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Family Jesters

Dreamed 2017/3/15 by Wayan


I'm at the Main Library, picking up two very different comics.

First: Bill Griffith's INVISIBLE INK: My Mother's Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist. Mom's secret? But his dad's just as secret--his family, history, experiences in the war... all blank to his son. Like many veterans, he wouldn't talk, and left no clues after his early death in a bike crash. In contrast, Mom's "secret" is open & well-documented; both she & her lover wrote copious letters and journals--even novels borrowing scenes and themes from their affair! Cover of 'Invisible Ink' by Bill Griffith, about his mom's affair with a cartoonist.

As Griffith explores his parents' strangely loud secrets, I hear echoes of Alison Bechdel's Fun Home and Are You My Mother? But there's a difference. Bechdel's parents were artists at core; but despite Griffith's subtitle, that "famous cartoonist" isn't. You ever heard of Lawrence Lariar? Not me. He wasn't famous, even in his day---just profitable. He did whatever'd sell, not what'd last--certainly not what HE cared about.

Griffith speculates--if his mom had married Lariar, would the hack have been not just a stepdad but a mentor? If so... might he have suppressed or commercialized Griffith's own crazy, creepy, personal, underground style? Would Zippy the Pinhead have ever been born?

Mentors don't just nurture; inevitably they also selectively squelch and prune. If the mentor's less than the student, that can be deadly.

But for good or ill, Lariar stayed distant, and Griffith followed his own path. Ironic that his art's just as ugly as Lariar's--just way more expressively ugly. Catches how it feels to grow up sure you're ugly. I recognize it--I was taught all men are. Griffith goes further--his women are ugly too. All bodies awkward, heavy, our souls draped in slabs of sagging meat. Griffith can capture an austere beauty now and then, but it's impersonal--architectural. Empty train stations have a lonely charm. But people? People are a blot on the landscape.

Interesting. He's married to Diane Noomin, whose cartoons have also reveled for 40 years in human tackiness and ugliness.

Picture her Didi Glitz & his Zippy, crossbreeding... yow!

The second comic: My Little Pony, written for kids--since you humans stop identifying with unicorns about the same time you hit puberty and lose your ESP and peak language abilities. But I'm an Aspie--basically a lifelong closet unicorn (with opposable thumbs). Or at least not a grownup human. So I find Jeremy Whitley's stories as rewarding as Griffith's or Bechdel's. They're just sung in a different key--the key of fur. Princess Luna of Equestria, from TV show My Little Pony.

  1. Tiara & Silver Spoon are mean little fillies, but not innately; their rich snotty parents pressure them to snub all but their own class. As an autistic, shunned taunted and bullied all through school, it's a stretch for me to empathize even with these mild bullies. But at least I can read it--unlike Lord of the Flies--a sadistic school assignment to give a bullied kid, and one that just gives class bullies ideas. It did to my classmates and tormentors. Great literature or humanist propaganda? "Humanist" as in "human supremacist". But I can just--almost--forgive bratty unicorn foals under intolerable pressure.
  2. A unicorn is kidnapped, caged, treated as an animal, not a person. The jailor plans to exploit (in fact devour) his magic. I lived in that cage of everyone-wanting-to-use-the-freak's-abilities for years. Maybe you've lived in it.
  3. Slender, lovely, fierce, shy, eccentric Princess Luna (former nightmare, current Guardian of Dreams) rules Equestria for a day, filling in for her sister. She feels trapped, bureaucratized, always on show. Luna much prefers the freedom of her dream job. I know that feeling.
After the library, I browse through the Civic Center Farmers' Market and buy greens and berries. Startling just how many severely damaged people haunt the area. Grotesques all around. And I'm not (and never was!) judging the body--it's their energy telegraphing illness. Crippled, diminished or toxic auras. No wonder such places tire me out. They're exactly that Zippy the Pinhead Inferno--a world entirely composed of the stupid. Some not born stupid but stupified--abused till in a stupor. They're still staggering. And stagger me.

Bike home with a contact low. Too much exposure to beaten-down people left me... hung over? Afraid so. Ugh.

Sure explains my reluctance to socialize. Have I been protecting myself?


Our band, The Krelkins, rehearse. A short focused session. On Fight to Win, Nic & I try somewhat different instrumental sounds; on Migrate through Fire, Ross tries mallets to get a more tribal hand-drum sound, like the hooves of the creatures pounding as they dance. I like that. Catches a little of the feel of the original dream. No, My Little Pony didn't turn me into a furvert. I've always dreamed of nonhuman folk--meeting them or being them.

