Tag Archives: Art

Eleanor Davis on “How to Be Happy,” a better “everyman,” and diversity in art

“Maybe when you have enough to be comfortable and you are still unhappy — that’s when you start thinking about gluten, and new-age workshops, and going ‘back to nature.'”

The preceding quote is from the following interview with cartoonist and writer Eleanor Davis, whose new collection of comics, “How to Be Happy,” is a fascinating exploration of people grappling with emptiness and a sense of self, in varied art and narrative styles.            

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 There’s only a few romantic pairings in “How To Be Happy,” but it seems like the least hollow one is because the pair share the same delusion.  

Which do you consider the least hollow one? My favorite romantic pairing is Jennifer and Matt in “No Tears, No Sorrow,” although that wasn’t really implied. I just had it in the back of my mind that they ought to fall in love.

My impression thus far of the least hollow relationship — or rather, least hollow interpersonal relationship — had been between Adam and Eve in “In Our Eden.”

Oh yeah! The Adam and Eve in “In Our Eden” is a pretty interesting and complex relationship. I don’t think it’s a very good one, though; Adam doesn’t ever ask Eve what she wants or needs, he just assumes she will go along with him, and she does. I don’t know if that’s because she shares his utopian beliefs or because she loves him, but in some way love is a utopian belief, I guess.

I feel like there’s this grappling with specific upwardly-mobile approaches to happiness, in searches for authenticity or something purer or the new mantra/motions of happiness. Do you feel that maybe this particular demographic has an obsession with “happiness”?

Well, if you’re struggling just to make ends meet, maybe your focus is going to be on making rent and paying your doctor bills, and that is plenty to be unhappy about. Maybe when you have enough to be comfortable and you are still unhappy —  that’s when you start thinking about gluten, and new-age workshops, and going “back to nature.” The kind of unhappiness I write about is real, but it’s also a luxury, I think.

 Maybe when you have enough to be comfortable and you are still unhappy, that’s when you start thinking about gluten, and new-age workshops, and going “back to nature.” The kind of unhappiness I write about is real, but it’s also a luxury, I think.

After I re-read it a few times, that part with that woman bawling, essentially about feeling the weight of a very disconnected world, only to be told about going gluten-free is kind of strangely hilarious.    

Thank you. I hope there is a combination of empathy and humor in my stuff.

There’s some interesting explorations of strength in “How To Be Happy” — the strong man with the deep cut who pretends like it’s nothing; and then there’s the sort of Hercules figure, the collection’s most jubilant figure. Does this rare example of happiness come from him being strong for others?

Oh man! I feel kind of weird about that story. It’s often cited as the single happy story in the book, while I think of it as one of the saddest ones. In that story, “Make Yourself Strong,” the muscle-man’s strength seems infinite; it’s a pleasure to watch him. But no strength is really infinite. A story about a superhero is only happy until the hero comes up against something he can’t overcome. In my mind, writing it, the strong man wasn’t able to lift that final toppling building. The building crushed him, and the last three images of the rescued people and the strong man’s laughing face are in some sort of happy afterlife.

Graphic novels, literary or otherwise, don’t tend to have a lot of diversity in story form or especially on a production level. Most are generally seen as being universal in nature, but how universal do you think something is that lacks awareness about privilege and the lack there of? I feel like what makes “How To Be Happy” universal to me is the bawling woman acknowledging a sense of disconnection with the world that speaks to, among many things, that divide.

This is an excellent question. It’s one I grapple with a lot.

When I was a young artist, a lot of my fictional stories were about men. I was trying to speak my own truth, but I didn’t feel that everyone could relate to a female protagonist. Especially in the simple allegorical stories I was telling, I thought a male character could be an “everyman” in a way that a female could not. In art, women are wives or mothers or objects for sex. Women are bitches or goddesses or creepy old crones. Men are, simply, people.

