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A self-portrait by Lynda Barry.
My boyfriend has been keeping pet shrimp. They’re not terrible pets; they’re low-maintenance and clean their own tank, but honestly they just make me crave seafood. I’ve developed a proclivity for shrimp tempura, shrimp cocktail, fried prawn … and he looks at me like I’m straight up eating puppies. Should I give up shrimp to be a supportive girlfriend?
A Crustacean Curmudgeon
Well, if it were me, what I’d do is this: I’d get really high and kneel by the shrimp tank with my face really, really close, and on my back I’d wear a sign that said DO NOT INTERRUPT ME, and then I’d watch the shrimp and start to imagine them as musicians, with hats and tiny instruments, like a marching band or an orchestra or, maybe if there are only two or three, as a jazz combo. It depends on how many shrimp there are. And also the weed. If it’s the right weed, and if your heart is open, you will develop the empathy necessary to solve the whole problem for you. But what could also happen is this: you might slowly realize that the shrimp are watching you, too. In fact, they have been watching all along, watching you and listening to your jokey tone, and they know exactly what you are about. And sometimes they imagine you breaded, sometimes you are in a state of sudden tempura, and sometimes you are just curled naked and above the cocktail sauce. And all of them are willing this to be.
It is never wise to chew on the animal your mate loves.
I have trouble with things not being perfect. I just cleaned the kitchen and it still doesn’t look clean, so I might just never clean it again. I want so badly to be perfect. To write children’s books and be okay with my mistakes and cook food and not let it go to waste and have money to donate to the whole damn world because that’s the important stuff. But then I don’t. I drop out even though all I want to do is drop in. How do I change that?
Not-So-Perfect in Portland
This reminds me of Three-Card Monte, that trick card game you always lose. One card is the part of you that wants something. One card is the part of you that doesn’t want it. And the third card just wants to make sure neither of you ever get what you want. It’s kind of a kick-ass system in terms of efficiency. And there is safety and predictability in it. No matter what card you choose, the other two negate it and no one gets anywhere. I’m also reminded of the creatures in myths and fairy tales, the ones with three heads but only one body, and the heads are always arguing with each other. The advantage they have is this: at least they know where the problem is coming from. When all the heads are inside the same skull, the source of problem isn’t as evident. I suggest you read the entire Ralph Manheim translations of Grimms’ fairy tales. Your problem sounds just like one of those stories, and I think your answer might be there. These stories really do have medicine in them, and they will help all three of your heads, because these stories are about each of them, personally.
Lynda Barry is a cartoonist, writer, and associate professor in interdisciplinary creativity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A reissue of her book The Good Times Are Killing Me is out this week.
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