“Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.” Augustine of Hippo, aka St. Augustine (354 – 430)
Most mornings, after caring for my cat’s needs—kibble, fresh water, a treat, and lots of petting—I make a mug of coffee and settle into an easy crossword puzzle book laid out with wide margins. I use those blank spaces on each page as a sketch book. My drawings’ content varies, but usually I doodle Gerty, my cartoon icon and some say my avatar.
Gerty has virtues I wish were more visible in my repertoire. She is exceedingly kind, a good and compassionate friend, and engaged in the world. A woman of a certain age, Gerty finds pleasure in many small things and creatures. The cartoon inserted above shows her returning a fledgling to its nest and the caption is, “There you go. Back to Mama.”
If we are living in a time in which politics and print, broadcast, and social media seem to affirm the validity of scamming people, Gerty affirms the importance of honest caring and responsibility. She also believes that people need to respect and care for themselves, which has implications for nutrition and exercise. Sometimes I depict her in a physically fit and energetic image; other times, Gerty is a bit matronly. Regardless, she always has immense vitality.
One morning, I finished a rather difficult crossword puzzle full of truly tricky and arcane clues. No satisfying Gerty image came to mind. I stared at the white, vacant space below horizontal 50 then closed the book. My cell phone was nearby. I opened the Google app to learn more about some of the answers, like arete, a sharp mountain ridge, or the names of a few obscure writers. Below the search bar were snippets of silly Google News stories. One of them reminded me of the Know Nothings, a nativist American political party of the mid-nineteenth century.
I reopened my puzzle book and drew my own version of a know-nothing, a willfully ignorant person, in the margin. This character was Gerty’s polar opposite—fearful, deceptive, and self-preserving at the expense of others. I have drawn other such beings since, both male and female, usually scowling, often aggressive. Eventually I come back to Gerty, and her image restores me.
All my creatures inhabit only paper, however; they are representations of the world as I see it and the world I’d prefer to see. My morning doodles and sketching will last as long as I can hold pen and pencil. They will help me start the day, set my goals, and reaffirm my intention to be kind and caring despite our species’ tendency to be otherwise.