Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Girls Are Weird

After Deanna Sobinski’s odd and unprovoked raspberrying of Michael in yesterday's For Better or For Worse, we might expect in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, some kind of explanation. And for once, we got one and it is actually a well-argued point for a change.

Michael states his belief: “Girls are weird.”
Lawrence counters with: “Maybe not all girls!” Lawrence is admitting that some girls are weird, and possibly he is admitting that Deanna Sobinki’s behaviour on the school bus was weird.
Michael responds with: “Yeah… all girls.”

Then he begins his proof. Aside from Deanna Sobinski, Michael has a sister. Elizabeth qualifies as a girl, and one that both Lawrence and Michael know. In fact, Elizabeth is weird enough that Lawrence does not even argue the point. All Michael has to do is point out that he has a sister. To be honest, this is the weakest part of Michael’s argument. Elizabeth does not do much more than show up in silhouette in Panel 3. However, I could grant that a girl,who can appear as a silhouette when everything else around is clearly defined, has a little weirdness to her.

Lawrence counters with the question: What about mothers? Both Lawrence and Michael have one of those. Is Connie Poirier weird? Is Elly Patterson weird? We don’t get to see this part of the argument, because our next scene is Elly Patterson shrieking at Michael who has not taken off his shoes and has put some dirt on the floor. We know that Elly Patterson is a shrieker, but in times past when she shrieked over dirt, there was more dirt. Also, Elly has shown a reluctance to scream at her kids in front of people who are not family. I would hard-pressed to find another time when Elly shrieked at Michael in front of one of his friends. To me, Elly’s behaviour here is not so much weird, but out-of-character.

After this we see Lawrence’s argument defeated, as he admits, “You’re right. Girls are weird.” Of course Lawrence did not cede the entire point. He didn’t say, “All girls are weird.” Maybe Lawrence does not count his mom…yet. Wait until she chases after Phil Richards in Montreal to come to that conclusion. Nevertheless, the sight of Michael’s mother shrieking at him and pointing at the minimal amount of dirt coming off his feet is enough for Lawrence to come to the conclusion that Elly Patterson is weird.

I think Michael has made his point. Girls are weird. And that may be as good an explanation as we will get for Deanna Sobinski’s spitting.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Watch Your "Wait"

I had a third theory about Deanna Sobinski yesterday. My third theory was that Deanna Sobinski is mad at Michael for missing her farewell party and for not asking her to wait for him. I thought the idea was ridiculous. Nevertheless, as it turns out from today’s new-run in For Better or For Worse, my ridiculous theory may actually be the correct one. Deanna is (hopefully) talking to the girl beside her about her move back to Milborough, and not just talking to herself. I find that I must correct some dialogue though. Deanna says, “Then, my dad’s old boss said he missed him an’ asked him if he wanted to be the manager of a big, new hardware store an’ my mom said “Yes”! Then my dad’s old boss told him the big, new hardware store would be in Milborough an’ my mom said “Hell, no!” Dad decided to take the job anyway."

As for the spitting, we will perhaps see tomorrow why it is that Michael is the victim of Deanna’s saliva. In the meantime, that “BLARPFFFFTTT” is a little too close to “BARF” for my taste. Unless, of course, Lynn is trying to let us know that Deanna is barfing on Michael. That’s possible too.

Monday, September 28, 2009

More Than One Deanna?

With today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we have once again launched into the odd territory of “Did Michael really know Deanna Sobinski in preschool?” The storyline for this week is that Michael is so infatuated with Deanna Sobinski that he no longer thinks of her as a normal, ordinary person. He is unable to talk to her, and got his information about her move back to Milborough from Lawrence yesterday. In today’s new-run, he runs into Deanna and tells her “Oops! Sorry.” This is supposed to be a conversation with her. However, in order for this to be consistent with the storyline we had before with Michael and Deanna, you would have to ignore their extensive conversations in this strip and this strip and this strip and this strip.

I have a few theories about what is going on. The obvious one is that Lynn Johnston, once again, is paying virtually no attention to her own continuity. My second theory is that this is a different Deanna Sobinski, whom Michael and Lawrence have inadvertently confused with the Deanna Sobinski who left in preschool. The reasons for this are:

1. Preschool Deanna did not have her hair in pigtails. Grade 1 Deanna does.
2. Preschool Deanna wore pants exclusively. Grade 1 Deanna wears pretty short skirts.
3. Preschool Deanna had a head shape which made her look a lot like a young Anne Nichols with a square head which rose up in the back. Grade 1 Deanna has a more oval head.
4. Preschool Deanna initiated conversations with Mike. Grade 1 Deanna has never spoken a word to Mike.

My third theory is that Deanna Sobinski is mad at Michael for missing her farewell party and for not asking her to wait for him.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dr. John Patterson: 2009 Standards in Piggishness

With today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, we see Dr. John Patterson express an idea about women and their employment, i.e. that women are unreliable because of maternity leave, PMS, family issues, and personal stuff. The statement is startling for Dr. John Patterson because:

a. Dr. John Patterson employs exclusively women, and if he had this issue, you would think he would employ men instead, and

b. Unlike the male chauvinist pigs strips from the 1980s we have seen reprinted, this is a strip which originated in 2009, when Lynn Johnston should know better.

