“I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.” Martin Luther King Jr accepting the Nobel Peace prize in 1964
Poodle with a Mohawk was the first Lynda Barry cartoon I had ever seen. The original poster was published in 1982, but I probably saw it in our college newspaper around 1984. My friends loved the the comic and I remember feeling vaguely confused about it. The style was different than the Sunday Funnies fare and the message was sharp. I got the irony, I think, but revisiting it now, I find myself seeing another side of the "audacious faith" King mentions.
In Poodle, Barry deftly captures the conundrum of the minority - hedged by stereotypes yet bubbling with unexpressed rage - she creates a character who moves beyond the stereotype into a visceral sense of self-determination (which reminds me a lot of Edwin San Juan who manages to take on the self-racism of minorities with comedy).
I picked up Barry's book What It Is in December, then this month, I stumbled upon a copy of One! Hundred! Demons! at our favorite used bookstore. The back bears evidence that the book was used as a text for English 410 (wish I knew who the instructor was) and inside there's a chapter dedicated to the Aswang. The book is based on painting exercise inspired by Hakuin Ekaku's painting One Hundred Demons.
One! Hundred! Demons! is a memoir in graphic form, meaning that Barry writes and illustrates her memoir in vivid detail and with the sharpness of Poodle. Through the exercises, Barry shares her experiences as a hapa-pinay (3/4 Anglo, 1/4 Filipina), an artist, a child growing up 'different' due to economic class, a human being trying to find her place in the world. There are moments of clarity she reaches after trying to make sense of the ambiguities in her life. Sometimes she reaches a stronger place, while others she simply realizes she's not as strong as she wishes she could be. Her work is overall "human" to me, prickly and beautiful all at once.
To my delight, I found Come Over, Come Over at the same bookstore. In this book, sisters Maybonne and Marlys are usually not on each other's side, and Barry unfolds their stories by tapping deftly into the helpless feelings and emerging strength unique to the ages of each sister. Mixed up with trying to figure out how to be loyal to their emotionally abusive mother and loving toward their absent father are references to pop-culture hallmarks of the mid-60's including Car Bingo and vice-principals who think their hip. Barry's work emerges from confusion and anger to achieve a hopeful space for both the characters and the reader. There's no trace of sentimentality or easy answers at the end of her books, just that sense of choice - we all have a choice to believe the stories of our circumstances or to create a new story from which we can thrive.
The last line in Come Over, Come Over reads: "P.S. I still think life is magical."
Audacity of Hope
We may not be able to control the circumstances of our experiences, but we can choose whether to respond with despair or hope. Both require energy.
Only one choice will give us dignity.
Yes We Can!
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Next: Memory Keeping