As I gotten older I’ve realized how cowardly it was for me to go along with this idea. I’ve realized the harm it causes. I have been fighting the misogyny in my own heart and I’ve rejected the idea that the only everyman is male. More of my characters are women now. I am more willing to be a woman myself.

I have been fighting the misogyny in my own heart and I’ve rejected the idea that the only everyman is male.

Rejecting sexism in art has also made me more aware of the overwhelming whiteness in art. This problem is huge and it has terrible consequences. Media is the mirror a society sees itself in, and the majority of society is either not reflected, or is transformed into something warped and flat and hideous. This is harmful for the people who are under- and misrepresented, and it’s harmful for the people who think they know their neighbors and countrymen from these false representations. It’s also bad art. Art is a pursuit of truth. The truth is not white, and it’s not male.

 Rejecting sexism in art has also made me more aware of the overwhelming whiteness in art. This problem is huge and it has terrible consequences.

So we have this terrible situation, which is that we are consuming a huge amount of bad and even harmful art, and as artists, we are producing it.

My own comics are very white, and that’s something I’d like to change. I’m also very white, though, so I want to tread carefully. I don’t want to take one of my typical stories with a thinly veiled stand-in for me and just color the character’s skin cocoa and give myself a pat on the back. Cultural appropriation is also something I worry about. And I worry about speaking for other groups without having their lived experience. But in this case I think I, and other artists like me, need to risk f***ing up by trying their best to show diversity, rather than continuing to tell this easy White lie.

So we can try to help the terrible situation we’re in by encouraging existing artists to bring more diversity into their own art. I think that’s great. It is a giant step in the right direction and it could have a lasting impact. However, it’s not enough. For art to be true, not only the characters need to be diverse, the artists making it need to be diverse too.

 For art to be true, not only the characters need to be diverse, the artists making it need to be diverse too.

Making art is often a privilege. Making art takes time; becoming a really good artist takes an incredible amount of time. Time is expensive. Formal art training is insanely expensive. Most art jobs are vastly underpaid. All these factors make becoming an artist an iffy financial investment, and making iffy financial investments is easier if you’re in a position of privilege. And, of course, jobs themselves are often more readily available to people of privilege. Consumers, art directors, and clients are often unwilling to hire artists whose voices are different from the ones they are used to.

Here is what I think can be done. As consumers, we can proactively support diverse creators. As artists we can reach out to diverse creators within our own communities. As artists we can refuse to do low paying or unpaid work which devalues all art and makes art a “hobby job.” We can donate to organizations that support diversity in art, like We Need Diverse Books. We can fight for better funding for the arts in public schools, and for more grants for the arts in higher education. And we can fight for economic justice and equality for all people; for our own sakes, for the sake of our world, for the sake of art, and for the sake of truth.

Check out “How to Be Happy” at http://www.fantagraphics.com/browse-shop/how-to-be-happy-pre-order–5.html. For more on Eleanor Davis, visit her site — http://doing-fine.com.

Much thanks to Eleanor for her time.

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Veronica Williams on writing poetry, being twentysomething, and Buddhist perspectives

Veronica Williams is a poet whose collection of work, FOUR YEARS (Part One), explores an existence that sometimes feels defined by limitations. She doesn’t pretend like it’s not often a shallow world. Her occasionally mature poetry is lyrical and contemplative. Veronica discusses her approach to writing and her particular underdog perspective in the following interview — right after a bit of her poetry:

If I play the damsel,
I am weak
The women will scorn me.
If I play the iron flower,
The men sorely resent me.
I am too much
If I go myself.
Excerpt from Veronica William’s “# 4

How would you describe your approach to writing?

My approach is all over the place. Over the years, my regimen has evolved from a prim, proper, streamline affair to “eh, whenever the wind blows me in that direction.” I’m very last minute for things like blog entries and school work. I’m spur of the moment with my poetry. That’s the only part of me that isn’t programmed on a schedule. It’s more like “I’m feeling these words,” and there’s a pressure in my fingers to get it off my chest. My muse is pretty cruel about this, getting at me when I’m far away from my computer, or I can’t quickly open up NotePad or Word.

