Washington Post Writers Group

Life is good. Fuck you.

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Another day, another article surfaced on my feed about a parent trying to help others be aware of mental illness.

I’m so over it.

But that’s just how I feel today.

I’m sure tomorrow I’ll feel differently.

And I’m sure I’ll feel a million different ways over the course of the next year.

Today, though, I can afford to feel so over it because I’m feeling good.  Today my brain is cooperating and I’m ‘even’ – in terms of my ability to handle life’s combination of little and big disruptions.

Today I can focus and finish my deadlines.

Today I can think of ideas and write them down and follow through.

Today I can help other people. I have enough time and energy to do things for others.

Today I’m good.

But there will be another tomorrow in my life soon when I won’t be so good.

Unless my life is about to take a sudden turn away from its normal routine, there will soon be a day when my brain tells me that today is the day I need to end it.

Because that’s what my brain does.

My brain tells me to kill myself.

My brain tells me that killing myself is what I’m supposed to, what I’m fated to, and that everything is a sign that it’s time.

It’s what I got in this life.

Some people got diabetes. Some got heart disease. Some got cancer.

I got a bad brain.

I know, I know….you know of something I should try. I know.

Well, I’ve probably tried it.

I’ve been around the block and I’ve been dealing with this since I was a kid.

Add to that the fact that I’m a ‘fixer’ by nature.  I do something about problems. I take steps. I take action. I take initiative. 

Believe me….if it’s medical, I’ve tried it.

And I don’t just mean I’ve dabbled.

I mean I have devoted years to trying everything out there and doing everything in my power to help things work.

I have given everything I’ve tried a good and meaningful try.

If it’s western I’ve tried it. If it’s eastern, I’ve tried it.

Expensive? Tried it. Cheap? Tried it. Free? Tried it.

If it’s holistic, I’ve tried it.

If it’s spiritual, I’ve tried it.

If it’s hokey or trendy or popular or weird, I’ve tried it.

So, what’s my point today?

My point is shut the hell up if you have no personal experience with suicidal thinking.

I made the mistake of reading some comments to the devastated father who wrote so honestly, lovingly and bravely about his daughter who lost her battle with suicide.

And seriously, people need to shut the fuck up.

If you haven’t lived it, your opinion is shit.

I don’t care how enlightened you are, how educated you are or how inspired you are.

Just shut up.

And fuck you.

I know this post is negative.

I’m really sorry about that.

I’m not a negative person.

I’m positive. And hopeful. And productive. 

I’m funny and energetic and upbeat about some things.

I work full time.  And I have two syndicated properties, a cartoon and a comic strip.

I paint beautiful paintings. And I make lots of really great contributions that help others.

And, in addition to all of the great things I am, I live with a condition –  just like most people live with a condition of some sort.

Unfortunately, my condition is the opposite of “life is good” – 

But I’m dealing with it.

I’m managing it.

But it needs to be said that someday I might follow through on what my brain tells me to do.  

My brain is powerful and inflexible at times and more convincing than the people around me.

And if I do what my brain tells me to do, it won’t be for any other reason than what I was able to do to manage my condition was not enough.

So to the reader who shared a particularly unhelpful comment, fuck you.

Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.

You’re not helpful. And you’re not smart.

You wrote something hurtful to a father in pain. And what you wrote sounded like a dare to people who don’t need to be dared. 

Look, sir….I’m not asking you to change who you are.

I’m just asking you to DO NO HARM.

You can do that by keeping your mouth shut and keeping your typing to yourself. 

And to the father who wrote the essay, thank you and I am so very, very, very sorry.

Now back to work for me….because although I live with suicidal thinking, that is just part of my day. And it’s not the part that pays the bills. 

xoxo, d

 

 

 

So many words. So few words.

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My friend Richard Thompson died yesterday.

Steven George Artley's photo.

 

Richard had been suffering with Parkinson’s Disease for years. The past few years had been as awful as you can imagine. Richard’s body was twisted and turned and frozen into contortions you can only imagine if you’ve seen them before.

I want to write about Richard, but it’s too soon.  Richard was special to the world and special to me and that kind of description requires careful thought and even more careful writing.

But this is just a blog.

This is just where I go to share things I hope will help others….or, in many cases, help me.

The journey to the end with Richard has been a mish mash of extreme emotions and more emotions piled on top.  From anger and more anger to frustration, resignation and pure sadness, each trip to Richard’s house has been a reminder that life sucks.