Dream: three women push strollers. One mom's  humanoid, one short, shaggy, and sheepish, and one a lanky lemur/cat. Click to enlarge.

Just before bed, exhausted, I seek something light to read that won't haunt my dreams. Not Griffith, too grim--My Little Pony won't trouble me.

So I thought.


I'm touring another world. The continent I'm on has green coasts but mountains, deserts, and treeless prairies inland. It may be an alternate North America or Equestria--definitely alternate, for the natives aren't human or pony. Furred, tailed, rather equine, yes--but bipedal, upright. A short horn on the brow. Reared-up unicorns? But with hands and hindpaws, not hooves. I find them exotic, graceful, sexy... least along the coasts. When I travel inland, the people look beefier, puffy as if borderline ill, and mentally half asleep; only a few have that alert, slender unicorn grace I saw by the sea. The inland minority who do look gracile are often smart and ALWAYS artistically creative. Driven artists. Why? Innate, or because the majority aren't? Does art-drought cause thirst? Or is it metabolic?

Bipedal unicorns, one slender one obese, stand on a relief map--Equestria or the USA? Dream sketch by Wayan. Click to enlarge.
The heartland treats this creative minority strangely. Prominent families--small-town bosses, mostly--each patronize one artist; treat it as a sort of family jester or mascot. These rich clans fund performing-arts competitions--standup comedy, music, dance, storytelling. The family wins prestige if your jester performs best. But over generations, patron families have upped the ante and twisted the contests away from the art to competition... and endurance. They handicap their jesters.

"Ours can dance CAGED!"

"Well, ours can sing with WEIGHTS piled on!"

"Well ours can tell the Legend of the Inland Sea while hanging UPSIDE DOWN!"

It's to the point where competitions are abuse, really. Torture on stage, as much as art. "Artists have always suffered for their art" they rationalize.

Well, yeah, art is hard work, but... chains? Cages?

Mascot: just Masoch misspelled? No, this inland torture-show isn't masochism or sadism exactly. The artists aren't choosing pain, nor are the clans hurting them because they like causing it. More like Kraft-Ebbing fantasies, where no matter what you do or say, no one listens and you always lose. These are powerful clans; say no to one, and another will snap you up. You can't hide out in farming or business; you're visibly different. Everyone knows you're an artist, BORN to suffer. They pretty much draft you and toss you onstage. In chains. No one even profits; it's just competition and prestige-seeking gone too far, gone wrong.

A singer with weights piled on, a dancer in a cage, and a storyteller chained upside down. Dream sketch by Wayan. Click to enlarge.

The gracile ones who can, flee early to the nearest coast. There, gracility is normal. A majority's lean, active--and creative. Unchained. You're no longer special--but after seeing your cousins in cages, anonymity looks good. Bipedal unicornlike nutritionist; dream sketch by Wayan. Click to enlarge.

Are these two unicorn types subspecies, or is it dietary? Slender by the sea, puffy & dull inland... Could it be iodine? Remember humans far from the sea often develop goiter. So I hypothesize IUB (Inland Unicorn Bloat) is an equine whole-body response to iodine deficiency. It does fit! Of course I'm biased to consider the gracile form as healthy and the robust one as ill--I grew up as a creative but nervous skinny noodle in a world of thugs (and I do need a lot of iodine). Even here, as an alien tourist, I'm so obviously their artist type that I worry I'll be kidnapped, chained, and put on show.

I meet a young researcher--gifted, willowy, dark-coated, adorable (sort of Twilight Sparkle's mind in Princess Luna's body, though biped not quadruped of course. Plus fingers). She was born in the heartland, but escaped to a college on the coast before the town bosses could trap her. She's hypothesized, as I did, that may be diet, not genes. This Twilight-Luna is studying many trace nutrients, hoping to track down the cause of the bloat--and undo it. I urge her "Focus on iodine!"

For if Twi-Luna can create artists and scientists with a mere pill, proving chunkiness is illness... she can break the torture-tradition at last.


A bipedal unicorn dancer in a cage. Dream sketch by Wayan. Click to enlarge.


Only after sketching did I recognize the source of these stage-performers in chains and weights. I read of them decades ago in one of Kurt Vonnegut's harsher stories, Harrison Bergeron (a surname suspiciously like Percheron--a massive horse-breed like the inland unicorns in my dream). In the tale an American cult of equality helped the clumsy, ugly and stupid raise their self-esteem by putting handicaps on the talented: warts on beauties, chains on runners, blindfolds on painters, weights on dancers...

Sweet Celestia! At least we haven't dumbed down our America.

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