Words from a Father

Husband of One, Father of Four

Tag: feel

361. Quotes: Helen Keller on the Best Things

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched — they must be felt with the heart.”

—Hellen Keller (27 June 1880 – 1 June 1968)

326. Experience Music

Louder music doesn’t mean better music, but you should feel it inside. Close your eyes and experience what the artist felt during the album’s creation.

300. Quotes: Donald Miller on Wonder

“There is no up and down. There has never been an up and down. Things like up and down were invented so as not to scare children, so as to reduce mystery to math. [. . .] I think we have two choices in the face of such big beauty: terror or awe. [. . .] We are too proud to feel awe and too fearful to feel terror. [. . .] Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little time is spent allowing our our hearts to feel awe. By reducing Christian spirituality to formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder.”

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, chapter 17, pages 204 and 205

296. Essay: My Theory on Recollection

Fill in these sentences with whatever phrases you want:

  • My time in high school was:
  • My relationship with my mother when I was in elementary school was:
  • My relationship with my father when I was in elementary school was:
  • The first sporting event I remember attending was:
  • What I remember about the first time I performed in front of others is:
  • I do or do not want to spend time with my parents because:

I haven’t seen this psychological theory out there anywhere, so I’m going to spell out my theory here. I believe our individual history is inscribed and recalled primarily in emotion rather than in fact.

When we think back over our life, it seems we can recall many facts, but not with absolute clarity or without bias. We collect various series of events, package them under a heading, and assign an emotional descriptor for them.

It strikes me that this is the opposite of a computer system. A computer requires a name for a folder, a photo, video, or file. You can tag it with facts: geolocation, year, name of the person in the picture, title or main subjects of the document. In human interactions, these facts are taken for granted. We can tell that picture was a night wedding with our daughter as the flower girl, this document is about current trends in whatever subject, this slideshow is for chapter 18. But we don’t take pictures to keep facts straight, we do it to relive the emotions of the event or those related to that person.

We name files by facts. When someone asks about the wedding or how our vacation was, we answer with an overall feeling: “It was beautiful . . . so much fun . . . the best vacation ever . . . the most romantic and joyous ceremony I’ve been to.” We are using emotion to recall how the expectation matched with the actual experience. Computers can’t determine whether something is funny, pitiable, wretched, fair, or inspiring. And neither can anything else in nature. Emotional recollection is one of the astounding things that makes us human.

This emotional recollection theory becomes even more clear when we think back over significant chunks of time in our life. Junior high, high school, college, those few years in the military or in that other state. What immediately comes out is an overarching feeling of that time in our life. “It was horrible . . . I had so much fun with all my friends in school . . . most embarrassing years of my life . . . exhilarating to see him play one of the best seasons of his career . . . I was lonely because I didn’t have many friends.”

What we’ve done is opened the file in our head for that time in our life — and we’ve felt it all over again. That’s the primary way we connect with our own history. We don’t list off facts as much as we recall how that time felt overall and then back it up with selected experiences correlating to that main feeling.

It’s easy to see how one reinforces the other, facts and feelings working in tandem to get a more complete picture of each significant season of our personal history. We go through a week and stamp an emotion on it: great week. The next week: great again. The next two weeks: also great. So that month goes in the “great” pile. A few more like that and we can check off those six months as a really good stretch. It works with negative seasons of life as well.

Overall, how were your interactions with me as your dad? If you felt loved, taken care of, special, the top on my list, secure or safe, and that you could trust me, then you will probably have a positive recollection of me. If you felt you were not loved, not worth spending time with, unsafe or insecure with me, or that you could not trust me, then you will probably have a negative recollection of me. And your emotional recollection of our past will determine how you interact with me right now. You may remember a few instances of things that did or did not happen, but it will largely be based on your feelings — those tangibly intangible guides of our actions.

So, that’s my theory: Our individual history is inscribed and recalled primarily in emotion rather than in fact, and those emotions guide our current and future interactions.

And this is sobering.

210. Prize

It used to be that winning something meant you got a toaster.

Contrary to how you feel, you are not entitled to anything. Be glad for whatever you receive, be it little or much.

171. Essay: Typographers Are Actors

My high school drama teacher once said, “The best actors are those who can step the furthest away from themselves convincingly.”

This also applies to those in the art of typography or type design: They momentarily step out of themselves and try to become something else. Yes, the “crystal goblet” theory applies here because both the actor and the typographer must not be seen. In a theatre we should be shocked by the presence of the credits because we were so engaged in the sincerity of the acting itself. We should be equally as shocked by the clarity of a sign or a paragraph that, only after we have read it, do we reflect on how effortless it was. Save for ornamentation, effortless legibility is a noble goal.

Recognizing Meaning in Movies

In a dramatic movie, the silent message conveyed in the blank stare or quick lip curl is stronger than any spoken line could. I think of a split-second in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that speaks volumes without even seeing Harrison Ford’s face. Indiana Jones has just had a startling conversation with someone seeking the cup of Christ. His team has found key clues to its location, but has been attacked and the leader taken prisoner. As we see Jones accepting the probability that the chalice can be found, he turns to the persuasive financier, Walter Donovan, and says, “You’ve got the wrong Jones, Mr. Donovan. Why don’t you try my father?”

