This is a particularly weird time to be raising a kid who is obsessed with robots, because the whole culture is obsessed with them. Bots. Drones. AI. Blade Runner. Stories about robots (at least the ones I know of) are almost always stories about what makes humans human and what it means to be one. That, I think, is also exactly what Owen is trying to figure out: by learning what a robot is, what it doesn’t have that he does have, he’s figuring out his body and his emotions and what he is. (Do robots poop? Do robots get scared?) How interesting to have a kid trying to figure out, essentially, what the wider culture is trying to figure out: What are we? What are we good for? Are we machines? Can we be replaced by them? Do androids dream of electric sheep?
Owen drew this after reading about “input” and output” in one of his Robot books: “input… a signal or information that is put into a machine or electrical system… output… the movement or response of a robot to the input it receives from its sensors.”
When I was growing up, my mom said, over and over, “Garbage in and garbage out.” She was talking, mostly, about television, but I wonder if she knew its usage in computer science? (“In computer science, garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) is where flawed, or nonsense input data produces nonsense output or ‘garbage’.”)
I wrote about it in Steal Like An Artist:
Lately, however, I’ve been re-thinking the phrase. Sure, it’s important to surround ourselves with the best influences, but it’s a mistake to think that we can’t be positively influenced by “garbage.” Artists are not machines, or robots. We’re human beings, and we can take “garbage,” or what’s considered “low,” and we can recycle and re-use it, turn it into something new, or something even better.
Personally, I feel that our country is just going to get worse and worse aesthetically, so one survival mechanism is to either become a beauty detectorist, find gold buried in the dirt, or turn yourself into some kind of sewage treatment plant or trash refinery. (As Jesus said, in Matthew 15:11, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”) In addition to saving and celebrating the best our culture has to offer, we might also have to turn our minds into the equivalent Doc Brown’s Mr. Fusion device:
Related reading: Problems of output are problems of input
My favorite artist turns 5 years old today. I hope he continues to spend his days surrounded by what he loves. (The picture below was taken when he was 1 1/2.)
“New metaphors are capable of creating new understandings and, therefore, new realities.”
—Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By
The 4.99-year-old has never been completely in touch with his body.
It seems to help him to think of himself as a machine: When he was obsessed with combustion engines, we’d use the four-stroke cycle as a metaphor to get him to poop, as in, “Okay, you ate dinner, that was the intake stroke, now it’s time for your exhaust stroke.” (Don’t ask me about the compression and power strokes.)
Now he’s going through a major robot phase, so he pretends to be a robot, and when he wants attention or affection he’ll ask us to “open up his panel” and fix his electronics. In the morning, he’ll say, “My battery was really low last night, but now I’m recharged.”
A few days ago, we had the boys all strapped into their seats and car wouldn’t start. My wife discovered that one of them had switched the dome light to ON and it had slowly drained the battery.
I’d never jumped a car before. I learned that there’s an order to which you connect the jumper cables. (BGGB: Bad +, good +, good -, block.) Once you get the car started, if the battery’s still good, you have to drive the car for a while in order for it to recharge.
This seemed like a decent enough metaphor: If your internal battery’s dead, you can jump it with a healthy battery, say, a friend, or a book, or a movie, etc., but then that battery can’t do all the work for you. You have to do the work of staying in motion, get things back up to a healthy level. You need gas, good tires…
See, all metaphors can only go so far. Best of all, I think, is getting beyond the metaphor completely, if that’s possible. Being a human in your body.
No batteries, just a renewable energy.
Every time I open up our copy of Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals, I smile at this perfect dedication page.
I did not, to my memory, know Emberley’s books when I was growing up, but when I discovered them in my 20s, he instantly became one of my heroes.
I not only love his books, I’m inspired by the way he and his wife Barbara collaborated on classic books like Drummer Hoff and The Story of Paul Bunyan, all while raising their kids, Rebecca and Michael, both of whom grew up to become illustrators and now have creative families of their own. (On the family business, Rebecca remembers, “Our parents would say ‘Think up something you can make and sell it.’”) I used a quote of Ed’s in Steal Like An Artist, and a few years later, Rebecca sent me of a snapshot of her dad reading it. I framed it and hung it on my studio wall and I look at it whenever I feel worthless.
Now that I have my own marker-wielding boys, I leave the Emberley books out for them to find. My son Owen, who’s about to turn 5 this month, likes to copy out of the Drawing Book of Trucks and Trains, although he also likes to skip most of the steps and copy the final drawing.
Here’s one from The Big Red Drawing Book:
“Most children are at least as creative as adult artists are until they get to first or second grade,” Ed says. “Your job is to bring them back.”
I try so hard to provide the life I always wanted for my boys, and I want so much for them to enjoy the things I love, to see me working, and to work alongside me. But I’m always mindful of Andrew Solomon, who wrote in Far From The Tree, “Perhaps the immutable error of parenthood is that we give our children what we wanted, whether they want it or not.”