Tag Archives: friends

Monday Gratitude: I Get by with a Little Help

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This is not a picture of the greatest friends in the world. It’s just a tribute to a picture of the greatest friends in the world.

Although I’m super grateful that the anti life equation party did not find the opportunity to decimate my healthcare options this week, and will most likely not have a chance to complete their evil scheme before the midterm elections, even before that failed vote it seemed imperative to vocalize my gratitude for the legions of cool people in my life.

Obviously, as I’ve written before, I was a wildly unpopular preadolescent, of the “nobody in this school likes you” variety. While had enough self-esteem to feel like that was probably a mark in my favor (like, why would I want those conformists to like me?) being universally hated is not fun. But I was totally right in my assessment as to the value of the people who vocally, stringently, aggressively did not like me, because as soon as I got out of their bubble of privilege and entitled wealth, suddenly the stigma of being me evaporated, and it turned out that lots of people liked me a lot.

So I used the screen grab of my Facebook f-list as a symbol. I don’t have 584 actual friends. A few dozen of them are people who added me for my comics and/or my connections to the literary world, a couple are people I only know online, some are family, and a lot of them are probably just acquaintances or people I met once or twice at a party. But I’d say between 2/3 and 3/4 of them are real friends to some objective degree—people I’ve known in real life and hung with and whose company I enjoy and who apparently like me back. Some of them I’ve known for 3 decades or more. Some of them it only feels like I’ve known them for 30 years. And I also have friends, like the Fox, who aren’t even on Facebook. (I know; weird, right?) And while there are times when I have fond memories of that period of “nobody in this school likes you” during which 100% of my free time could be devoted to reading and writing, there’s also something to be said for getting invited to lots of interesting parties. Not that that’s why I’m grateful for my friends either.

Community, as it turns out, is probably one of the most important things in life. I know there are people who thrive in total isolation, who can live off the land in Alaska and spend more time avoiding polar bears than talking to humans, but most of us do best with a wide support net, multiple people to call on to celebrate our success or empathize with our distress. Social networking, not in the electronic sense, or the business sense, but in the sense of being integrated into a community with whom you can communicate, ask questions, seek assistance, and share your joy, is valuable on a psychological level, and a socio-economic one, and is linked with living longer and can contribute to professional success and things like that.

So, that’s my gratitude for the week: real friends. Love you guys.

 

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Empathy

Go ahead. Criticize this comic. I dare you.

Go ahead. Criticize this comic. I dare you. Your opinion means nothing to me. Unless you like it, in which case your opinion means everything.

Usually, I don’t use people’s real names in my comics out of respect for their privacy, but in this case, I feel the need to write the name. If, by some magical coincidence, that dude recognizes himself as the perpetrator and wants to apologize for the 3 years of hell through which he put my vulnerable, pre-adolescent self, he’s welcome to step up. I get that I was an annoying kid, that I was weird and a know-it-all and and a tomboy, that I dressed all wrong and didn’t comb my hair enough and had zero ability to read social cues. So you know what would have been cool, if you found me so terrible? Leaving me the hell alone. Not calling me names, not encouraging everyone else to call me names, and definitely not punching me in the face on the school bus. I can attest that it actually does not kill you to be compassionate toward people you don’t like. I do it all the time and have not yet died from it. Sometimes, if you’re really compassionate, you can offer them a few words that may actually help them become less odious. Sometimes people really don’t know what they’re doing wrong, and they could use a little help.

But we still get people like the ones in panel 6, who go around justifying their own jerkiness with circular reasoning. You know how you could stop bullying? By not being a bully. It’s so simple. If it’s not simple to you, then guess what: you are what is referred to in popular parlance as a sociopath. Unless you actually believe that you’re the only real human being in the world and other people are merely set pieces for your drama, you can reduce the amount of suffering in the world by not causing it. Don’t hurt other people to make yourself feel better.

Obviously, there are always going to be narcissists, but we have a choice. We can bow down to the tiny percentage of cruel humans out of fear that we might be singled out as the next target, or we can stand up to tyranny by protecting those who have less power, because there are actually more nice people than horrible ones, and there is power in numbers. We don’t have to fight. All it takes is a few kind, honest words. If today’s kids get anti-bullying lessons (i.e. are taught empathy and compassion) then maybe tomorrow’s adults can fix the terror of a world that wants us to believe that might makes right and that self-esteem is a zero sum game where you can only win by taking from someone else.

