Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Good Grief!

I don’t normally read Newsweek but I chanced across an interesting interview of Charles Schulz’s biographer, David Michaelis, offering insights on the life of the phenomenaly succcesful Peanuts comic strip creator.

I love reading biographies. Biographies can be potentially unfair (for the subject and reader unlike) as it is still only a point of view as the subject of the biographer is often at the mercy of the memories of others and varied documents, and the incentive, insight and skill of the biographer in being able to get beneath the skin of the subject. Still, when a timeline is constructed and various sources collated, biographies can afford tremendous insight into the lives and times of others that may allow readers to know the person (only in some ways) better than the person may know themselves.

If the charcater of Charlie Brown is anything to go by, I don’t think anyone should be remotely surprised that the author was a sensitive, anxiety filled, lonely, insecure soul. Authors and artists draw on what they personally know. The enduring popularity of Peanuts touched millions around the world because it expresed much of the human condition.

Reiterating what I had posted in an earlier entry, Charles Schulz sounded typical of the kind of person who refused to change, prefering to remain in their own bubble and happy (ironically) being depressed. Despite being married and surrounded by five children, he constantly mentioned in interviews how he remained lonely, and was emotionally distant, with nagging self-doubts of whether he was loved.

“On his honeymoon [with his first wife, Joyce Halverson, in 1951], he said to Joyce, “I don’t think I can ever be happy.” It wasn’t so much a prediction as a choice.”

Fancy expressing that sentiment, of all times, on your honeymoon! And that was exactly correct – a choice. It’s a perceptual framework. Some people, no matter how much blessings may be bestowed on them can never be happy, making their life a self-fulfilling prophecy, and unwittingly causing discomfort on those immediately around them. He was happy (perhaps “comfortable” is a better word) remaining depressed, even though it made him…errr, depressed.

''Everything has to end,'' Schulz once said. ''This is my excuse for existence. No one else will touch it.'' In November 1999 he was hospitalized for colon cancer and started chemotherapy. On 14th December he announced that his strip would end. But thoughts of death had long since seeped into his strip. ''After you've died, do you get to come back?'' Linus once asked Charlie Brown. He replied, ''If they stamp your hand.''

Donna Mae Johnson, the (real) Little Red Haired Girl who broke Charlie Brown and Schulz heart said, “I'd like to see Charlie Brown kick that football, and if he gets the little red-haired girl, that's fine with me", Donna said around the time Schulz announced his retirement in 1999.

As far as I am aware that never specifically happened. It would go against Schulz’s nature; a nature he refuses to change and break out of for it can take a lot of courage and time to open up at a personal level. His comics was the closest he came to do doing so, which gave pleasure to millions.

One may not be able to change the past, but one can certainly learn from it and live for the future.

''You can't create humour out of happiness,'' Mr. Schulz said in his 1980 book, ''Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Me.''

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