I pretty much stopped trying to approach creation like a tactical process. Rushed pieces are always the ones I regret. Although I end up being strapped for time with items that have a due date, I feel like “Veronica has spoken” when I approach the task at hand. My approach depends on my mood. I always ask myself what (if anything) I want to work on to exercise my brain, my craft, and my dusty writing folder. (There’s a lot of old material in there that needs to be finished!)

When I’m in the writing zone, I approach it based on emotions. Even reports have some emotional drive. Poetry becomes all those jumbled thoughts I’ve never dared to say to people. In some cases, myself. I admit things about long-lost lovers, family, and fears in my head. I reassure myself, I examine myself, sometimes I get mad at myself through the stanzas. I also think of other people. I’ve learned so much about the 20’s stage that has changed everything I THOUGHT I knew. I spend a lot of time on Tumblr, and I absorb the things my friends talk about. That inspiration helped me find a new approach–exiting from self-centered creations to “messages for everyone.”

In FOUR YEARS, there’s an ongoing exploration of where your persona fits into the world. You write about ‘fate,’ a little bit, which seems to mean established hierarchies. Do you think that’s a part of life that’s too often disregarded?

I think that it’s something that most people are very aware of. Some, more than others. I think we all have our moments where we wonder where we fit in, IF we fit in, and how we can maintain that establishment. I personally have never felt like I fit in anywhere. So, during that time period (pre-poetry book), there were things I got tired of writing about over and over in online blogs.

I was very unhappy with how my early to mid 20s were panning out! Oh goodness! I had all these ideas of what it meant to be in my 20s, and when none of these things were happening, I started to question myself heavily through my work. I began to feel like fate was really playing a trick on me, keeping me at the “underling” level on purpose.

I don’t think it’s a part of life that’s disregarded. Probably not constantly discussed. I especially think that there’s turning points in one’s life where people–even those who are established–ask themselves where and how they fit in the world. It’s a moment that may spark movement to change! It becomes especially true once you’re officially out of the teen years, and you’re out in the world establishing who you are as a person. It’s not always a smooth transition.

Can people really know how they fit into the world if they don’t know about their relative privileges or lack thereof? Neither of these things are natural so much as they’re crafted, and letting either define one’s life seems to be the only kind of fate I can think of.

OOOH! Such a deep question! So many layers to unpack! For the most part, I think people have a general idea. Once we become “established,” sometimes it might feel so strong that one would say “this is it.” When life happens, sometimes people are taken out of where they’ve been fitting in for years…sometimes decades! So, it’s probably knowing how to fit in that moment, which isn’t always promised. Indeed, neither of the circumstances of fitting in are natural.

This reminds me of how my religion sees karma! As it stands, there’s the non-Nichrien Buddhist way, which considers karma to be a bad thing. Aka “karma is a b!” It’s seen as something coming to “get” you. In Nichiren Buddhism, I learned not so long ago (like, literally a month ago at a meeting!) karma works in terms of “good outcome,” “bad outcome,” and “neutral.” The thing is, it goes either way and pretty much “just is,” but in our lives, we have the power to work around human suffering and become better people. We can learn from the bad things and keep the train moving.

For some of us underdogs, I think that we may stare at greener pastures, thinking all is well. Sometimes, it is. However, it doesn’t mean it is for us. There are things that person has done to get in that place. There are things we can do, but it doesn’t mean we’ll get the same result. When I looked back at the earlier poems, I began to realize this. My path was different from all my friends and classmates. My path was my very own, and I had journeys to make before I could have the love, the family, or the career I wanted. But I was frustrated! So back then, I wasn’t considering the fact that “fitting in” didn’t work in the perfect way it seemed to be for everyone else. There was one thing missing: I wasn’t putting myself out there. Or, when I did and got hurt or rejected, I decided NOT to dip a toe for a long time.

