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Wistful, Ludicrous, And Bleak– And All From The Same Assignment

July 10, 2014

The Rumpus publishes a mix of essays and interviews. It’s an online-only publication.

For me, a Rumpus assignment is always a stretch. Some of the material is very dark. It takes me out of my comfort zone.

My latest Rumpus assignment: an essay titled Strong Is The New Sexy, written by a woman with a degenerative muscle disease.

The essay opens with the author in a hospital room. A physical therapist is teaching her how to swallow. Through the window she can see brightly colored hang gliders soaring through the air after casting off from a mountain.

It conjured up this image for me:

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Little worm on rock gazing up with envy at beautiful butterflies hovering and soaring in the sky above him

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Here’s a close-up:

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detail image of little worm on rock gazing up with envy at beautiful butterflies hovering and soaring in the sky above him

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Further along in the essay, the author writes that sipping water can seem more trouble than it’s worth. That to a weakened arm, “a bottle of spring water is as hard to raise as a dumbbell.”

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Skinny woman in gym workout clothes red in face and straining to lift barbell whose weights are two big jugs of spigot water and faucet water with goldfish swimming in them

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Here’s a detail image. I’ve read more than once that a lot of bottled water is simply tap water. I couldn’t resist sneaking in an editorial comment. I must admit, however,
I’ve never seen a goldfish in a bottle of store-bought water.

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detail image of skinny woman in gym workout clothes red in face and straining to lift barbell whose weights are two big jugs of spigot water and faucet water with goldfish swimming in them

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Finally, the therapist “handwrites recommendations on jaunty yellow paper, warns me against the use of straws for sipping.”

This made me think of the idiom “grasping (or clutching) at straws,” which can be defined as trying to find some way to succeed when nothing is likely to work.

Progressive diseases worsen over time. It seemed bitterly ironic to me that straws should
be forbidden (even though it made perfect medical sense, since sucking water through a straw would likely make the woman choke).

All of which conjured up this very bleak image:

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Sign on buoy in ocean says grasping at straws is prohibited, drowned woman in bikini sinking down into murky depths as straws float on surface of water

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For me, the most affecting note in the illustration is that straws were available to the drowning woman, but grasping at them was prohibited.

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detail image of sign on buoy in ocean says grasping at straws is prohibited, drowned woman in bikini sinking down into murky depths as straws float on surface of water

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Do you think the darkly comic element in the illustrations gives them added poignancy?

Did you know there was such a thing as Butterfly Envy?

Ever found anything swimming in your pure and natural bottled spring water??

Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

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Dragon Dept: When Food Myths Attack!

Healthcare Insurance, Play Or Pay, And How To Bend Text Gently In Photoshop

Childhood: Suddenly It’s Over And You’ve Got A Teenager

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2014 5:50 PM

    My dear Mark, it may have felt that you’re out of your comfort zone, but I can assure you it doesn’t seem so! You create images with such natural ease that when someone sees them they think ‘well of course, that’s how it should be!’!
    The dark element does give them added poignancy but with a smile – as it should, in my humble opinion.
    I have to renew my hat collection!
    How many hats can a person have to be just to such a creative mind?!
    Chapeau! 🙂

    Like

    • July 17, 2014 9:25 PM

      Ah, my dear Marina!! Do forgive this late reply. You see, I read your wonderful comment, and fell immediately into a swoon. Fortunately, I keep my floor covered with large soft satin pillows, so I wasn’t injured. I’ve only just awakened, with your kind and enormously flattering words ringing in my ears like fairyland chimes. All in all, a delightful experience… : )

      Thank you for all the lovely hats. I’m wearing 37 of them right now, and seem to be listing to one side. I may fall out of my chair, but I’m not worried– I have all those satin pillows, you see. Thank you, my dear Marina, for your lovely comment, and for being so wonderfully, well, you! : )

      Like

      • July 18, 2014 5:40 PM

        Nothing flattering about my words, merely true and don’t forget… the spot in Mt Olympus is awaiting!!! 😉

        Like

        • July 19, 2014 1:05 PM

          Wow!– talk about rising to new heights! I’ll be over as soon as I water my laurel leaves and iron my toga!! : )

          Like

  2. July 10, 2014 10:05 PM

    The goldfish adds a nice whimsical touch, and I thought the worm straining to be a butterfly was kind of hopeful. (Though I haven’t read the article.)

