Tag Archives: hope

The Fruit of the Pawpaw Tree

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I spent way too much time trying to make the baby donkey look cuter and fluffier.

I read that the pawpaw is the only tropical fruit native to Michigan. I don’t really understand how, because I lived in Michigan for 4 years and there is absolutely nothing tropical about it. From the beginning of September until the end of May, it’s cold, and I always assumed that tropical fruits came from the tropics. Maybe they mean that it’s the only tropical fruit that can survive living in Michigan. I could not thrive in that weather, so I moved to Arizona. I have never eaten a pawpaw, not this kind of pawpaw, anyway. Some people refer to papaya as pawpaw, but it’s a totally different fruit.

“The Fruit of the Pawpaw Tree” is the last story in the book (but the penultimate story of our BJC comic journey) and a lot of people list it as their favorite, because it’s the happiest, most optimistic story in the book. It’s like Susanna in this story redeems all the hurt and broken women in all the other stories. Sometimes life is hard, but sometimes if you’re hard, you get through it OK. Sometimes you close yourself off to certain emotions, but then one little thing gets through your armor, and you realize you don’t have to be closed off to everything, all the time. People totally do find love at 64.

 

The Weight of the World

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There’s no second punchline, because there is no first punchline. It’s not funny.

Sometimes, words just form in your head and you don’t have any choice but to write them down. I’ve gotten whole phaetons this way, whole pages at times, without any conscious thought. The other day, contemplating the violence, hatred, and pain that seems so prevalent in the 24-hours news cycle, these words fell out of my pen. Well, you can’t make a comic about that, says I, but in my experience, people love depressing comic. And this is the most depressing one I’ve ever written. So it should have at least as much staying power as the one about my post-traumatic stress disorder.

I don’t want to be the person whose privilege is to look away, but the subject matter of this comic was hard to draw. The trash picking kids in India for the first panel were the worst. After I drew it, I went back and erased about 10 pixels around each of them, because I couldn’t stand to have the drawing of trash touching these cartoon kids. The dead African men were a little easier, because they were already dead at least, and not likely to suffer anymore. And then the Syrian refugees…all those Syrian refugees. So many homeless babies. What right do I have to live in a house and eat food, let alone draw comics and write speculative fiction novels, when people are in so much pain all the time?

Meanwhile, so many people around me are going through personal turmoil, or working hard for causes like trans rights and Black Lives Matter, or just trying to overcome heartbreak or pay their bills or not be hurt by strangers on the internet or toxic family or bad relationships.

But that’s the thing about myself I’ve known for a long time. At heart, I am a cynic, full of darkness and nihilism, but I found long ago that the only way for me to exist was to wear a cloak of optimism, to cover myself in rainbows and announce that everything was going to be all right. I wouldn’t be here now, writing this blog, if I hadn’t done this. People freak the hell out if ever they see what’s under the cloak. They don’t like to hear me tell the truth.

This is a true story: in 1997, I was driving from Yellow Springs, Ohio, to Deerfield, Illinois. I had lived in Yellow Springs off and on for 5 years, and had just left behind me 2 of my best friends, the guy depicted as the Bear in Dragon Comics, and another guy who’s too complex to be summed up as 1 single animal, but I think he would be happy if I called him the Faun. They hugged me goodbye as I hopped into my moving van, and as soon as I pulled out of sight, I burst into tears. I was driving toward something good, but I felt such grief over what I was leaving behind.

The road merged onto the highway, Interstate 94, a road I knew well and had driven many times, a road that would take me right to my parents’ house. I looked up and saw the sky above the tree line, and a brilliant circumhorizontal arc splayed out across the clouds. This awakened in me the memory of a dream I had had about 15 years earlier, as a very little girl, about a goddess appearing to a group of children in a rainbow made of clouds, and instantly, I stopped crying. It was as if the universe had opened up to me, or at least one single page of it. This sign was telling me my purpose in life, why I had been left on this planet that always seemed so alien and hostile to me. I was here to serve as an avatar of Aphrodite: the acolyte of love and beauty.

This answered a lot of questions for me, specifically about why I was so unhappy all the time. Depression: anger turned inward. Because I was here with a very specific job to do, but it seemed as if the legions working against my cause were so much more numerous. Serving love and beauty is easy in paradise, but it’s a great and terrible work in a world where so many serve hatred and ugliness. I was angry because the opposition was so great, and I had no choice in my work.

Anyway, the world is terrible. And I keep drawing comics.

Dragon Comics 134

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The moral of the story is: do or do not. There is no try. 

Comic finished 7 hours early! Although I did start this one over a week ago. But considering that I spent 3 days being obsessed with my web traffic and sad about bigotry, I’m plenty pleased. It was super motivating that the Fox suggested he come over for a writing party. It’s a thing he does: a bunch of writers sit around and write. I haven’t been to one in a while. So I had to finish this comic so I could actually write at this writing party. Then the Fox cancelled on me. Fine! I’ll have my own writing party! With hookers and blackjack! Well, maybe not those things. But things that are just as fun but less likely to give you a disease or get you arrested or clean out your bank account.

When you start out in an artistic pursuit, you do it out of joy. And probably for a long time you do it for yourself and it’s completely joyful. And then sooner or later, if you want to do it at a higher level, you’ll show it to someone who is more vested in honesty and craft than loving you. That someone will offer criticism, and you will start to see the imperfections. But if you’re an artist, you keep honing your craft. Maybe you take classes. You keep getting better and better. If you take a lot of classes–perhaps if you become, technically, academically, a “master” of your art–you get the opposite of beginner mind. You approach everything critically. You accept nothing with joy. You’re 100 times better than you were when you started, maybe 1000 times. But you can only see the flaws.