For some of us underdogs, I think that we may stare at greener pastures, thinking all is well. Sometimes, it is. However, it doesn’t mean it is for us. There are things that person has done to get in that place. There are things we can do, but it doesn’t mean we’ll get the same result.

Some things we will lack. Some things we are blessed to the rim with and do not even know it. It’s about as unnatural as the day is long, and it takes a long time of living, learning, and re-learning. Even my 61 year-old father is realizing this!

As someone who thinks FOUR YEARS is largely a quality collection of poems, I have to ask if you thought there were any other venues for it besides self-publishing.

I have to be 100% honest; I was not ready for the rejection of the traditional route. My goal was to get the first half of my poetry book I’d been carrying for years out into the open. This was a writing challenge. I wanted to prove to myself I could devote some time to what I loved. Despite all the “nay, nay” opinions, I did it anyway. I think that I let the work of other writers get to me. Rejection is a part of the process. So is critique! I made the mistake of comparing myself to other writers. So, as I doubted myself, I didn’t feel like I was ready to submit. I had a moment, made a choice, but gained confidence in the process!

I wanted to prove to myself I could devote some time to what I loved. Despite all the “nay, nay” opinions, I did it anyway.

Once I’m done with part two of the collection, I will bite the bullet and submit my next collection of poems to a non-self-publishing venue. Self-publishing was an interesting experience, but it fried my brain a little bit. I did a LOT of blind clicking in the beginning, constantly going back and revising all on my own. Once I got the preview copy in my hands, things changed. I was very, very proud of myself for completing part of a major project. It was, in fact, the very first piece of work that was technically published outside a digital form. It was a great feeling. I’d LOVE to re-live that moment with a publishing team, however!

You mentioned Buddhism earlier.   Why do you think it’s appealed to you?

Nichiren Buddhism was something my next door neighbor introduced me to after seeing me in the yard, burying my parakeet Ganymede. From then on, I attended meetings and went to the SGI Center here in Chicago, where I just learned and absorbed SO SO MUCH. It appealed to me because it spoke directly to the issues I’d been writing about in my book. Existing, improvement, finding myself. It also spoke on how having faith and being active in changing your life (as well as those around you) was an important part of being human.

The themes of finding courage, looking within–they hit home. I even had a chance to share my poetry at one of the meetings, which made a few members cry! It was really something. It introduced me to a new way of thinking and seeing life. While things aren’t perfect, solved, and healed, I feel like they’ve got the great potential to keep changing day by day. Buddhism opened my eyes to the fact that I’m here for a reason. My existence in this world means something!

I think it appealed to me most because it spoke to my questions about fate. I began (still learning) to learn and understand that while suffering is indeed a part of life, making changes and having faith are very important. Also, having love and concern for others’ happiness. To make a long story short, it just opened floodgates of understanding on all the questions I’d been asking myself since I was a teenager.

 Thanks to Veronica for her time.  You can follow her on twitter @MzWilliams08 and find out more about her work here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BI2QPLC

and here:

https://www.createspace.com/4116440

and last (but not least), Veronica’s poetry blog:

http://peridotlyrics.blogspot.com/

divergence from dreams

If you’re watching the “Divergent” trailers and you replace the word “divergent” with “special,” the appeal of every big YA property is pretty much summed up — though it’s unusual that the metaphor is so thinly veiled. And now that I have your attention(ha!), I can write about something that matters more to me.

Most people have dreams, and while some people never work at actualizing them in any long-term sense, it’s surreal when you see people who do give up on them. I feel cheap for even writing “dreams,” with shows like “The X-Factor” having made that term even glossier than the old Disney trope. Those dreams seem to require some combination of luck and specialness, or lucky specialness. We all have them at some point, but the more realistic kind of dream, in which perseverance and skill can get us to some better way of living, often requires a bit more luck than we’d like to think.

