Embodying “Happy”

Happeh Years ago, when I was studying performance and movement we were given small, concentrated workshop tasks. One of the most difficult was the be "happy". Despite how this sounds, it is not a simple exercise (as anyone who has seen the word "happy" in a brief will understand). First, I would start with my breathing, emptying myself of breath and then slowly inflating myself. Next I would lift my posture, straighten my spine and raise my head. I would imagine and feel the way that my breath would inhabit the far recesses of my body … reaching to my fingertips and out to my eyelashes. Sometimes I would smile, othertimes, not. But time and again I would find that my "happy" would not quite make it … it would fall short somewhere … somewhere short of "being" or "embodying".

My teacher, the lovely and quite scary, Leisa Shelton, would always want more … would want us to push this small performance closer to life — so that the distinction between the performer and the performed would collapse. While I could intellectually understand this, I found it was difficult to achieve in practice. You see, there is a vast difference between the way that you will experience something and the way that another person will perceive it — especially in performance. In performance, the body needs to appear 25% larger to give the impression of being 100% real (this was the realisation of Leisa’s teacher, Etienne Decroux while observing Rodin’s The Thinker) … these days I am always drawn to images of happiness (hence the image here courtesy of Suzanne G).

But, take a look at this challenge for a second. What does it mean to be 125% more real when translated into digital identity? What does this mean for digital storytelling … and perhaps, most importantly of all, what does this mean for personal brands and naming? Jeff Pulver has been looking at the intersection of names and personal branding for the last couple of days and is convinced of the need to have a single name across all of our social media haunts. But, apart from the challenges of having a unique name (luckily I don’t think there are too many Gavin Heatons in the world), is it necessary or is it even desirable?

I have had a connection to the digital identity "servantofchaos" for many years now, and one of the things I like about it is its potential. For example, servantofchaos has the opportunity of being 125% Gavin Heaton — it can be an oversized version of my own self, multiplied and amplified by the digital array and power of the network. It can also serve as the persona through which I can project and connect to the world in a way that my personal traits, inhibitions or even time restrictions can prohibit.

When I first started this blog and began commenting on others, I did so under the name servantofchaos. And while I no longer feel the need to do so (or have the desire to play with the identity), after all this time, I would be reticent to relinquish it completely. It has become something more than just a name … I have, in a sense, embodied it. What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Embodying “Happy”

  1. So very interesting…
    I have no particular opinion on the use of handles and pseudonyms. I completely get you 125% thing. That’s what Hip-Hop kids used to do: create a character for themselves and amplify it through art. I like that.
    For myself, I chose to just use my real name just because I felt a ‘brand’ or ‘positioning statement’ might become limiting and tacky with age.
    I’d like to think that you can so open on the web that an amplification of your real name is perfectly acceptable. It mostly likely my British sense of reserve that finds still finds that a potential problem.
    “It is the goal of every Englishman to get his grave unembarrassed.” – John Cleese
    I recognise Servant of Chaos and Gavin Heaton, equally, by-the-way.

  2. Gavin,
    In some U.S. universities and colleges that class is called plays, games and rhythms. I am a pretty outgoing guy, and an honors graduate. Never was I so challenged as I was in the class. Why? Playing happy or sad or angry is lots harder than being those things. Playing those emotions is the opposite of authentic.

  3. Life is a play. We play many parts and roles and no one can say any of it is not authentic if we feel it to be so.
    Do not know if your familiar with ‘Six Characters in Search of an Authors’ written by Luigi Pirandello in 1921. The The story plot goes like this.
    The rehearsal preparations of a theatrical company are interrupted by a Father and his family who explain that they are characters from an unfinished dramatic work. They want to interpret again crucial moments of their lives, claiming that they are “truer” than the “real” characters.
    “How can we understand each other if the words I use have the sense and the value I expect them to have, but whoever is listening to me inevitably thinks that those same words have a different sense and value, because of the private world he has inside himself too. We think we understand each other: but we never do,” says the Father.
    In theatre the gesture needs to be bigger because it needs to fill the room and bridge the communication between what we see and what’s going on in our heads while we see it. Think about it, we call it performance. What do we associate with that word? Performance = good. BTW this comment was a take on a post I wrote back in November of last year 😉

  4. Thanks all … great conversation!
    Adam … I love the Cleese quote! I have had an interesting relationship to my name over the years — and when I began using servantofchaos many years ago it was at a time that digital identity was not so closely connected to the real world. This is one of those IDs that just stuck.
    Lewis … One of the challenges that Leisa’s classes presented was the need to move beyond “acting”. The course was called “The Embodiment of the Actor” and it was a very confronting course because it made us go beyond the “playing of the part” to something far more serious and more personal.
    Valeria … I think there are many similarities between business performance and theatrical performance — and this has fascinated me for years (I have a masters degree in theatre and have a particular interest in the collision between performance and writing, but that is a whole other life — and identity ;)). Some of this thinking has been pretty well examined in the book Experience Economy (I am sure you know it) … but unfortunately, like all things, some performances are good, others bad. Happens in theatre, in business and in life. I think, for branding and storytelling, your last line has important resonances — our brand gestures need to fill not a room, but the empty space between the object (TV, print, book, website) and the subject — not just physically but also emotionally. That is the challenge.

  5. Gavin, I loved this post! One thing that I’ve noticed in the blogosphere is that it seems like most of the “biggest” personalities play an extreme version of themselves.
    We have the villains and the heroes, the innocents and the evil geniuses–yes, it seems like when trying to come across digitally the most successful online publishers have tapped into one part of themselves and interact from that extreme point of view.
    It has often reminded me of the Joseph Cambell book “Hero With A Thousand Faces”–In the digital world some folks are creating their own mythologies and playing archetypal characters without even knowing it.
    With the Servant Of Chaos identity–I definitely think it gives your work online a mystique, an attitude, sort of a bigger concept than one person can convey with their own name.

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