    Like

    • July 11, 2014 9:45 PM

      Goldfish, worms… I seem to have a thing for primitive life forms. Must have something to do with being a primitive life form myself… : )

      Always good to see you, you being a higher life form and all– thank’ee, sir!

      Like

  3. July 11, 2014 10:40 PM

    I did love the worm wanting to be a butterfly. I think that probably best captures the feelings the woman has about degenerative muscle disease. All of your drawings are poignant, emotionally touching. Mark, this definitely is a difficult subject, but you handled it with panache.

    Like

    • July 17, 2014 9:39 PM

      Thanks, Judy– that means a lot coming from a writer who always seems to make that emotional connection. It’s odd, really: a worm gazing up wistfully at beautiful butterflies– seems absurd, and yet the poignancy comes across for me. Might be one of the best things I’ve done. One never really knows where an illustration assignment may lead…

      Thanks for your lovely comment, and unwavering support. I’m truly grateful.

      Like

  4. July 12, 2014 4:08 PM

    Mark, you are providing a great service with your natural gift of animation….to educate. I think the cartoons in order for the viewer to understand some of it, do need to be prefaced by just 2 lines to profile the patient and her dilemma. That’s all. Then the rest says it all.

    Kudos to you, Mark. Perhaps do more of this stuff ..approach the non-profit organizations that represent the spinal cord injured, etc. with your stuf…they would make great fundraising designs..

    Like

    • July 20, 2014 8:35 AM

      Hi, Jean! Thank you for that very kind and thoughtful comment. Yes– a little context always helps! I’ve often looked at artwork and thought: Hmm! There must be a story behind this… On the other hand, art often encourages the viewer to make up his own “story.”

      I would have never thought of the illustrations as visuals for a fundraising campaign. It’s a very intriguing idea, and I appreciate your passing it along. A good illustration can elicit empathy and a strong emotional connection– no doubt about that. As always, Jean, thanks so much for your interest and support! : )

      Like

  5. July 15, 2014 1:53 AM

    Love this collaboration, Mark! I’m about to read the article now… the subject is one that’s close to home.

    Like

    • July 20, 2014 8:43 AM

      Thank you, Jak. I know you’re faced with challenges yourself, and it’s good to know the illustrations resonated with you. The article was certainly a very powerful one, and I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks as always for your support– courage, my friend! : )

      Like

  6. July 16, 2014 11:31 AM

    Congrats! You made a wonderful illustration about a particular topic! I think the straw pic is genious! Almost a little German like: Have you got a permission for drowning?

    My experience with disabled people is that they also do these rude jokes about themself. Everything is better than keep dead quiet their situation.

    Like

    • July 20, 2014 9:11 AM

      You mean to say my illustration exhibits a German sensibility?? This may be the greatest compliment I’ve ever received… : )

      Your experience jibes with what I’ve read: that disabled people often make fun of themselves. I’m sure it’s partly a defense mechanism, but I think it also shows great courage. It also puts other people at ease. Humor can help smooth many a bumpy road. Keeping “dead quiet” about a situation can tie us up in knots.

      Thanks for your wonderful comment, my dear Tutti, and I must tell you that your “Have you got a permission for drowning?” made me roar with laughter!! : )

      Like

  7. May 18, 2015 4:18 PM

    It meant a lot to me to have your wonderful artwork with my essay, Mark. Thank you!

    Like

    • May 21, 2015 9:27 PM

      You’re very welcome, Kelly, and I appreciate your kind comment. Your essay was beautifully written, and deeply moving. One of those pieces that stays with you. Good writing forces me to dig a little deeper, and try to produce art equal to the occasion. So I’m very happy you liked the illustrations– that means a lot to me. Nice to “meet” you, thanks again for your comment, and I wish you well. And thanks for sharing your gift– you’re a great writer. : )

      Like

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