Never mind that some dreams depend on how much you can fit into some template, and that, if you don’t, you have to reconcile with such. It’s hard to time to develop much of anything without some kind of inspiration; it’s a luxury, for sure, and the conditions that are conducive to such are more support than some people have.  I suppose sometimes working at one’s dreams feels like you’re one of those donkeys with a carrot on a stick extended just beyond your reach — except you’re a bit more self-aware.

It’s hard to be self-actualized when the world doesn’t really work with you a whole lot. I once listened to someone talk about the art that people who had (and often were considered) nothing created, in contrast to privileged calls for a need for this or that to properly do anything. The point was clear, but there was no consideration for just how more appreciated the privileged perspective would obviously be on their own venues. And the new venues — they’re often a popularity contest.

It’s unfair that you have to work with a world that often doesn’t work with you, but the gap that you fill as you do so makes for something with a lot more substance/heart. I’m not going to conclude this with some super optimistic bent, because it can be harder to maintain any real sense of heart when you’re not privileged. (And yet, often the privileged just manage a semblance.) All I can do is tip my hat that you keep making the world a better place to be, working at your dreams or not, just by being in it.  I hope that you can keep producing art, though, and that we find ourselves laughing at those “Divergent” commercials and then laughing a little harder when we see that someone else gets how funny they can be.

Last four endings selected in contest to finish Roger Ebert’s short story

Among the last four entries selected by rogerebert.com as part of their contest to complete a short story by Roger, check out my own. And then check out the other three (’cause reading is fundamental) and vote for the one you like best!

How my ending begins:

“A failed Mozart?” Alex said. “That sounds like an empiricist’s nightmare. Throw him and his star-speckled wig on your science-fiction cover, Mason.”

Mason smiled a little. “Why not? Maybe all the space girl needs is an intermediator, someone who speaks the molecules’ language.”

As the waitress brought Regan the last piece of apple crumb cake, Regan tapped the bridge of her nose. “Thank you! I mean, mostly the waitress and Claire, of course. No offense to you space boys.”

“None taken,” Elliot said.

Find all of the entries here:

http://www.rogerebert.com/chazs-blog/the-thinking-molecules-of-titan-the-final-batch-of-four-endings

Gotta note: the great illustration above is by Krishna Bala Shenoi and was done for my own little ending (He’s done some really cool stuff for each of the others selected, as well).

That’s all for now. Have a good day and/or night, folks.

Near and Far (Part 3 of 3)

“Flowers!  Flowers!  Get your flowers here!  Lots of shapes, colors and sizes.  Just like you say you like the folks in your neighborhoods!”

Maybe that wasn’t the best-ever approach to selling flowers, but with most people in their cars ignoring me altogether, it seemed as reasonable an approach as smiling.   That was the way I’d started out, if only because Julia and Tom had taken out all the yellow flowers out that I was allergic to.

When the traffic light turned orange, back to the curb with the bouquets I went.  Leaning on the shopping cart packed with floral arrangements, I watched the cars as they zoomed to what was unofficially the good side of town–their headlights freshly lit against the setting sun.  It was in this stream, Julia had said, that Tom had the best luck selling flowers.  Since he couldn’t stand to do it anymore, what exactly did luck amount to here?  Should I hope a rich old guy who’d cheated on his latest wife would pass by in his limousine all flower-crazed?

“You there!” he’d say.  “I’ll take the whole cart-full.”

“Sir,” I would say, “I can’t let a man of your stature buy these–not without an extremely significant mark-up in price.”

“I’m sure they’re worth every penny.  What they lack in a small but artful card attached, they make up for in being sold by a person of color on the street.  My wife loves that kind of thing!”

“Then you got it!” I’d say, able to head to the bake-off and see my friends win in one fell swoop.

The walk signal went up, and grinning at my daydream, I towed the yellow line as traffic crawled to a halt.  And then, after another sale-free round that I’d managed to smile through, I did it again sans smiling.  A guy in a green car hailed me over and bought some roses.  He was among a swath of passengers big on rolling their windows up as I got nearer.  But, after the woman in the car behind him watched as he rolled his window down to pay for the flowers, she raised a finger and bought a mixed bouquet.

