Extraordinary Women: She Helps Make The Worse…Better

Sometimes I sit and ponder over ideas for writing. Sometimes, the topics come rather easily and the essays practically write themselves. Other times, I struggle. Then there are those times when my search is best described with the following pun: “I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger; Then it hit me.” One day, I was thinking about the people who influence my writing. I have many times cited the influence of Mark Twain, Lewis Grizzard, and Douglas Adams. Inevitably, amongst these writers I will start talking about the huge influence Erma Bombeck has had on my writing. Bombeck’s writing is hilarious that still makes me laugh more than 20 years after her passing. Still, I realized that there was another extraordinary woman who has influenced my writing and touched my soul in so many ways. Even better, unlike the aforementioned writers I cited, this extraordinary woman is still creating and sharing her work to the joy of untold numbers worldwide. This extraordinary woman I speak of is Lynn Johnston. Lynn Johnston is not a writer in the same sense as the others I have mentioned. That is to say, she is not an author in the same sense as the writers I have mentioned. Lynn Johnston is a comic strip artist and her strip, entitled “For Better or For Worse” (otherwise affectionately known as FBoFW) has blessed an international audience of readers for more than 30 years.  Johnston became more of a fixture in my life in 1988. I was married and my wife was pregnant with my first child. I was very unprepared for this experience. My wife spent a lot of the pregnancy in the hospital. I often turn to reading to help me deal with life’s stressors. As I was browsing through a bookstore, I found two books that hit me by their titles alone. The first was a book by Dave Barry called “Babies and Other Hazards of Sex”. The other was a book by Johnston called “David, We’re Pregnant!” Needless to say, the titles were hitting me right where I lived and I purchased them both. As I read through “David, We’re Pregnant!”, I laughed out loud many times. However, there was something else even more important happening. Johnston’s comics was helping me to understand what my wife was experiencing. These comics were helping me to become a (slightly) less out of touch husband and incipient father. I then realized that this was the same artist whose comic “For Better or For Worse” was in the newspaper comics everyday. I spent the next 25 years getting to know the strip’s family – The Pattersons: John, Elly, Michael, Elizabeth,  and April. I have seen many great comic strips come and go over the years. Many of them you could miss a day or two and never miss a beat. Johnston’s strips, however, had evolving storylines that drew me inward over and over again. I rejoiced over events such as the weddings of Michael and Elizabeth,. I became enraged over the physical assault Elizabeth endured at work. I was distraught beyond words when their dog, Farley, wound up giving his life to save young April. I laughed on the floor uncontrollably when Meredith nearly brought the unfortunate Ned to a circular demise  (you’ll have to read the strips archives or buy her collections to understand that one). I realize that perhaps I am giving a bit of a gloss over of Johnston and her work. The truth is, Lynn Johnston’s work has, over and over again, spoken right to my heart. So many times, her strips have helped me to identify with situations that I had experienced (or would experience later). She is, in my heart, the Erma Bombeck of Canada. Just as Bombeck’s books helped me to laugh and understand my mother’s perspective, Johnston’s strips would help me to understand other members of my family a little better. When Grandpa Jim was dealing with his wife’s passing, it helped me to understand my father’s pain when my mother passed in 2006. The experiences of Michael, Elizabeth and April give a better perspective about my own kids (who are now all adults). I can even identify with the way that John and Elly not only grow as parents and grandparents but as a long time couple very much in love. Lastly, I would also say that Johnston’s works speak to my heart about my own experiences. I have experienced divorce and re-marriage, careers changes and all the triumphs, traumas, and trapping that one experiences in life into their 40’s (and beyond). My greatest example was when my grandson Taelor was born. There were complications during childbirth. While I have the joy of watching Taelor walk around nearly two years later, the ordeal of his birth was one of the most traumatic experiences I have endured in my 48 years. My daughter, Brianna (Taelor’s mother) felt very strongly that I should write about the experience and share it with my audience. Brianna knew that writing about it would be very cathartic and beneficial to me. She also felt that not writing about it would be cheating those who read my work. One day, I was mulling through the strip archives of “For Better or For Worse” I came across a strip I remembered well. Mike’s girlfriend was urging him to write about the incident when Farley died saving April’s life. Michael said that writing about it would be like having major surgery. His girlfriend replied that a person has surgery “…when something needs to come out”. A strip that Lynn Johnston put out in 2005 was speaking to my heart (and helping to guide my decision) some seven years later. Thank you so much, Lynn Johnston for the way that you have blessed me so much with your work (and continue to do so). So many times, you have helped me to rejoice in the happy experiences of joys of the Pattersons lives (and my own). Lastly, thank you for all those times when you made the worse…better. [Lynn Johnston’s wonderful body of work can be found at http://www.fbofw.com/ If you came across this piece from her website, please leave me a comment. I’d like to see how many folks are as touched by her work as I am.]

She Makes The Worse Better.
She Makes The Worse Better.

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