comic therapy

I hit a rough patch a couple of weeks ago with the graphic novel. There’s a serious frantic tooth-grinding energy that sometimes rises when I’m drawing. I think it got to be too much. It wore me out.

All my life, I’ve never had the stamina that I thought I should. Now that I’m over 50, I’m finally starting to get over being ashamed about my inability to ignore my body’s pleas for rest. I am built for sprints, or for walking, not marathons. And that’s okay.

So I’m training myself to draw in a healthy and sustainable way. For now, I’m doing single pages about nothing important. I set a timer. I’m allowed to draw for 20 minutes, and then I have to stop and stretch and have a sip (or several long gulps) of water. I find characters in photographs I’ve taken over the years. Often the words they say are just the lyrics to a song I hear while I’m working. Here is one of the silly things I’ve drawn recently:

Both of these characters are things I saw during a trip to Iceland, many years ago now. One is a piece of graffiti near a cemetery in Reykjavik. The other is an antique telephone that I saw in a museum. (The little guys at the top are me riffing on the graffiti).

a moment of silence

A moment of silence? Let’s try 50+ years.

Before I was born, I had a brother who left this world before he even came into it properly. He left a perfectly Larissa-sized hole in the world. He left a hole in my parents’ hearts that I could never fill.

I didn’t know about him until I was 11. It took another 40 years before I had the nerve to ask what his name was. My father couldn’t quite remember. He left a hole so big, it swallowed his name.

I struggle with talking about my history. Because it is so tangled up with the story of my parents’ lives. Because I sometimes hate that I can’t separate myself from them and their story. Because I know they would rather I didn’t talk about it. Because they never talk about it, and it makes me feel crazy.

I used to say that I couldn’t stop picking at these holes in the skin of my family. It felt like there was something wrong with me, or maybe there was something wrong with them. But I’m starting to see this pain as something that I have a mysterious drive to Be With. There’s nothing wrong with that. And the more I learn to Be With things, the more I see how many things I turn away from, and the more I can respect my parents’ turning away from what feels like Everything That’s Important.

People sometimes wonder why my work is so slow. This is why: I go to the studio and make one cardboard wing and pin it to a sculpture. And then I am shaking and I have to sit down and just breathe for a while.

And then I hang a plastic replica of a baby’s skull inside the sculpture’s chest. And I am shaking again, and I have to lie on the floor and resource my butt off. And that’s enough for one day.

When you carry a child in your body, it is literally part of you. Everybody knows that. But did you know that fetal cells can stay in a mother’s body for the rest of her life? Did you know that they can make their way into a younger sibling’s body?

I have smuggled my brother out of our mother’s house.

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

-e.e. cummings

page 4

In some ways, this page feels like a long time ago. I’ve moved on to another chapter – different characters, different textures, different self.

In other ways, it feels like exactly where I am right now – suspended between the past and the future, between the known and the unknown. Not much to do but breathe, float, dream, and panic. And keep drawing. Lather, rinse, repeat.

page 3

Let’s see if I can post directly from the iPad where I’m making these images! Usually I transfer the images to my laptop because I like to do my writing on a device with a real keyboard. But I’m in the studio today, and it’s raining. The laptop is at home. I’d have to get wet before I could use it.

(I love that it’s raining. We’ve been having a drought here, and it was a very hard summer for my garden.)

Sometimes I feel a pressure to get the whole story out. But it’s impossible. Stop. Rest. Kiss the ground. This book is not a sprint, or even a marathon. It’s a pilgrimage.

Drawing is seeing. Seeing what moves through the body, the mind, the soul. After I finished this page, I cried for the better part of an hour.

Writing is seeing too. I might cry again when I finish this post. Left Otter and Right Otter (yes, it’s true, I’m terrible at naming things): off they go, into separation.

page 1

There’s so much about the world that feels bad and uncomfortable right now. It feels a little wrong to be holed up in my studio making art. Sometimes it feels terribly wrong to be having fun. But it makes me feel less like clobbering my fellow humans when I have to go food shopping, so I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s worth doing.

I decided to do the graphic novel on an iPad, and there’s a big learning curve. It’s going very slowly. But I love being able to erase things cleanly without tearing the paper. I love having a permanent marker that never runs out of ink or makes a mess of my fingers. I love not doing the lettering by hand.

(Full disclosure: nobody paid me to say any of that. Nobody pays me for anything. I am quite possibly the least essential worker ever, at least by any of the usual metrics.)

Page 1 of all the newspapers today is about a certain public figure testing positive for coronavirus. Page 1 of this book is about something else entirely. Here is the news from my studio:

The weird fish is a reference to a little comic I made several years ago. It makes me ridiculously happy.

shh

I seem to be writing a graphic novel.  It’s a weird little love story.  I kind of don’t want to be writing it, and yet I can’t seem to stop.  It feels like chewing my way out of a cocoon.  My jaw hurts and my teeth are getting worn down.  Why not just stay inside?  It was pretty comfortable in here for a long time.  But I can’t stop.  Something wants out.

Here is part of a sketchy little cartoon that I made a few weeks ago, while I was storyboarding:

Nick Cave said:

…the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather Hate Songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our humanness and our God-given right to be sad…

Good grief, I’m sad.  And I notice that I don’t want to be sad, and large parts of me aren’t sad.  Maybe it’s more like I have a Big Sad in me.  And I try to paint over it with “at least” and “look at everything I learned,” but it’s still there.

Please don’t let me fuck this up by making it a Hate Story disguised as a love story.  I want it to be something trustworthy.

My brain often finds Bayo Akomolafe‘s written words inscrutable, but interesting things happen in my body when I listen to him.  “Yes,” says the body. “There’s no clarity in here.  There may never be clarity.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.”  The brain struggles to remember what he said.  “Shh,” says the body.

What does any of that have to do with the story I’m trying to tell?

Shh.  There’s no clarity.  It doesn’t matter.