Some people say that Hope was the cruelest of the demons that sprung from Pandora’s box, but without her we would never know how awful everything else is.
This situation really inspired a lot of introspection as well as a lot of retrospection on my part. The bullying I dealt with in middle school was fairly intense. There were kids whose taunting was basically nonstop in any situation where adults were unable to see–the bus, the locker room, the halls during passing periods–and subtler but still extant even in class. The kids who didn’t torment me still made their general dislike known. I mean, I was wildly unpopular. My nickname among all but the small handful of outcasts who would even talk to me like a human being was “Anti,” because they were all against me. The entire grade was anti-Monica.
Literally. Just swallow that for a moment.
People are awful.
But there’s usually hope.
We didn’t have #ItGetsBetter in the ’80s. For all we knew, it didn’t get better. But I had hope that it did. I centered that hope around the idea that one day the world would recognize how awesome I really was, and that hope developed around my writing. That was my escape, not only into the future as I imagined that destined recognition, but my escape from the present, as I plunged into these sublime other worlds I could create to avoid living in the ugly mundane world that hurt me.
The Fox and I sometimes talk about this the vast gulf between past and present. A talented kid enjoys the act of creation, takes pride in what she accomplishes, and sees perfection in everything she does. When you’re 12 years old and writing your way out of an almost intolerable life, you have great faith in the greatness of your work and its ability to float you over the rough times. When you’re 40 years old and have a master’s degree in your craft, you analyze everything. You critique your own work. You anticipate your critics. You take it apart and put it together backwards and agonize over single words and get your heart ripped out with every rejection. You recognize the potential to failure and the human frailty of art. But you never would have gotten there if you weren’t first a 12-year-old with an unquestioning belief in your own righteousness.
First you have a butterfly, but as soon as you start caring how others will respond, you get a snake. The more I ponder this, the more I seek out this childish and optimistic way of existing in the world.
Seriously, read M’naghten. It’s the only way to successfully plead the insanity defense. And read the DSM-V, so you can discuss antisocial personality disorder without resorting to false binaries.
I really like that butterfly, visually as well as psychologically. It’s based off one in the butterfly house at the Tucson Botanical Gardens, and there will be a more detailed version on a T-shirt, most definitely. The way Dragon creeps after it in panel 4 is pretty adorable as well. In real life, you can’t really follow a butterfly. You’re better off sitting very still and giving it the chance to to come to you. It helps if you wear bright colors.
That always reminds me of a coyote story, which explains why butterflies fly in such unpredictable zig zag patters. It’s because once, the butterflies played the same trick on coyote 3 times in a row without his noticing, and they can’t stop laughing about it to this day.
This butterfly could be on a mission though. It might have a purpose.
It’s merely a coincidence that this 40th Dragon Comic publishes on the day on which the world marks my 40th trip around the sun. I assure you that this has no bearing on my maturity level. I do like how this arc comes sort of full circle, from satisfaction with art, to dissatisfaction with art, to depression about art, to straight up depression, to comedy about depression, and back to satisfaction with art.
There’s something classically right about black humor (thus, Dragon holds a copy of Hamlet, one of the best examples of gallows humor, in panel 1) because as long as we can laugh at our terror, our pain, and our uncertainty about life, we know that these things have not yet consumed us. When Hamlet fools with Yorick’s skull in the graveyard, it gives him, at last, the presence of mind to consider his own inevitable death while stirring in him the sensations of life. Ophelia’s death, and the clowning around it, spurs him on to the death and violence of the play’s conclusion. We all die, so why not keep merry? Whether or not Hamlet avenges himself on Claudius, he and Claudius and everyone else will die, like his Yorick, like his father, like Ophelia. Love cannot save us from death, but humor can save us from fear.
I’m 40. I’m mortal. I’m going to die. But until then, I’m going to laugh. Even when I’m depressed, I’m going to laugh.