I was taking part in a book club discussion last night of Adrian Tomine’s The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, which is a graphic memoir, and a very good one, I think.
Tomine is a veteran cartoonist who has had a prolific and successful career. The book is about his life-long practice of writing and drawing stories, and all of the self-doubt, internal dramas, and miseries that can go along with a life dedicated to doing that.
The rhetorical stance in the book, to me, felt very Woody Allen/Larry David. Like, let me show you my prickly, competitive, resentful, greedy inner self. I will make it funny so that I can show it to you. The humor will help you take the medicine of seeing that you are also ugly inside like this, because you probably identify with this on some level, don’t you? You remember times when you thought or did the same things, right? It can be cringey because you are remembering these times, but also cathartic? Maybe you feel less guilt and self-loathing because you see that you are not the only one?
A question that came up in the discussion was, would readers accept a woman presenting herself in the way that Tomine does in this book? Would we accept a woman showing this side of herself, telling us stories of how she was competitive and mean and jealous about the work she has chosen to do? Could she do this and not be seen as a monster?
I don’t know.
Someone suggested that the way women deal with the issues Tomine touches on is to put themselves at service to others. To make themselves feel better? To atone for the monstrous feelings? I don’t know enough about Tomine to know how much he supports up and coming artists. Or others in the community. I won’t assume he doesn’t do this just because he did not offer that as the solution to the existential dread he reveals in his book. His answer to it is to keep going, to use it to feed his work.
What if a woman told stories about herself that in which she didn’t try to redeem her inner jackassery with service to others as the answer?
Would the stories, would she, be accepted?
I identified with a lot of what Tomine showed of himself, though I have not had the kind of success he has. But I am ambitious. I have gone after things that seemed out of my reach. I have gone after them even though I am highly anxious and feel like a square peg. I try to be a good person. I like to help other people, especially other women. I like to create community. I don’t like it when people are excluded or bullied. But I can hold a grudge FOREVER and I never forget a shitty thing done or said to me or done or said to someone I care about. NEVER. I currently have two nemeses, and if one of these people were in need of something from me, well, to quote my little Texas granny, people in hell want ice water.
How much of that ugliness in me is the result of a capitalist society born of patriarchy? Is freedom having the freedom to behave as a man would?
These are all big questions to which I don’t have any answers.
I am just a person trying to do the best I can. I am one person, but I contain multitudes. I am a generous and giving and helpful and welcoming. And I am also a petty and jealous and mean person who will roll around in a field of daisies and Schadenfreude if someone I loathe more than I loathe myself gets what’s coming to them.
And I am a woman.