I’m sure another person could write that same sentence and end up with life being beautiful – and I know life is beautiful – but it sucks. At least sometimes.

I became part of the cartooning community in 2010.  I worked on the comic strip that ended up being published for a year while it was either officially or unofficially in development with the syndicate.

During that year, I became fast friends – more like sisters – with my wonderful (understatement!!!) editor, Amy Lago.


And, after the strip began publication,  I met a lovely cadre of local, long-distance and international cartoonists who were SO DAMN DIFFERENT than the lawyers I was used to and with whom I was comfortable.

When I first entered the cartooning world, I was still entrenched in a day job related to law and disability.

Disability was familiar territory for me since I had practiced disability law for two decades and worked in the field for longer than that.  I was confident of my perspectives, opinions and judgments as they related to disability issues.

Contrast that with the world of cartooning where I felt like the odd man out.

I loved the other cartoonists and believe many of them liked and/or loved me too.

But the other cartoonists were real artists, most having worked in or been trained in drawing. I had never taken a class or read a book on art. I knew nothing.

And there I was, learning to draw little by little.  I was starting from scratch. My cartoon had become syndicated not for its pitiful sketches, but for the writing.  I knew how to write.

When I met Richard for the first time, my confidence was at an all time artist low. I couldn’t draw and the process of learning – while my work was being published – was S.L.O.W.

I met Richard at Baltimore Comic Con, introduced by the lovely Mike Rhode.  In short order I met Chris Sparks and Nicky G and Bono and Amy T. (the other Amy) and a host of other sexy, smart, unceasingly silly clowns.  I got pulled into that world and gladly accepted the seat that was always saved for me.

    

 

And then, of course, Rudy, the Pill Whisperer, came along…and, well, let’s just say Rudy and RT should have had a reality show.

Let’s just say it would have been très real.

More on Rudy later.

Richard reminded me of so many of the men I had been in love with over the years. Wicked smart and equally stubborn and ridiculously cute.  I remember meeting Richard and thinking immediately that I would have dated him in a different lifetime.

There were so many things I wanted to say to Richard, but we were never alone long enough to talk.

And talking to Richard was laborious.

Richard lost his ability to speak easily early on.

Waiting for his slow whispers meant deep conversation was halted, at best.

Plus, there were always caregivers and friends and family around whenever I was with Richard and so I could only play the part of visitor, friend and random entertainment-provider.

So I just brought food.

Cause everyone likes the person who brings food.

But I really wanted to talk to Richard.

I wanted to tell Richard that I understood what he was going through more than he knew….even though, of course, I couldn’t really know.

I wanted to ask him what he wanted most of all and tell him he could have anything he wanted…that we would try to make anything he wanted happen.

I wanted to know if he could hang in there long enough to be showered with our love, respect and friendship.

I wanted to tell him that I would have traded places with him in a second so that he could live the life he loved and I could finally be helpful in a meaningful way.

There is so much to say about Richard and the importance of our friendship.

I can’t say it yet.

I’m just too sad.

And I’m working hard to not let the way-too-early deaths of two cartoon world friends in one week mess too much with my head.

I don’t understand death, but I don’t want to fight it.

Perhaps more cogently articulated, I don’t understand how to live life joyfully while accepting the inevitability of death.

Perhaps I just haven’t found the right book to explain it to me.

I wish I had been able to tell Richard more often, more loudly, more assertively and more insistently that his life changed mine in important ways.

But we were never alone enough for that kind of conversation.

But it did.

His life changed mine.

In important and lovely and cruel ways.

And I hope to hell he’s running around (even though he’s not really the running around kind) in heaven, free from his body on earth and free of pain.  I hope he’s eating everything in sight and laughing, laughing, laughing.

I hope the library in Heaven is really excellent and that they give him the old fashioned kind of library card, not a fingerprint or chip-driven card.

 

Bono Mitchell's photo.

I hope he’s happy in amounts outnumbering the immense amounts of happiness he gave to others.

I am sad in those amounts.

I miss you, RT.

xoxoxo, d

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two people. One brain. Almost.

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Two people. One brain. Almost. @cbirney @LaunchWorkplace  Prepping for @comicseditor on PASSION! @WPNSS #funnypeople


www.livingbroken.org
Giving real life stories value, purpose and power.