When the sun went down, I should have headed for the pie contest, but in two hours, all I had sold was four bouquets (at five dollars).  Only the wind had picked up in the last half-hour.  I wanted to do just a little bit more, so as the traffic light turned red, I went out between the cars a little further–out of view of the cart.  There was no real logic to this, except some faint hope that maybe the people in the middle and back of traffic were in less of a rush to get to bars and restaurants in pretty neighborhoods.  Maybe they’d see me a bit more, even if they had little use for flowers.

“Flowers!  Flowers!  Get your flowers here!”

On the way back to the curb, the light turned green.  The oncoming cars were sparse, and I was surprised to feel the sense of panic that I did.  Maybe being hit by a car still affected me after all.

On my right, someone honked and I waited where I was for the car to pass.  But it didn’t.  Soon, a black compact pulled up next to me, and Jean, of the flower-planting lot, was in the passenger seat.  In the driver seat there was a husky, dark-haired guy.  The look he gave me suggested the distinct possibility that he hated my guts.

“I thought that was you,” Jean said, leaning over.  “So you hate flowers, and you sell them?”

“Yeah, I’m complicated like that.” I nodded at the driver.  “You want to buy some flowers for your lady friend, buddy?  Or, no wait, that’s not fair.”  I looked at Jean.  “Do you want to buy some flowers for him?”

The driver stared ahead.

“Be nice,” Jean told him.  I looked past her window to the cart with the rest of flowers, which someone in a gray cap was pushing it away.

“Shit!”

I ran for the curb.  In the next lane of the street, I held one of the bouquets up to signal a brown car to stop.  As it honked and braked in short sputters, the guy in the gray cap grabbed a bushel of bouquets from inside the cart — then he pushed the cart rolling toward the street.  I scrambled and tripped over the curb to secure it.

When I looked up, the man in the gray cap was dashing around a corner with a few bouquets.  With the two bouquets he’d dropped on the ground nearby, at least there was a bit less for me to have to re-invest in flowers.

Horns honked back in the street.  With a small queue of cars behind them, Jean and her driver were headed off in the direction of lots of restaurants, which was fitting, since they already kind of got to see a show.

I went to pick up the dropped bouquets before the wind caught in the wrapped paper and pulled them further away.

***

Before I joined my friends, I was supposed to leave the flower cart back at Julia’s place.  But that would have made me even later, so I took it with me.  It wasn’t all that different from pushing the mail cart at work.

The venue for the pie contest was the lobby of an art gallery.  There were a dozen people at the entrance, and the wind was gusting so that I and the remaining flowers in the cart breathed in their mixture of cigarette and choco-cigar smoke.  I stifled a cough and asked:

“I don’t suppose any of you want to buy any flowers?”

Eyebrows raised, but only a brown-skinned guy with a goatee and a faint accent answered.  “Nah, man,” he said.  “We’re good.”

I had to go in back-first to pull the cart in, and the wind pulled away the petals of some of the bouquets.  As I stepped inside the last possible ‘best pie’ was being tasted, and it wasn’t Limon’s and Julia’s.  Over at the top part of a three table set-up, a group of people swarmed around a pretty woman with an asymmetrical haircut.  Before I could turn —

“Hey,” a man in a leather jacket said, approaching me.  “You can’t bring that in here.  Nobody wants to buy any flowers.”

“I’m sorry.  I’m not actually trying to sell any.  Just here to see my friends.  Look, I’ll just tuck it right here by the door.”

The guy noticed we were starting to get the attention of the little crowd up front.   “How about you tuck it outside?”

“It’s pretty windy out there.  Some of them would blow away.”

“I really don’t care, guy.”

“Well, you should.  Check it.  Without flowers, you’ve got no charm at all.  But if I were to hand you one of these, well . . . It’s like night and day.”