I’m not thin-skinned, but bullying is just another form of abuse, and like all abuse, it leaves its mark. It’s an indelible trauma. Yes, it will happen, but no, we can’t ever normalize it. The crimes of childhood have to be forgiven, because children’s brains aren’t done yet, but for adults to condone awful behavior is not forgivable.

Having grown into my dragonhood, I’m over my childhood, but I’m never to going to be over the childhoods of people who are still children. I’m never going to stop protecting people from monsters.

Making Friends IRL 2015 (Introvert Edition)

Next time: Losing Friends Online,, Scrabble edition

Next time: Losing Friends Online,, Scrabble edition

Those of us who have never felt quite human can only utilize the great social equalizing power of the Internet to a certain degree. After a while, you have to venture out into the world of realtime flesh interaction, where, if you screw up, you can’t just delete your profile and start over. If you’re fairly young, maybe you can move to another city and try again, but after a certain age, you probably own too much stuff, including real property, to make that a feasible option, and you must, instead learn how to pass yourself off as a normal person who can periodically attend crowded events and make conversation with unfamiliar people.

I would not attend as many parties if not for The Man, so I usually have the option of hiding behind him, although I sense that he would prefer not to have to drag his wife around like a leaden shadow when he wants to socialize (which is all the time).

Other strategies include offering to help the host/hostess with their duties, scrupulously reading the titles of all the books on the shelf, and making friends with the household pets. Or, you could just be a bit more aware and a little more confident. If you have access to someone’s social media profile, you could browse it in advance in order to prepare yourself with topics of mutual interest. Or, you could simply be well-informed or opinionated, which will also give you many things to talk about.

Just remember, no one else can see inside your head. If you sound confident, everyone is going to perceive you as such. If you act like you’re OK, the world will respond as if that’s the case.

Dragon Comics 112

Introverts of the world--well, when I say

Introverts of the world–well, when I say “unite,” you know I just mean emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. I wouldn’t actually ask you to, say, leave your homes or interact with other human beings. What kind of a monster do you think I am?

The Internet is pretty much the greatest thing that ever happened to bookish, socially awkward, and otherwise introverted nerds. Now we can interact with other human beings! On their level, even! Sometimes even above their level! Minus all that uncomfortable physical proximity and weird self-consciousness, and without the need to constantly decompress afterward.

In fact, people who know me as an adult often have difficulty believing what an introvert I am. I’m not shy, and I’ve overcome most of the social handicaps that really perplexed people when I was a little dragon. I’m perfectly capable of going to a party and enjoying myself, even being the center of attention, although I’ll never master or comprehend the art of small talk. But when I’m done, I’m done. Too many people frazzles my circuits. It probably doesn’t help that many of my friends are significantly younger than I am. The Man and I are both 40, while the Fox and Mrs. White Kitty are in their early 30s and the Otter and Mrs. Black Kitty are actually in their 20s. We probably enjoy a wilder nightlife than most people in our cohort. We get invited to a lot of sweet parties thrown by really cool people. But sometimes, I can’t handle it.

Sometimes, all you want is to sit quietly and read, and no amount of funnel cake, legal intoxicant, or whimsical diversion can entice you.

The Man is an extravert himself, and would happily immerse himself in group dynamics every night of the week. Personally, I have weeks (this one for example) where I’d be perfectly delighted never leaving the house. It’s draining, and it cuts into my creative time.

Of course, the Internet cuts into my creative time too. It’s a delicate balancing act.

Dragon Comics 106

Because there's a word for that, when you judge someone on the basis of their color...

Because there’s a word for that, when you judge someone on the basis of their color…

Happy Friday! Here’s your friendly neighborhood webcomic. No others news to report. Still working on my passion flower design, which should be ready next week. The desert is hot, the pool is the perfect temperature, and if you want to take a walk, you’d best wait until the sun goes down, and even then you’ll be sweating puddles in your boots. Delicious.

Dragon and the Whole Day of Collaborative Navel Gazing

Oh, my goodness, no, I did NOT go to the beach. This is still one of the cold places of the world. But I drove *past* the beach. And I *thought* about the beach.

