Muscles that misunderstand

Being irrational on purpose is harder than you think. I know because I haven't quit trying.

I have it on good authority, that is, a friend who exercises regularly told me that bodybuilders have a hard time doing exercises like yoga or marathon running. They train muscle groups for lifting weights, and when they try yoga for the first time, they have trouble because of the switch in muscle fibers.

I suppose the idea of acquired taste works similarly. I have observed difficulties in my area of work as well, which, broadly speaking involves switching to different ways of thinking.

With storytelling, for instance, I actually find it harder to come up with absurd stories than sensible ones. The more rational one is, the harder it is to be irrational on purpose. I think it is because a rational storyteller has to work with incongruity, and the listener has to suspend disbelief. Both have to do something that goes beyond everyday thinking modes.

A group of psychologists have proposed a model to explain the brain’s incessant need to find rational explanations. Meaning Maintenance Model (MMM) is an attractive idea because it explains how the brain could course-correct it’s expectations when it encounters an apparently irrational situation.

So, being absurd is quite hard.

I’ve noticed that to write absurdist stories, I need to be in a stream of consciousness mode of storytelling. Absurdity is hard to design. On the other hand, I find that designing stories takes directed attention. Two entirely different modes of thinking.

Examples of my absurdist comics:

Examples of my designed comics:

I enjoy drawing stories, but it seems to me that I enjoy making the absurd ones best. I like to imagine its because of the difference in how I conceive of them.

When I design stories, it feels like I’m arranging things, seeking to assemble a specific pattern. With the stream of consciousness stories, it just arrives as a whole, and it makes me laugh out loud. Sometimes, it’s neither one nor the other. I may start designing a story, but see the end as a flash of insight. Or the beginning of the story may just pop into my head, and I have to design the ending.

There is more than just joy in making up absurd stories. One study showed that people who read Kafka demonstrated a slight increase in working memory. The brain increases its resources to look for meaningful connections in the chaos of the absurd.

That’s like a bonus, right?