The guy blinked then grabbed the other end of the cart.

“All right . . . I’ll take it out.”

Nodding, he didn’t let go until I was maneuvering the cart back through the door.  It was while I was doing this that Tom and Limon came over to us.

“Hey, Roger,” Tom said.  “I’ll put the rest of the flowers in my car.  They’re going to announce the winner soon, anyway.”

As Tom took the cart out, Limon shook his head.

“How is it that you can have that . . .”  Limon stopped to nod at a sculpture of a melted man in a corner.  “But you can’t let this cart stay up in here for five minutes?”

“I’m not going to try to explain how art works,” the man in the leather jacket said, then he went off to a small, crowded table where there was soda and wine.

Through the window, I could see traces of petals zipping through the air as Tom pushed the cart to his car.  Limon and I reluctantly joined Julia on the other side of the room, where there was a piece of pie waiting for me.  Most of our pie — a blueberry number — was already gone.  As we walked through the room, I noticed this wasn’t the case with most of the other pies.

Julia hit me lightly on my arm.  “Why’d you bring the cart?”

“I was trying to wait out some more buyers.  If I didn’t bring it, I would have missed this completely.”

My stomach was growling, but with Tom outside, it didn’t feel right eating the slice of pie with my name on it.  Limon, Julia and I simply waited for the contest results.

We got second place, behind a man who won with two apples and a banana in a pie crust.  Whip cream kept the smile in place.

“Hell no,” Limon said.  “They ate more out of our pie than anybody else’s, and we still get second place?”

“Well,” I said, “at least there’s a little left for later.”

Limon shot me a look.  “I don’t know why I thought you might actually know how I feel these days.  Except for trying to get out of the mail room, you pretty much gave up.”

“Whoa, I did take it seriously.  You’re kidding yourself if you think winning this wouldn’t have made you feel better about Nellie.”

Limon looked to Julia.  “Aight … Tell Tom I’m going to walk home.”

Julia stopped me from going after him.  “Just let him go,” she said.  “Second place isn’t so bad for somebody else’s contest, right?”

***

Years after my own heart was broken, I was walking into the street when a van backed into me and then took off.  I landed on the ground, just under the bumper of a light blue car.  All the air had been knocked out of me.  While the sidewalk was busy enough, no one noticed me.  I thought I’d lay there in pain forever until this brown-skinned woman found me.  She hung up on whoever she was talking to on the phone, and called the paramedics.  In and of itself, this seemed like a miracle, but she stayed long enough for me to be able to talk through the pain.  I remember that she lit up a little every time I spoke, though I can’t remember what I said–just her responses.  She was intelligent and nice and warm–and pretty to me.  And I couldn’t imagine, for the life of me, her being in tune with what already seemed so mapped out in life.

I saw her one more time, when I wasn’t so physically broken, and she raised her head, all excited to see me.  But it was like I was stuck in a tunnel of myself.  I couldn’t get out to say, “Hey.”

***

Tom managed to squeeze the cart in the backseat, and I sat next to it for the drive homeward.  Up front, Julia and Tom were both quiet.  I’d wanted to give them a trifle of a good night, but I’d come up short.  The wind howling around the car seemed to say as much.

I didn’t have anything to add until Tom mentioned something about a lot of bees.

“Those aren’t bees,” Julia said behind the wheel.  “They’re, um . . . petals.”

I squinted through the windshield.  “Yeah, I’d go with petals.”

“Huh,” Tom said.  “You know, they’re kind of nice not all bundled together, aren’t they?”

We all laughed, and I knew that without a night out trying to sell flowers to people in the street, those words wouldn’t have wrung a bit of humor for me.  When Julia put the windshield wiper on, we laughed again.  But under the ginger streetlight, the windswept swarm of petals made for something unique to pass through, and the ensuing quiet was not gloomy like the one before.  It was nice enough that I wished I wasn’t a third wheel.  Then it felt like I’d wandered into the path of the blunt side of a van all over again.