With that brush-off, Jones picks up his hat as the scene comes to its climax. His unfocused hand clutching his hat stays in the foreground at waist height while the camera focuses on Donovan in the background. Donovan’s disheartening reply comes: “We already have. Your father is the man who’s disappeared.” The camera doesn’t swing up to reveal Jones’s reaction, it just watches his hand sink ever so slightly on hearing this news. We knew exactly what Jones was thinking in that moment.

Recognizing Meaning in Typefaces

Humans are not letters. We don’t look or act like letters. Typographers must become the characters — something completely foreign to their way of being — in order to express them as art and as containers of meaning. How is it that we can see the word serious written in one typeface and believe that it is somber, but in another typeface we understand that it is meant sarcastically? To me it seems an almost metaphysical thing for humans to get so far away from themselves as to create character shapes that engender feelings. Sure, with motion it becomes easier to convey feeling and tone, but how is it possible with a static character? The typographer has tapped into our intuition in this case and drawn out of us their true meaning. Repeat: The typographer has drawn out of us their true meaning. The forms they create tell us exactly what they were thinking without having any contact with them. Whether we are a type aficionado or not, we are feeling the letter. That’s possibly why comedies use one style of type (big, red, capitalized 3-D, apparently), serious dramas use another (Helvetica thin, Gotham, Futura, or Mrs. Eaves), and horror movies use another (um, sharpened Trajan . . . with a blood trail).

The best actors can become so absorbed by the aura of another era that they become iconic. The futility and depravity in Hotel Rwanda; the interpersonal tension, spite, and misunderstandings in Crash; the family connections and personal expectations in The Godfather; the struggle between identity, destiny, and desire in Superman.

Making Identity and Typeface Match: Tone

Words have definitions — they must, there is no doubt — and type carries feeling, but well-chosen type causes words and feeling to match. “Font design,” Rian Hughes once said in a MyFonts interview, “is a curious mix of the technical and the aesthetic, the left and right brain.” He continued, “A bad typeface is an unresolved typeface, one that doesn’t know what it’s trying to convey.” When typographers do their job with excellence, they have become absorbed by the thoughts, feelings, and aura of another time only to transfer those to the reader. The best typographers are geniuses at this. They cause us to read the word but feel the form. When rebranding, companies will often say of their rejected type choices, “It’s too friendly . . . too serious . . . we’re a vibrant, growing company and this is too boring . . . we want something historical, not futuristic.” They are intuiting the feeling of the typeface and matching it with who they believe they are. They can feel when it doesn’t match, even if they can’t explain why. They are referring to tone.

Actors Convince

The best actors convince the public of their role. Denzel Washinton in Training Day; Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, Aladdin, Awakenings, and One Hour Photo; Charlize Theron in Monster; Donnie Wahlberg’s character Vincent in The Sixth Sense; Jaime Foxx in Ray and Collateral; Val Kilmer in Tombstone; Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man; Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Whether they garner awards or not, they become the standard for that kind of role. And they don’t do it just once; the better they are, the more convincingly they are able to do it time and again. Those who tell the story best own it. That’s why many believe that fairy tales are no longer public domain or originated by the Brothers Grimm, but by Disney.

Type Designers Convince

The best typographers have inhabited an era and convinced the public of that role. They have told the story best. Arno, Myriad, and Minion by Robert Slimbach; Swift by Gerard Unger; Feijoa by Kris Sowersby; Mostra Nuova, Proxima Nova, and Kinescope by Mark Simonson; Parkinson and Mojo by Jim Parkinson; Amplitude and Farnham by Christian Schwartz; FF Unit and the FF Meta family by Erik Spiekermann; Cezanne by P22; the Soho and Neo families by Sebastian Lester; Bree, Karmina, Maiola, and Adelle by Veronika Burian and José Scaglione; FaceBuster by Silas Dilworth; Arnhem and FF Quadraat by Fred Smeijers; Helvetica by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffman; numerous scripts by Hermann Zapf; Klavika by Eric Olson; Liza and Fakir by Underware; Verdana and Georgia by Matthew Carter. These and countless others have told the story best.

The Best Story

As with any supreme art, great typography lets us become absorbed in the unspoken feeling of the moment because the artists themselves were able to inhabit and express that aura. In this, typographers are actors. They step out of themselves and become something else: robotic, ’70s psychedelic, velvety, disinterested, amorous, fearful, regal, luscious, strong, elegant, agitated. They transfer the feeling to us — not just the letter or the word. And they do it with aplomb, convincing the public of the time and place the typeface represents.

Dictionaries may own the definition, but typographers own the meaning and the feel — yes, the sum connotation. Look throughout history and you’ll see that this is why typographers have always told the best stories.

167. Feel the Form

The best typographers cause us not only to read the word, but to feel the form.

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