“The Accidental Cartoonist”

Reprinted from THE GOCOMICS BLOG! December 20, 2014

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I always knew I would spend my life being a writer, but I never ever considered being a cartoonist. I was the kid who was writing or reading every minute I was awake. I was the kid who finished my assignments and exams early in school so that I could get back to whatever I was reading or writing. I was the kid who found almost everything besides reading and writing to be boring and ridiculous and a waste of time.

I was that kid.

Unfortunately, I was that kid before the Internet arrived in our lives, so my access to really creative people was severely limited. I was not surrounded by creative people. I was surrounded by people with stressful day jobs and extra-income evening jobs who urged me to do whatever I wanted to do as long as it included getting an education and a job that paid a living salary.

So I got an education and a job. Usually I had many jobs at once, making money however I could make money. I became a lawyer because I figured being a lawyer would enable me to combine the two things I loved the most: writing and good deeds. Except that I called good deeds ‘advocacy.’ Good deeds are what you do when you’re a good person. Advocacy is what you do when you need to put your good deeds on your resume so you can get a better job.

For years and years, I worked as a lawyer, helping people to make their lives easier, better or more fair. I worked in the areas of disability and employment, making a difference I could actually see and a difference I cared about a little too much. At night I taught classes and tutored wannabe lawyers. In Washington DC, tutoring can easily support a fledgling law practice.

And I kept writing. I wrote essays and really bad books and blogs and anything I could get anyone to read. The Internet had come along by this point and now I had a platform. I built a crude website named after my cat Boo and I drove unsuspecting friends and family there to get feedback for my writing. Little by little, people I didn’t know began reading my writing, opening me up to the idea that you can find an audience outside of your known world. I started the process of learning what people enjoy reading. And I began writing for an audience that might someday buy a book filled with my words.

In 2006, I was working and writing and working and writing and working and writing. I was reaching a point of exhaustion – exhaustion borne of the idea that perhaps it would always just be me, working and writing around the clock without ever having an actual book for people to buy. In a fit of frustration, I decided to take an official break from writing and do some sort of creative cross-training. I signed up for an improv class at the local comedy club and quickly transitioned into stand-up.

So it turns out that stand-up is really just a variation on writing. You spend every waking moment of your life writing material. And laughing. To yourself. You write a ton of material and laugh to yourself and wonder if anyone else would laugh at what you just wrote. I loved stand-up. Unfortunately, almost all stand-up occurs late at night in places where people are drunk. I wasn’t very good at being part of that scene. I knew that stand-up couldn’t last long but I also knew that I loved writing humor for the sake of the punch line.

One day, in early 2007, it snowed on a Saturday. I was in the suburbs of Maryland, just outside of Washington DC. One Saturday a month, I did a workshop for people transitioning from crisis back to functioning. I helped them with legal issues and some of the other challenges that accompany hard times.

In Washington DC and the surrounding areas, even the mention of snow shuts everything down. And it was actually snowing pretty hard. So nobody showed up. It was just me, the social worker on duty, and a few others who tended to hang out at the center where we provided workshops.

The social worker pulled out art supplies and snacks while we hunkered down to wait out the snow. We drew flowers and houses and little stick-figure families. We weren’t artists, but we had snacks and crayons, so we were happy adult children.

I drew a stick-figure girl who I thought looked like me. She had a lot of hair and a really big purse. Then, in a moment of accidental creativity, I gave her a punch line. And I laughed because I always laugh at my own jokes.

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The next day, I scanned the girl with the punch line and emailed the image to my small but loyal following of readers. They liked her and asked for more. So I kept drawing her. And I gave her more funny things to say. I drew her every day. And I created  friends and family for her, mostly similar to my real life family and friends.

I created many, many cartoons for several years. I didn’t know how to draw, but little by little, I was learning. And I loved it. I loved my characters and my words and I loved the process. I posted cartoons wherever I could, paying attention to what people laughed at easily and what made them uncomfortable or angry.

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And then, one day, an acquaintance who worked at the Washington Post asked me if I’d like to talk to the cartoon editor. I said YES, of course. The cartoon editor turned out to be Amy Lago.

By the time I met with Amy Lago, I had read every word she had ever written about editing and listened to every podcast for which she had ever been interviewed. I knew as much about Amy Lago as I possibly could know, which really wasn’t much. Mostly, I just knew that she seemed really smart, really cool, really open to finding new laughs, and really down to earth.