That happened. I thought about this book I wanted to write for more than 6 months. Close to a year, I guess. And I got really worked up about it. And I put all these conditions on myself, and finally I allowed it to start. And I wrote a pretty pleasing prologue. And then I said, OK, where does this story start? And I started it with the main character getting off an airplane to start his new life and meeting some characters who would figure prominently in the first part of the story.

But then master mind kicked in. No, no, no. That’s prosaic. This meeting has nothing to do with the story; these characters are of minor importance. The story starts with something important to the story, with major symbols and recurrent themes and a focus on tone. Meaning I wrote an entire chapter I will now throw out. Not an auspicious beginning. But possibly better than writing for a year and then having someone better tell you, “No, no, no, that’s prosaic and doesn’t advance the narrative.” Actually, I know what I’m doing.

The point of this comic, though, is that none of that matters. What matters is that you sit down and do the thing. And then you do it again and again and again until the thing is done.

Dragon Comics 132

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Once, great flocks of origami cranes roamed North America, often in such great numbers that they blotted out the sun overhead, bringing darkness to the day.

Although I’m still hacking up both lungs and weak as whey, today I budgeted my time better and managed to accomplish all my many important tasks before midnight. The Vampire Bat, who is the last person in the world I expect motherly advice from, told me that I better slow down and take care of myself or it would get worse (#mom) but things are just too busy to slow down.

Tomorrow I’ll only do writing tasks and not strain anything. Maybe consume that soup and hot tea that would have served me best 3 days ago.

Maybe fold a couple paper cranes.

Dragon Comics 131

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Magic is where you make it. 

I was reading 2 articles in The Atlantic today. Once was about the role that luck plays in the course of most successful people’s lives, and the fact that the more anyone achieves, the less they dwell on the fortunate circumstances that helped them reach that point. The other was about determination, and the way people tend to underestimate the value of plugging along doggedly, even in the face of failure or potential humiliation.

In other words, work hard and count your blessings.

For a while, I used to write gratitudes: pick 3 things daily for which to be consciously grateful. It really does help.

To start at the beginning, I am grateful that I (1) had the incredible good luck to be born into prosperity. Almost anyone born in America has an advantage, and my advantage was greater than most people’s, even in this country. For example, if we’re counting advantages that have a huge bearing on the relative difficulty of ones life, we should offer gratitude for (2) being born with light skin. It’s such an arbitrary way to judge human potential, but people do judge, and succeeding in America is always easier the less melanin you display in your complexion. And if that isn’t weird enough, I’ll also feel grateful for that fact that I can (3) pass as cis-bodied and heteronormative with minimal effort and only a moderate degree of emotional distress. Some people die because they’re unable to do that. So, I’m truly incredibly fortunate. Probably in the top 10% of fortunate people.

It’s a lot of luck for one dragon to have. So all that’s left is to work hard.

Dragon Comics 130

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If Hope lives inside me, why don’t I feel butterflies in my stomach.

Fast and dirty: woke up in San Francisco, drove to Oakland, flew to Mesa, drove to Tucson, put The Man to Bed only a little while after his usual bedtime, and knocked this little bit of silliness out a mere 30 minutes past schedule. Rough and patchy, just like my brain when I travel for any purpose other than relaxation or creation. This dragon is wrung out, though. Breakneck week. Good to be home.

Was thinking about the Blue Morpho all week, and then my brother took me to Paxton Gate, which is like a room out of my dreams, or heaven, and they had a bunch of blue morphos there. I didn’t even bother to ask how much. But it strengthened my resolve. More comics. We also peeked into 826 Valencia. I’m not sure my brother knew what it really was–he kept calling it “the pirate store” when he talked about taking us there–but as soon as we walked in I realized where he had brought us. So that was fun. There were a lot of inspiring moments this week.

But, overall, tiring.

Good at Heart

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You can tell which letter I did yesterday and which I did today, because yesterday’s letter are all too skinny. Still, a cool effect.

Some bulletins boards I make for the kids, but every once in a while I make one strictly for me. Hopefully the kids enjoy and get something out of it, but I needed the reminder. The lift.

The quote, of course, is from Anne Frank, written not terribly long before she and her family were betrayed to the Nazis and sent to the death camp where all of them, except for Anne’s father, died. About 70 MILLION people died in World War II. But Anne was right. In general, people are really good at heart. Just sometimes, they fall for the darkness. The darkness seems to be cyclical. And catching.

The political situation in America right now is terrifying to me. The darkness has a platform and a voice, but I have to believe that the light always prevails. Still, I cried in the car going home after I made this bulletin board, contemplating all the commonplace hatred that has bubbled to the surface of society in the last 20 years.

The butterflies refer to the poem “I Never Saw another Butterfly,” and the eponymous book in which it appears. It’s a collection of poetry written by Jewish children who were interned at Terezín, the Nazi’s “model” camp outside of Prague. While Terezín wasn’t a death camp, over 90% of the Jews who went sent there did not survive the war. The single yellow leaf is a reference to Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, a book that should be required reading for human beings. It’s partially a Holocaust narrative, but it’s also a manual for life, written in a time of death: a light in a the darkness.

The moral of the story is that you have to remain hopeful, or the darkness will swallow you.