Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Updated 8/01/07

Artist's Statement

Lately I’ve been thinking about Lisa Nowak, that astronaut who donned an adult diaper and drove hundreds of miles across the country to confront her romantic rival with pepper spray. The news media had a decent amount of fun with that story--the equivalent, in what passes for our national dialogue, of middle-school gossip and eye-rolling, everyone saying "Whatever" or "O-kaaaayyyy….". I think everyone was so eager to laugh at that pathetic woman because they all wanted to reassure themselves that she was crazy, her behavior was incomprehensible, that they would never do such a thing. But I think anybody who pretends not to be able to imagine what she was thinking is either naive or disingenuous. I understand exactly what happened to her. I recognized the symptoms immediately. She lost her shit.

Remember that pitiful mug shot of her face, looking so gaunt and disheveled, deranged and exhausted, utterly broken and lost? I've seen that face before, very recently, in the mirror. And so, I suspect, at one time or another, have most of us. And frankly anyone who hasn't isn't the sort of person I can fully understand. Most of us have just been lucky enough not to have that face photographed for the public record. But we shouldn’t let ourselves forget it, or the hours and weeks we spent curled up weeping on the bathroom floor, smashing things, sending ill-advised emails or having wrenching late-night phone conversations, watching whole seasons of TV series at one sitting, listening to the one song we could still stand to hear over and over, eating Froot Loops and bourbon, planning impulsive romantic proposals or scheming terrible revenge, sobbing in public, screaming and literally pounding the walls, praying out loud for the pain to stop. We’ve all worn the diaper.

Mrs. Nowak's lawyer has been at some pains to disavow reports that his client was wearing an adult diaper at the time of her arrest. This seems like a curious detail to fixate on disputing, given that it sort of looks like she was also maybe planning to kidnap or possibly murder somebody. (The list of items in panel 3 is taken from the police record of objects found in her possession when she was arrrested. I added Fritos.) I'm sure that in her state of mind the diaper did not seem undignified or demented; it was just good planning. In fact it’s exactly the kind of forethought and resourcefulness NASA tries to inculcate in its astronaut corps. She was on a mission. When Love is at stake, you do not want to waste time making unnecessary rest stops.

A few weeks ago I almost drove twenty hours for similar reasons—not to abduct anyone, of course, just to make a desperate last-ditch appeal. What prevented me was not sanity or reason, any awareness that this might be delusional or alarming behavior, but the concern that it might backfire, and only drive the person in question farther away from me. (You never question your fierce loyalty to the Acme brand name, much less ask yourself whether it's really worth all this personal injury to try to catch one roadrunner; you're only unsure whether to go with the rocket skates or the earthquake pills.) There’s a fine line between the Bold Romantic Gesture and creepy stalking, and it’s not always clear how to distinguish one from the other. The tricky crux of the matter is that it depends entirely on how it’s going to be received, which unfortunately the impetuous suitor/creepy stalker has lost the ability to gauge. My friend Alex reports that all the women he’s polled have been enthusiastic advocates of the Bold Romantic Gesture, but this, he suspects, is because they’re all automatically picturing John Cusack making it, not Steve Buscemi or Peter Lorre or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Often you just don’t know whether you’re the hero of a date movie or the villain on a Lifetime Network special until the restraining order arrives.

I am a devoted reader of the website, which posts a selection of postcards bearing people’s most intimate secrets, culled from the thousands sent to that site’s creator each week. Most weeks I see at least one message there that chokes me up. I find it deeply moving and reassuring to know that all the strangers I see every day, those people who look like they’re so on top of things--going someplace purposefully, talking on cell phones, walking their dogs, arm-in-arm with their husbands or girlfriends--are, like me, just barely holding it together. My friend Megan recently told me she could totally understand those guys who kill their exes and/or their exes’ new lovers, the whole If-I-can’t-have-her-then-no-one-else-will impulse, because it’s so painful to know that the person you love is still out there in the real world, living their lives, going on without you. I loved her for saying that. Not that she, or I, would ever consider doing any such thing. And yet I suspect that the line between those of us who don’t do such things and the few who do isn’t as fixed and impermeable as we like to believe. Anytime I hear about another one of us gone berserk, shooting up his office or drowning her kids in the bathtub, the question I always ask is not, like every other tongue-clucking pundit in the country, how could this happen? but why doesn’t this happen every day? Whenever I’ve been heartbroken I’ve marveled that anybody in this condition, people going through breakups or affairs or divorces, ever manages somehow to keep going to work, making smalltalk, running errands, paying the bills, dutifully putting one foot in front of the other. It’s kind of heroic. It makes me proud of all of us just for going through the motions, keeping it together for the public, collaborating in the shaky ongoing group effort of not letting civilization fall apart, at least for one more day.

Of course I do not advise or condone doing any of the terrible things depicted in this cartoon—self-mutilation, kidnapping, assassination. They are all wrong, as well as illegal. And they won’t work. Van Gogh shot himself in the heart, and John Hinckley is still in custody, and he never did end up with Jodie Foster. It's hard to see things ending well for Lisa Nowak.

This cartoon should do the trick, though.

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