Haidee Soule Merritt has the uncanny ability to illustrate what’s going on in the minds of many people touched by diabetes, and she’s sharing her talents yet again in her second book, Fingerpricks, Volume 2. It’s not that her cartoons are just good, but they are poignant and insightful and have a way of seeing diabetes through a very specific, very honest lens. Her work is a little dark, at times, but that makes sense because diabetes isn’t always a laughing matter … but sometimes a good smirk helps take the edge off things.
Her work resonates on so many levels for me, and I’m excited to share an interview with her today on SUM.
Kerri: Would you mind sharing a little bit about your diabetes diagnosis and your experiences with diabetes?
Haidee: I was diagnosed with T1D at the age of 2 ½ at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. Obviously, the early 70s was still the Dark Ages in terms of diabetes advancements. Synthetic insulin hadn’t been invented yet and there were no at-home test meters to speak of. At that time in my history I feel worse for my parents than I do for myself: I’m the one who doesn’t remember it.
My experiences with diabetes are what tell the story of my life. What else has been so reliably present?
Kerri: Your first volume of Fingerpricks is a dog-earned one in my house because the illustrations show a raw and poignant version of diabetes, one that people don’t often share or see. Can you talk about why you decided to tackle this side of the diabetes experience?
Haidee: Oh, that’s so great to hear, Kerri! I speculate that this side of diabetes exists for all of us in one way or another. This book consists, for the most part, of an edited selection of my personal thoughts; my hope is to reach people who don’t let thoughts like this surface as freely as I do. For non-diabetics, I think it’s essential to understand diabetes isn’t just watching what you eat and taking insulin. All books on diabetes contribute to the understanding of this disease.
For me, tackling this side of diabetes is cathartic, so somewhat selfish. Plus, there’s a small percentage of the diabetes community that appreciates the humor—or an appreciation that the humor is recognized. (There’s an even smaller percentage of people who know my work.) I am secretly very satisfied with the small number of accolades I get because, to me, they’re from the right people.
There’s a cartoon I did years ago that I would say is the most widely shared, re-posted, “liked” and from which I’ve had the highest number of responses. (Sadly, I’m not that flattered because it’s not the illustration itself that’s getting the attention.) This interest was a strong indicator that people really want others to know what goes on in our heads. Part of the motivation for this publication is based on that.
Kerri: One of my favorite cartoons is “You don’t LOOK like a diabetic.” “Smoke and mirrors, my friend.” When did you realize that diabetes was something that made you feel exceptional instead of an exception?
Haidee: Oh, I think I’ve always had it. As an adult I’m just comfortable to own it. It’s saying what we’re all thinking. The cartoon “Don’t waste me time” ties directly into that mindset. A lot more is demanded from a person with diabetes, whether that’s visible to the world or not. You “bring it” with no choice about the matter. Luckily, another diabetic can appreciate it. I don’t have the time or patience for people who don’t move as efficiently through life as the majority of diabetics do. For every one thought people without diabetes have, a person with diabetes has 5-10. This is proven research that I’ve done myself.
Kerri: Can you talk more about the “You’re so brave!” illustration?
Haidee: Yeah, I think that’s a shitty thing to hear your whole life when you really have no choice about the matter. It used to make me really angry and I was torn about how to respond. To me, courage and bravery are not the same. Bravery is a bold, fearless spirit, bordering on dramatics or thespianism. Courage is doing something you don’t want to do with a stiff upper lip. Like the commentary for that image says, Bravery implies that there’s a choice, a conscious decision to choose the option that puts oneself in the path of a risk.
I’ve determined that the correct response is: “It’s amazing what courage you can find in yourself when faced with challenges.”
Kerri: What’s the backstory/inspiration behind the “Is our love strong enough for this kind of honesty?” cartoon? It’s one of my favorites, because it really hits on the emotionally fragile battleground that data sharing can become.
Haidee: There’s no real back-story or specific inspiration, just an observation. It’s funny how we determine which individuals we’re honest with and those we keep at arm’s-length. It’s a strange and specific kind of intimacy that data sharing (I like your term) represents. Is it an indicator of how solid the relationship is? “If you really love me you’ll show me your numbers” vs. “If you really love me you wouldn’t ask.” The diabetic is certainly the one in the driver’s seat here though, for once.
Kerri: What do you hope people think, or feel, after reading through Fingerpricks, Volume 2?
Haidee: That it was worth $18.00. Really, the book jumps all over the place so I don’t think there’s one specific thought or feeling that I have in mind. I published this book for myself.
Kerri: What’s next for you and your journey as an artist and storyteller in this community?
Haidee: Who knows what the future holds. I contribute illustrations to various people and industry sites so they pop up now and then. I prefer my work to be reflective of myself, my perspectives and feelings, and a lot of publications can’t embrace that in its entirety. I totally get it. I guess just keep an eye out for future books?
Did these cartoons make you laugh? Make you think? There’s more. To pick up a copy of Haidee’s latest book, click through to her website and purchase Fingersticks, Volume 2. While you’re at it, grab a copy of Volume 1. You can throw some love to Haidee and Birdwing Press on Facebook, as well.