Oh, my goodness, no, I did NOT go to the beach. This is still one of the cold places of the world. But I drove *past* the beach. And I *thought* about the beach.

Today I met up with an old friend and we somehow spent 10+ hours talking: past, present, future. When you have been friends with someone more or less continuously for decades, you have a lot of things you can talk about. You can talk about hilarious things you did in the past, and people you used to know, and you can talk about what you are doing now, and what other people are doing, and you can talk about what you want to do in the future. You can get really introspective and deconstructive. You can talk about what things meant, then and now, and what they might mean later. You can cast the eye of experience upon your own innocence, and you can laugh about things that were once terribly serious to you. You can parse out what’s important, and you can articulate why it’s important. You can compare and contrast past and present, and you can compare and contrast each others’ lives. You can visit places you used to visit regularly but haven’t seen in years. You can contact other old friends and repeat the entire process in a smaller space, either by video chatting them from a meaningful spot in the old neighborhood, or by meeting up with them someplace new in the neighborhood where they live now.

As a bonus, if you don’t visit the old neighborhood very often, and your friends are reasonably successful adults, and you are as cool as Dragon, your friends will insist on buying all your food and drinks, which is super nice when you are unemployed.

Of course, if you spent the entire day doing this, you will have very little time to do the things you usually do in a day, like draw comics and write blog posts. And you can come home and ask yourself how important it is that you honor your own commitment to yourself, particularly after you’ve spent the day explaining to your old friends why you quit your very lucrative job to start a project that ultimately pays about $1 a day. And you can realize that it’s really, really important. So you just do it.

Also today The Man was sad to be far away from Dragon and one of the Misseses Kitty had to go to the hospital but will hopefully be OK. So send love to The Man and Mrs. Kitty because Dragon cannot be there to take care of them.

Dragon Comics 65

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After years of in-depth study, field observation, and careful introspection, I have begun to unravel the mystery of humans.

By coincidence, I just saw this article, which highlights some issues that simply weren’t discussed when I was a kid, regarding the challenges suffered by the gifted child, the isolation and the expectation, ways in which pull-out education can fail them, and the connection with depression. In the typical public school classroom, and even, at times, in GATE classrooms, there is little room for a certain type of eccentricity, or behavior that crosses a particular line.

Of course, these days it seems like schools are much more accepting of students who are different, but in general, there’s still a sense that public school does have a tacit goal of enforcing conformity.

I don’t think that being smart/creative/different necessarily leads to depression. It’s probably more a combination of how it feels to see the world through outsider eyes and how those who can pass as “normal” (seriously, no one is normal; just some of us have fewer weirdnesses to hide and/or do a better job of suppressing our anomalies) respond to and treat those who are different. If our culture celebrated weirdness, this article wouldn’t have been written.

When I was as student at Antioch College, hotbed of radicalism, “You’re weird,” was offered as a compliment and received as such. The response to, “You’re weird,” was, “Thank you.” A lot of people blossomed and became themselves at that time, in that place. But most folks I know, then and now, suffered tremendously at the hand of the majority in the years before college and spent our young adulthood working through it. While discussing last week’s comics with a friend, she revealed a story about how a teacher responded when she complained of being bullied that frankly horrified me; regardless of what I went through, I never had a teacher deliberately compound my suffering, or appear to enjoy it. (Although I certainly felt bullied by certain teachers at certain times, this story was simply cruel, particularly as it occurred in response to a cry for help.)

When I look at the Girl, I see a human with perhaps more humanity than is usual, a child who instantly takes the hand of a developmentally disabled kid and asks them, “Do you want to play?” even if she’s well aware that the other child isn’t capable of speech.

Most of us lack that simple kind of compassion, one that not only tells us immediately how to respond to someone who is different, but allows us to do so without any thought of shame or confusion.

From what I read, and what I see in schools, our educational system is working toward becoming kinder and more compassionate. Maybe in 20 years kids won’t be collecting these kinds of stories, holding within them a casket of pain dulled only by emotional success in adulthood. Maybe we’ll all learn to be like the Girl, there for those who need us, so accepting of our differences that we hardly even see them.