Tag Archives: assault

A Shonda for the Vays Menschen

I've seen some stuff, you know?

I’ve seen some stuff, you know?

It’s all true, anyway. An African cab driver really did ask me if I was raped, and a bitter, critical, English professor really did tell me that there was no way that could ever happen when I tried to tell the story in an undergraduate fiction writing workshop. I suppose that’s a big difference between fiction and non-fiction. Readers just won’t accept certain types of events in fiction: you can’t write too many tragedies into a story, or too many coincidences, even though strings of tragedies and coincidences of course happen in real life.

We’re used to reading clean dialog, too, and heaven knows people don’t really speak the way their words appear in books. People say “um” and “ah” and “like,” and they stutters and repeat themselves in a way that would be utterly annoying to read. Fiction isn’t like life, after all. Fiction wraps up. There are metaphors and meanings. Life is messy and crises don’t always happen for a reason, and people don’t always learn from them.

A “shonda for the goyim” is a Yiddish sentiment, which expresses that a Jewish person has done something shameful in the sight of non-Jews, which will then reflect badly on all Jews, because anti-Semitism. I’ve since been told that black people would say, “a scandal for white people,” or something to that effect. I had mixed feelings about having an entire panel depend on a phrase in a foreign language, but that’s really what was going on in my head, too, and I think it reflects an important parallel, the kind of point upon which fiction depends, but which life often fails to deliver.

When I was looking up how to say “white people” in Yiddish for the title (I hope vays menschen is correct; I known “menschen” is “people” and if “vays” is pronounced like the German word “weiss”  then it makes sense) I came across a couple articles asking if the Yiddish word “schvartze” was considered racist. Schvartze is the word that some elderly Jews used to refer to black people, and let me tell you, it’s racist as hell. At least it was when my late grandmother said it, usually in the context of, “Lock the doors, there’s schvartze everywhere.” And that’s what I was taught about black people as a child.

I could pretend otherwise, but it’s the truth, and that’s what fiction and nonfiction have to have in common.

This Is Your Trigger Warning

When I say I feel your pain, it's probably because your pain makes me feel my pain.

When I say I feel your pain, it’s probably because your pain makes me feel my pain.

This is what we talk about when we talk about post traumatic stress. Obviously, this is pretty personal; most of my comics are pretty personal, but this one is deeper. I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about what happened in panel 3 here. A lot of people already know about it already, and it might come up in some other form later on. I don’t have any problem telling you if you ask. I just don’t want to write about it in my art blog at this time. But it did happen, and I was diagnosed with PTSD afterward. This was 16 years ago, and while trauma fades, I’m not sure it ever gets erased. What’s it like? It’s sort of like this, what I’ve inelegantly drawn here.

Panel 1, of course, riffs off the famous scene from the classic 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger. Bond does not die. He also does not show any outward signs of PTSD, although some might argue that the drinking and womanizing are symptoms.

Panel 2 is not my story, but it did happen to my friend, whose father came home broken from Viet Nam. She told me he would wake up in the middle of the night, mistake her and her brother for Viet Cong, and threaten them with a gun. So war traumatized him, and then he passed that trauma on to his kids.

Panel 3, as I said, is more or less something that happened to me in 1998, and I’m still fucked up about it, even though I’ve had therapy and go for long periods of time without thinking about it at all.

Panel 4 is basically the 9 of swords from the Rider-Waite tarot deck. Some people refer to this card as “The Dark Night of the Soul.” I think it’s a pretty universal image.

Panel 5: I wasn’t anywhere near New York on 9/11, and I didn’t really know anyone there, but this was the first time I learned that people with PTSD get to re-experience their PTSD if they hear about other people’s extreme trauma. Like a lot of Americans, I had a rough time of it that month; I had to have therapy and leave grad school for a week in the middle of the semester. I couldn’t bring myself to draw the plane hitting the WTC, so I just used a screen grab.

The guy in panel 6 did not die. He was in the coma for about a month, and he spent a year learning to walk and talk and eat again, and then he spent 5 or 6 years getting his head on, and now he lives independently, which is a pretty big deal, considering we spent 3 days not knowing if he was going to survive.

This is, by far, the most morbid thing I’ve posted in this blog. I hope I can be funny again next week, but I just don’t feel funny right now. The longer you live, the more likely you are to experience trauma, meaning the older you get, the more likely it is that you and the people around you are suffering these invisible personal catastrophes. My big one was maybe only 15 minutes of my life, but it gathered up all the small hurt from before and it amplified all the small hurt that came afterward. And my situation really is nothing, compared to some lives. It’s hard not to feel my own trauma when I hear about someone else’s, but I also can’t turn away. People want to tell me, and I want to honor their pain by listening.