Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lynda Barry is uninsured

That makes me sad, and I'm going to cross-post this on my health blog.

But, I note the NY Times story about this excellent cartoonist and creator of "Ernie Pook Comeek," a frantic, funny, disturbing memoirish series. Unable to make a living with her art, she teaches a writing class.

 In a piece about her in The New York Times Magazine, she shares a story with her class:

“I grew up in a house that had a whole lot of trouble,” she said. “As much trouble as you could imagine. In the daily paper, there were all these comic strips, and there was one that was a circle. It seemed like things were pretty good on the other side of the circle. No one’s getting hit. No one’s yelling.”

Once, at a comics convention, she shook hands with Bil Keane’s son, Jeff — Jeffy — who now inks the strip. Barry instantly burst into tears. She told the class why: “Because when he put his hand out and I touched it, I realized I had stepped through the circle. I was on the other side of the circle, the place where I wanted to be. And how I got there was I drew a picture.” She smiled and held her arms out. “The reason I’m standing here in Florida in 2011 is because I drew a picture and wrote some words. The reason you all are here is because you’re interested in doing the same thing

. When I think about all the things that this image world has brought me. . . . I mean, I don’t have health insurance, and dental work is really an issue, but the feeling that life is worth living? Being in this class gives me that in spades.”

The story goes on to describe some of that trouble:

Barry’s parents divorced when she was 12, the same year she dropped acid for the first time and changed the I in her first name to a Y. By the time she was 16, though, she’d quit drugs and taken a seven-night-a-week job as a janitor at a Seattle hospital. Her parents didn’t attend her high-school graduation.

Her mother appears frequently in her cartoons and stories, but never in the present tense. I asked her if she’s still in touch with her parents. Usually when you ask Barry a question, she responds with wide-eyed enthusiasm, cartoonish but evidently sincere, summoning a story from the vaults. This time she closed her eyes, tilted her head back a long while and finally said, “I think I don’t want to talk about that."

Profile writing students take note. Some of you would come to me and say -- "She wouldn't tell me if she's in touch with her parents!" But see here how her reaction to the question -- and her response -- tell us something about her, even though she's withholding information.

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