Review of “I Always Think It’s Forever” by Timothy Goodman

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Review of “I Always Think It’s Forever” by Timothy Goodman

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An infographic, as the term implies, is information made visible. By its very nature, infographics condense data into essential component parts. At their best, they simplify taxonomies, effective communication at a glance. If you condense your infographic, viewers will lose themselves and drown in details. But by stripping away context and nuance, they can also blur signal into scribbled, generic slogans that stand in for what should be a dynamic story.

Designer, muralist and – from time to time – writer Timothy Goodman knows a lot about what makes an effective infographic. He built a career out of the mold, designing and packaging products for brands such as Uniqlo, Guess, Samsonite and West Elm. One of his home decor designs, for example, revolves around a mug and proclaims this basic (and debatable) formula: “Cheap coffee > No coffee.” Many of his designs are bold, if solipsistic, like a powder-blue Couronne handbag covered in loose letters, reading: “I have to feel what I feel to feel alive.” His Keith Haring-inspired murals and billboards can be seen across the country, from schools and corporate headquarters to the public spaces in between.

These aren’t all, to be sure, conventional infographics, though they do share a certain flair for distillation and summarization. Many of Goodman’s mural statements are akin to word and image clouds, often falsely bold statements spread in large, bold block letters, with individual words grouped together for maximum effect. “Love is unconquered,” reads his Houston Street mural in New York. “You are lovely and you are worthy of love,” says another.

With “I Always Think It’s Forever: A Love Story Set in Paris as Told by an Unreliable but Serious Narrator,” Goodman took his zeal for statement and design to a new level. Or, rather, he shrunk his usually sprawling decrees to 6½-by-8-inch margins, putting them together in a series between two hard covers. Can a muralist and product designer infographic his way to tell a compelling love story, from coup to coeur brisé?

Goodman’s hybrid visual memoir lays out his account of passion and heartbreak over the course of a single year. It begins with his 2019 flight to Paris, a much-needed career break meant for self-discovery and exploration; moved through a brief but intense – and boringly corny – love affair with a French woman, Aimée (“I felt my heart’s story being rewritten. I saw the vision of our future children”); and finally takes us through their breakup and its aftermath. All the while, our narrator emphasizes the strength of the strong feelings he experiences. To understand: “I have to feel what I feel to feel alive.”

Like many of the products and murals Goodman designs, the book is an ode to the circulation of neatly repackaged platitudes loosely disguised as products of enlightenment and self-actualization. Indeed, the book is introduced, and framed, as a manual for “serious” men, that is, men with a lot of feelings. In boilerplate self-help language patchworked throughout, he assures his readers that it’s okay, even “healthy”, to display all those feelings. The resulting hodgepodge – strings of garbled sentences interspersed with single-page colorful mantras and infographics about dating and love songs – is not always coherent. Goodman’s prose most closely resembles the language of ChatGPT: at once familiar and slightly uncomfortable, as if Goodman himself was not entirely aware of the things he was writing, and always unpleasantly inoffensive. The results are predictable, if sometimes incomprehensible, a collection of disparate clichés and algorithmic banalities: “I learned about the kind of partner I really need, about the kind of partner I should be, and that I should always strive to see and be seen.”

Early in the work, Goodman tells us that he was intrigued by a French word he learned while abroad in France, “dépaysement,” which roughly translates to disorientation. He takes the word to describe “this wonderful feeling of living as a stranger somewhere far away from your memory.” But what his description of this love affair with the French Aimée – she of the Chuck Taylors and “one of the biggest laughs of all time” – evokes is a grand repetition of all the sappy sentiments spread all over Goodman’s packaged products and walls. The story is predictable in a word, even if it ends before he wants it to (and before they can realize his dreams of, what else, marriage and children – a boy and a girl).

This is not Goodman’s first extended foray into love as a subject. In 2013, he and fellow designer Jessica Walsh collaborated on what they described as an “experiment,” which took place on a popular online blog called “40 Days of Dating.” The co-workers, who were both single and friends before the experiment began, diligently – and seriously – tried to romance each other. In this early project, Goodman described himself as commitment phobic while Walsh pretended to fall in love perhaps too easily. In two online journals, they meticulously tracked their recurring conversations about how the experiment went and why they thought they would or wouldn’t succeed as a couple. (Reader, they didn’t.)

In his latest work, Goodman seems to have transformed from a commitment-phobe to the one who is now too easily infatuated with love. But if the premise of these various projects is to learn more about what love is, the art – and sentiments – fall flat. After all, infographics have a variety of functions. They can highlight comparison and contrast, follow a process step by step, or map items in relation to each other. But they can’t really capture the messy kinesthetics of attraction, immersion, or even disengagement. You cannot convincingly, or movingly, slogan or chatbot your way into, or out of, the disorienting effects of love or loss. The details are too diffuse.

Tahneer Oksman is a writer and scholar. She is an associate professor at Marymount Manhattan College, where she teaches courses in writing, literature, and cultural journalism.

I always think it’s forever

A love story set in Paris as told by an unreliable but serious narrator

Simon and Schuster. 192 pages $22

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