“Where do you think they’re coming from?” Julia said.

“Some kind of magic hippie,” Tom offered.

“I hope not,” I said.  “Pacifist that I am, I’d have to kick his ass before he started doing complicated handshakes with all the guys on corner-duty.”

When Julia turned on a street where there was one side of the local lot, I sat up.  The gusts of petals were coming from the garden there.  As Julia dropped me off near the garden, I sneezed as soon as the door to the car was open.  I told Tom and Julia they didn’t have to stay, but they seemed to be enjoying the site of all those petals swirling upward into the night sky.  Me, I sneezed again as I hopped over the fence inside.

With everything that used to be here cleared away, I spotted Limon immediately.  By the handful, he was tearing the yellow flowers away like they were weeds.

“Rodge,” Limon said, “you’re just in time to help me clear this crap out of here.”

My eyes watering up from the pollen, I shook my head.  “Is this really going to make you feel better?”

“It is,”  Limon said, yanking away another group of yellow flowers.  After he did that, he swiped at only the petals until he had bundles of them in both arms.  “She loves me not, and neither do any of those people who want these flowers here and us outta here.  They don’t have any love for anybody that’s been here they whole life, man.”

” I . . . ” I held up a finger, then sneezed and in that time, Limon was well on his way to tearing half of the garden away.  “Hey!  Will you hold up one moment?”

I put my hand on Limon’s shoulder, and he slapped my arm away.  More sinus than man, I stumbled back and fell on my ass.  Score another one for the magic hippie, wherever he was.

“Damn it, Roger,” Limon said.  He was out of breath.  “Why couldn’t you just help me out on this one?”

“I did . . . Look, there was nothing I could really tell you when it came to Nellie, but it wasn’t like I didn’t try.”

“Everything we went through here,” Limon said. “I just felt like she got that, but, at the end of the day . . . ”

“Yeah, look, I know.  How can it all just come to nothing, right?  Once you get that feeling, it’s like a big scar.  I mean, some people . . . you know they could care less about your existence, but when it’s someone you think might not like be that, it hurts worse.”

Limon reached out his hand to help me up.  When I was standing, I pointed to my face.  “The tears in my eyes . . . all allergy-based.”

Limon cracked a smile for a second, then slowly shook his head.  “Are we even here, if someone over there isn’t telling us that we got first place?  Even if it’s some stupid pie contest.”

“Yeah, we’re here.  Look, I’m not trying to defend these stupid flowers.  They’re far from people, and I’d be a complete chump if I did that.  It’s just, they already think everyone from here does stuff like tear them up.”

Limon took a breath.  “What now?”

“If they need flowers, they still have plenty.  And for once,” I said, pointing to Julia and Tom in the car, “some of us had a nice view when we needed it.”

“So that’s it then, huh?  Back to the mail room tomorrow when I feel like I can barely breath.”

I sneezed.  “I know the feeling.  Take another day off, if you can.  Just try not to sink into yourself like I did.”

What day is it?

© Robert Pinero and me

Thanks to any reader of this blog for throwing a bit of his or her free time my way.

Also, thanks to Robert Pinero, who did the above artwork originally for a comic of ours.

The Infinite Wait is over (kind of)

“The Infinite Wait” from Koyama Press.

More accurately, the wait for “The Infinite Wait” is over.  The latest collection of comics by Julia Wertz is now available for sale at her online store and other venues.   Her comics are frequently funny and never mundane — a combination well worth supporting.

A short excerpt from the interview that she was kind enough to do with me at this very blog:

“I made The Infinite Wait because I had been working on a book about sobriety that was really becoming too difficult to manage and I wanted to do something that was much more lighthearted. So, uh, I did a story about being diagnosed with systemic lupus. Yeah.”

For much more (with the added bonus of seeing her work), check out that interview:

Julia Wertz on The Infinite Wait, being off Pizza Island, and comedy with humanity and also http://www.juliawertz.com.