I brought a collection of cartoons to Amy Lago at the Washington Post. She never looked at them while we talked. I have no idea what we talked about, but I remember thinking she was the most amazing person I had ever met and that she had the coolest job in the world, working at the Washington Post alongside such talented writers and creative, smart minds.

Amy and I met in April of 2008. She told me that May was her busiest month and that I may not hear from her for a while. I was excited because she had suggested I might hear from her in the future. I was also dejected because I thought she was lying about May being her busiest month.

I walked straight from her office at the Washington Post to a coffee shop on the corner and turned on my computer. I researched the month of May to see why in the world May would be a cartoon editor’s busiest month. I pretty quickly found references to cartooning award ceremonies and events and realized that May is the Oscars Month for cartoonists. I called my mother to report that Amy Lago had not lied to me and that we might have another date in our future.

I heard from Amy Lago after the cartooning Oscars (otherwise known as the Reubens). She liked my humor. She believed I would learn how to draw eventually. She thought that words were important and that my poor drawing didn’t stand in the way of my words, necessarily. She loved my characters. She asked if I could put together a package of cartoons that was more cohesive, with characters whose relationships were more easily identifiable and, for lack of a better word, “followable”… .

I spent the next month obsessing about getting a package of 40 cartoons to be as perfect as possible. I delivered them to her and she invited me to keep sending her cartoons by email. I sent her a cartoon every day for months. She told me what was good and what to change. I edited and revised every single cartoon. She helped to develop my ideas into a comic strip that made sense.

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On August 12, 2010, I was at work when I heard that Cathy Guisewite had announced her retirement. I immediately called Amy Lago who had heard the news only a few moments before I had. By that point, I had hundreds of cartoons ready to go. I was ready to go and a female cartoonist was preparing to leave a void in the world of female cartooning. I wanted to help fill that void.

I was signed on to the Washington Post Syndicate in October of 2010 and my cartoon began running in February of 2011, on Amy Lago’s birthday.

I will never be able to describe how much work it took to develop a comic strip. I worked day and night. In addition to my day job, I worked on the cartoon compulsively. I said no to everything, including family and friends. I lived for the cartoon, thinking about material every minute of the night and day. I thought of so much material that a second cartoon was born, a “lite” version of the strip. That version became syndicated in February of 2012.

I still lawyer by day, although I have very recently transitioned to a less-stressful lawyering role that I perform mainly at home. Basically, I review legal files and write legal documents all day long.

At night and on weekends, I write and draw my strip. And I practice drawing every single day. I’m happy to report that I’m getting better at drawing. Maybe one day I’ll take a drawing class, but I’m not in a rush to get formal art education.

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Here are a couple of fun facts that really aren’t all that fun:

(1) I don’t read comic strips or cartoons because I don’t want to muddy my brain with other influences. A long time ago, I read Doonesbury and The Far Side to the point that I had memorized pretty much everything available from those creators.

(2) I write every single day, whether or not I want to. I write every single day because I have to or I feel all weird and crazy.

(3) I draw every single day, because I really enjoy drawing.

(4) I would continue writing and drawing cartoons even if I wasn’t syndicated. I love the vehicle of humor for communicating with other people.

(5) I’m still the biggest introvert in the world and I couldn’t get cabin fever if I tried.

(6) I’ve heard from haters who think I suck and should die. I learned how to ignore them since they don’t contribute in any way to my inspiration or motivation. And they’re rarely fun or funny.

(7) I love my followers and wish I could thank each one in person.

(8) I love Amy Lago in a way she should be seriously scared of.

(9) My top priority still is – and always will be – health insurance.

(10) I still have no studio. I live in Washington DC, where space is very expensive. I have a collection of folding tables I set up and take down every day, as needed. A tour of my studio would not be inspiring or impressive.

I hope anyone who reads my accidental cartoonist story takes away three things.

First, you cannot only do whatever you want to do, but you should be open to doing things you never planned or expected to do. It’s really cool to see where life takes you when you let it take you.

Second, anything worth pursuing is a total effing ton of work. There are no shortcuts and no such thing as overnight success.

Third, having a day job really helps to keep the lights on.

My first book should be out in February 2015.  I’m really happy to have a book I can give to my mother. I’m still not sure she gets what I do with my time.

– d

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