It's been 3 1/2 years, somehow, and a book later now. I'm finishing the book I started either the moment it happened (notes and desperate scratching) or April 2012 (drawing).
A few weeks ago, when I first handed the finished draft in, I found myself doing odd things. Immediately, with no prior forethought, I changed the image on my laptop's startup screen. From a grim one to an almost serene one. I never thought I would need to lose the grim one, but more importantly, I thought if I were to change it, it would be later- eventually. Instead, it was near immediate; I was stricken to do it.
And then my bike went down streets I hadn't been on since with Rosalie. Just a little bit, but I hadn't expected that so suddenly either. Down to the grocery store from the north, parking locking up on the north rack, instead of the south, the only one I've used for 3 1/2 years. These sudden changes.
And I told my friend John that I wanted to work on the book forever, I didn't want it to be done, but when I finished, instantly I felt relieved. There were and are still minor edits of course, but I think I am eager to say it is behind me.
I've said the book was an attempt to re-live the 5 weeks after the event. The 5 weeks which had a mythic, healing quality. 5 weeks which were raw and horrible, but a time when the signs of future healing were almost battering me.
3 1/2 years to relive 5 weeks.
In those years, the attempt to relive was largely through the act of drawing and writing, in that order. The writing was the organizing principle, but the drawing was the reliving. Relive the pain and the rawness, the fear. But also the help, the nourishment, the stories. The avocados, the borrowed cars, the phone calls, the butterflies, the beaches,
If I was to serve the story the best way, I would spend another 3 1/2 years and make every drawing right. Fully inhabit each drawing so completely that the energetic force of the drawing matches the force of the emotion first lived. But since my skills are what they are, the book is what it is.
And interestingly, it might never have happened had my friend Sascha (hi Sascha) sent me a picture of a mummy in a different exchange. That mummy, a propped husk, felt like me.
In scrolling through the book, I managed to find a total of nine that aren't bad. (Posted on Tumblr.)
Darling Molly Rose, Rosalie's younger sister arrived 20 months ago, 21 months after we said goodbye to Rosalie. She's the age now Rosalie was when we moved from New York to Gainesville. All these symmetries.
In July she'll be older than Rosalie ever was.
All these weird dualities.
I've been a parent for 6 years but of no child older than 2. I have one daughter and I have two. I will have one baby and no baby soon, as Molly Rose becomes a little girl.
I remember Rosalie and I can't remember Rosalie. Or I can't remember her with the same force I once did. Her sister is the force on this plane, and this is the plane I'm confronted with, day after day. My memories of Rosalie are resettling into the ethereal plane, the plane of spirit. She is here but she's not here.
I told the same interviewer I had a responsibility to Rosalie's memory, to make this book the best it can be. And a responsibility to myself to do what seemed right to heal. (Healing- talking with Leela about this. We seem to agree it just means returning to some functionality.) Did I have a responsibility to readers too? I know that the points and events I held back from telling were for my own well-being, and I don't think they serve Rosalie's memory either.
I hope this journey, this reliving, will honor her memory. I hope she will see it -from whatever vantage point- as a way of becoming close to her -wherever she is- again.
May 12, 2015
In the last days of March, I handed in the completed Rosalie book to my editors at St. Martins Press.
That day, utterly to my surprise, things began changing. First, I took the start-up photo (left) on my computer and changed it. I've stared at this grim photo every day for 3+ years, and suddenly it felt wrong to me to look at it. I changed it to the one right, taken at SAW on a nice evening during an art show a year ago. Had no plan on that.
And then, my bike took a turn down a street I biked with Rosalie every day, and hadn't been down since. I didn't expect to do this. The bike just went. It knew relief was down that bush-lined street.
And then it felt good to be finished. I once told my friend John that I didn't want to finish the book, I wanted to work on it forever, but when I was done, I realized I was wrong.
And then I found myself buying a house in the old neighborhood where we had Rosalie here for 3 months. I swear to you, this was an utter shock. In an effort to reduce expenses, we were looking at new rentals, and Leela found a place we might be able to buy if some crazy bank might give us a loan. Go figure.
And suddenly SAW is moving to a grander new space. Scraping, painting and new walls. And our main teacher Justine is undergoing (positive) life-changing times.
All this while Molly Rose is the age Rosalie was when we moved down here, and approaches the age Rosalie was when she left.
Symmetries. Bisecting. Closings and openings.
The book is the best I can make it, and it's true, I've learned to live with certain drawings that aren't what I imagined. Sometimes I have to let the weird flaws be part of the experience. Mostly, though, it's strong and I stand by it.
It tells the story of how remarkably splendid Rosalie was, I hope. So fiery and fun. Crazy sense of humor.
And it tells the story of suffering through her loss, and of learning to look for the clues on how to be welcomed back.
It's all true except I moved the crying fit on page 139 pictured left, in reality happened in the times depicted in the pages in the 90s.
Below, some drawings that I think hit the mark. Weirdly, mostly images of characters facing front. (My improv teacher jokingly called me "Stage Picture" because I would accidentally turn my back to the audience, but in drawing, I'm all straight on. )
More images and details at my Tumblr: http://rosalielightning.tumblr.com/. Sketches, images in progress there too.
Actually, maybe I was correct when I told my John I wanted to keep working on the book. My next plan is to detail some of the process, and then write a book about graphic memoir. As far as I know no decent one exists.
This way I can keep the themes alive, revisit scenes and relive experiences by reliving the decisions that led to them. By writing about memoir in general, I can examine the tribe I find myself in, maybe offering and outsider's perspective. I never thought I would write a memoir.
But this experience uprooted all my prejudices about comics-making. In this book, I referred to other media (movies, songs, etc.), I referred to drawing the book itself- drawing the drawing, I referred to my old work, I referred to other comics, I quoted song lyrics, I referred to horror comics, I referred to tools that make art, and I referred to the book as a book. All of these forms of content I thought were grubby, desperate acts; real artists make pure books to be carried on the wind and to last for eternity.
As I said, this experience made me question everything about art. Or rather, I've always constantly questioned all aspects of art. This experience returned and continues to return new answers.
The book will be out January 2016. I hope Rosalie's spirit will be alive for you then, as it has been for me since I saw her gregarious little face in December, 2009.