of the book, too. There is so much to take away from this book, that there are books ABOUT this book. But that was my main take away; the acceptance of our scale in comparison of the world and how one can make peace with that reality. 

 5. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon 

    This book is like an old friend. Pynchon is an American literary master and the narrator voice and vibe of this novel converges late sixties hippy slang with film noir detective pulp. Pynchon was always presented to me as an inaccessible author; his book Gravity’s Rainbow being considered one of the harder books to read in the English language by many scholars. So when I read this, I felt accomplished.
 It was the beginning of my adult life as a reader I believe and the majority of my reading of this book occurred on the MBTA in Boston on my way to work in Somerville from Jamaica Plain. 
     I first watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie remake, which was convoluted in a typical hard boiled detective movie way, but not to the point where its plot wasn’t obtainable. After deeply enjoying the movie, I had the confidence to give the novel a go. 
     I love how Doc Sportello’s stoned paranoid predilections are sometimes dead on … and sometimes dead wrong; the movie echos the loss of innocence felt in 1970 LA. Hippies were once cool, but now they’re scary in the aftermath of the Manson killings. The mainstream went from smiling at hippies to desiring to exterminate them. The movie invites a critical eye to the idealism of the era at the moment when Woodstock turned to Altamonte, when peace and love turned to drugs and paranoia. 
     This is the vibe of Utopian thinking meeting reality; again, the desire to accomplish the impossible and the acceptance of defeat. It can also be used as a metaphor for the loss of a loved one and how grief manifests in our minds, as the loss of the sixties corresponds to the loss of the Doc’s “missing girl” - Shasta Fey Hepworth. 
     When attempting to accomplish the impossible, it is important to remember to balance this with the realization that we are not the centers of the universe. Upon the topic of affairs of the heart, for example, if one truly loves another, then they wish to give, serve and support their loved one. This may include letting that loved one love someone else, which may mean watching the person you love marry somebody else because they make them happy and you don’t.  In this situation, a demanding of the impossible may be morally incorrect.  
    Again, an American book about the disillusionment of the American dream and utopian thinking. 

 It seems my favorite books promote Cosmopolitan curiosity, travel and wrestle with when to be idealistic and when to be practical.