Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Updated 10/17/07

Artist's Statement

Apologies for the tediously self-referential premise of this week’s cartoon. A totally justifiable response might be: Who cares, man? And to those readers who are of this mind all I can say is, sorry, please look in on us again next week, who knows, maybe we’ll have another hilarious school shooting cartoon for you. But hopefully this cartoon is not as self-indulgent as I fear—surely we've all entertained grim fantasies about our futures from time to time. Lately my friend Ellen has taken to repeating the title question as a kind of wistful, mordant punchline whenever some bathetic fate or grisly demise comes up in conversation. This is almost as dispiriting as Ms. C.-H.’s sighed refrain, “Oh Mister Kreider.”

This cartoon serves as a kind of bookend to “What Next for Tim Kreider?” (circa 1996[?]), which depicted me sitting at a bar over a nearly empty beer, pondering my life options, which consisted, in my mind, of 1.) doing battle as a Jedi knight, 2.) fucking some girl’s breasts, and 3.) having another beer. Those were simpler times. I drew that cartoon in my late twenties or early thirties; in the forties, I find, one no longer asks the question "What is to become of me?" as often as "What the hell happened to me?" As Rick Russo writes in his new novel, Bridge of Sighs:

Odd, how our view of human destiny changes over the course of a lifetime. In youth we believe what the young believe, that life is all a choice. We stand before a hundred doors, choose to enter one, where we’re faced with a hundred more and then choose again. We choose not just what we’ll do, but who we’ll be. Perhaps the sound of all those doors swinging shut behind us each time we select this one or that one should trouble us, but it doesn’t. Nor does the fact that the doors are often identical and even lead in some cases to the exact same place. Occasionally a door is locked, but no matter, since so many others remain available. The distinct possibility that choice itself may be an illusion is something we disregard, because we’re curious to see what’s behind that next door, the one we hope will lead us to the very heart of the mystery. Even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary we remain confident that when we emerge, with all our choosing done, we’ll have found not just our true destination but its meaning. The young see life this way, front to back, their eyes to the telescope that anxiously scans the sky and its myriad possibilities. Religion, seducing us with free will while warning us of our responsibility, reinforces youth’s need to see itself at the dramatic center, saying yes to this and no to that, against the backdrop of great moral reckoning.

But at some point all of that changes. Doubt, born of disappointment and repetition, replaces curiosity. In our weariness we begin to sense the truth, that more doors have closed behind than remain ahead, and for the first time we’re tempted to swing the telescope around and peer at the world through the wrong end—though who can say it’s wrong? How different things look then! Larger patterns emerge, individual decisions receding into insignificance. To see a life back to front, as everyone begins to do in middle age, is to strip it of its mystery and wrap it in inevitability, drama’s enemy.

Rick Russo is kind of an old-fashioned, nineteenth-century novelist, one who’s unembarrassed about drawing broad conclusions about life and sharing them with us—which I, as someone who has yet to come to a single conclusion about anything, despite a great deal of disastrous life experience, appreciate.

Thanks to Megan Kelso, who urged me to allude to the story “Cookies” from Frog and Toad Together in the “ate-too-many-cookies-and-died” panel. Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books are excellent children’s books and “Cookies” is a rueful personal favorite of mine from way back. I used the terrific line, “[We] must stop eating!” on purpose, but my drawing of myself in this panel also ended up looking--I swear inadvertently--quite a bit like Toad. Hopefully this self-portrait will not prove prescient.

This cartoon would also, come to think of it, serve as a good end to my career in case I decided to quit this week or fake my own death. Although, the way things are going lately, if I tried to fake my own death I’d probably accidentally kill myself. In which case, it occurs to me, you guys will never know whether I am really dead or not. Let the rumors swirl!


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