This throwback photo seemed to be the perfect image to post along with this fascinating look at Charles Schulz and Peanuts on Brain Pickings called “Peanuts and the Quiet Pain of Childhood: How Charles Schulz Made an Art of Difficult Emotions.” A friend shared the article on Facebook this morning and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Link to full article here.
The article highlights a biography about Schulz by David Michaelis that describes the complexities of the world of Peanuts and the difficult life events that shaped the life of the creative genius behind it. Here are a few excerpts from the article:
“This quiet grief permeated his Peanuts. Embedded in Charlie Brown’s chronic blend of desperation and optimism is the rather adult realization that “being yourself is a very difficult game” — something illustrated by an exchange Michaelis cites:
“Would you like to have been Abraham Lincoln?” Patty asks Charlie Brown. “I doubt it,” he answers. “I have a hard enough time being just plain Charlie Brown.”
“A more gregarious, more balanced person could not have created the long-suffering but unsinkable Charlie Brown; crabby, often venomous Lucy; philosophical Linus; tomboyish Peppermint Patty; single-minded Schroeder; and grandiose, self-involved Snoopy. “A normal person couldn’t do it,” [Schulz] had himself contended.
“Schulz was able to create his cartoon universe not because of his deep unhappiness but despite it. Undoubtedly a great many people suffer daily the untimely and traumatic death of a beloved parent, and yet there is no other Peanuts; there are, however, countless people for whom such trauma turns into a lifetime of self-destructive anguish rather than one of tireless creation. That, perhaps, is the true gift of genius — to bring something meaningful to life despite how meaningless one’s own life may seem; to give some warmth to the world despite what the world may have coldly taken away.”
Who knew that the Great Pumpkin, Red Baron, a Charlie Brown Christmas, and a quirky cast of school kids were rooted in such complexity?
But you know, Schulz was right. Sometimes it really is a hard enough time just being ourselves. Loss, grief, illness, disappointment, trauma…it happens to all of us. It’s unavoidable. And it sucks. But we get to decide how we let these experiences shape our lives. Whether we let our lights be snuffed out or shine brightly. Whether we let pain harden or soften our hearts. Whether we shut people out or offer ourselves in service to others. It really is our choice.
I would argue that Schulz picked the tougher option. It’s really easy to take our marbles and go home when life doesn’t go as planned. To wallow in our own self-pity and grief. It takes a lot of strength and courage to turn pain into productivity or channel grief towards the greater good. To run full-force towards that football again, mustering the hope that this would finally be the time that past misfortunes will fall away and your foot will actually connect with that ball.
Somehow those iconic cartoons have become even more endearing.