This is not the first time we have seen Dr. John Patterson express this sentiment in a new-run. Going back to October, 2008; we have 2 strips which talk about John’s loss of his hygienist Marie. This is the reprint. This is the new-run. Notice in the reprint, John laments the loss of his hygienist because it appears he greatly appreciated her work, and he tried to do what he could to encourage her to stay. In the new-run, John takes a shot at Marie for taking time off for maternity leave and for leaving due to her husband’s job change. In other words, John’s statement in the October, 2008 new-run is very similar to the one expressed in today’s new-run; but John’s statement in the October, 2008 reprint is not.

I had speculated that the reason Lynn Johnston did not update her male chauvinist pig strips being reprinted from the 1980s is because Lynn was labouring under the idea that men still regularly acted the way they used to 30 years ago. However, in comparing the reprint to the new-run talking about Marie, the hygienist, I am not so sure. The idea that Dr. John Patterson resents his female employees because of their family issues originates exclusively from 2009. Since this isn’t from the 1980s, the reasons Lynn put it in the new-runs are:

a. Another cheap shot at ex-husband, Dr. Rod Johnston, using his avatar Dr. John Patterson, or

b. Lynn Johnston taking a cheap shot at her own former female employees (some of whom took maternity leave), or

c. Lynn Johnston has not bothered to look at the old reprints to see exactly how John Patterson was a male chauvinist pig and instead has put whatever she thinks he used to do there, or

d. All of the above.

The most disappointing aspect of this strip is that it appears Lynn Johnston is still not over using this strip to flog her ex-husband. I really had hoped she was done with this, after she promised this past summer to bring the funny.

On a personal note: My wife is not about the business of flogging me. We leave today for a Carnival cruise to the West Caribbean courtesy of her employer, Homemade Gourmet. The kids will be taken care of by their grandparents, who have flown in to stay the week. See you all in a week.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Farley is Here. Really he is.

With today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, I am beginning to detect a pattern. Back on August 20, there was a new-run showing that, while the Pattersons were on vacation at the beach in the reprint strips prior to that point; Farley the dog had been kept in a kennel. The beach story strips in their original publication were pre-Farley, so Lynn Johnston added the new-run at the end of the storyline for apparently no other purpose than to make the strip storyline seem post-Farley.

This trouble was introduced when Lynn decided in this incarnation of the story, Farley the dog would be adopted while little Michael was in pre-school and not in Grade 1, as it was done the first time around. With today’s new-run, I have the feeling I am seeing the same type of thing again. We see Elly tell Mike that while she is at work, Anne will look in on Farley. The "Elly helps John at work" storyline was originally published pre-Farley. Now it is post-Farley.

I am beginning to wonder if this is the thing which Lynn Johnston was talking about, when she said some months ago that she wouldn’t start the strip into straight reprints until the story was strong enough to stand on its own. Maybe by "strong enough" she meant that the reprints had to progress to the point in the original storyline chronology to where Farley had original appeared when Michael was in Grade 1, so she would no longer have to explain why Farley was gone from the strips. Until that time comes in the reprint chronology, Lynn has to create the occasional odd new-run to let us readers know where Farley was, while he wasn't there yet.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Anne Nichols Can Play, Elly Can't

Look at Anne Nichols playing with Lizzie in panels 1 and 2 of today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse. Ignoring the fact that little Christopher does not look anything like his new-run self, I find this playing to be the most interesting part of the strip. I look back over all the strips over the last year and there is not one strip that shows Elly playing with her children, like we see Anne doing with Lizzie today.

This reminds me of one of my all-time favourite strips, the one where Elly is playing with the Mayes’ kids and tells Mike it is just practice. Later on, Elly is never shown playing with her grandchildren the way she played with Rosemary and Paul Mayes. Originally, I had thought this as an effect of cynical older Lynn Johnston. It turns out that it is characteristic of Elly Patterson.

Given this characteristic, the strip takes on a new meaning. Seeing Anne play with her daughter, Elly thinks, “She thinks I’m irresponsible.” You see, it is not just that Elly wants to work, but that by working Elly is missing the opportunity to learn to be a better parent. The things that Anne is doing with Christopher and Lizzie, could have been done by Elly if she were willing to apply herself to being a better mom. The story of Elly Patterson is that she applies herself to nothing, and is therefore, good at nothing, not even playing with her kids.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Elly Gets a Smock Smack Down

Lynn Johnston hasn’t gone to straight reprints yet. The intermediate strips originally published between the one yesterday and today’s reprint in For Better or For Worse, involving Mike talking about his teacher and John talking about Lizzie growing up, have been skipped over to get back to the “Elly goes to work” story.

In today’s strip Lynn approaches a reasonable aspect of going back to work, i.e. the work wardrobe. In Tucson, where everyone dresses casually to everything, including weddings and funerals (believe it or not), there is essentially no work wardrobe for most jobs. However, in the medical field, even in Tucson, you would be required to own a few of those medical smocks. This is what Elly has done in the strip today – she bought a medical smock very much like the one Jean Baker wears in this strip. As to whether Elly will wear the same medical smock all week, I don’t know and I am not sure I care to know.

Nevertheless, whenever moms consider going back to work part-time or otherwise, the financial questions do raise their ugly heads. Will mom’s take home salary offset the expense of work clothes, child care, and vehicle costs? Naturally, Elly does not even consider these aspects. Instead, Elly buys the work clothes and then takes a hit from her friend Anne Nichols for exchanging one uniform for another. Let me tell you Anne (self-righteous mom) Nichols, I have seen Elly’s clothes she wears around the house and there is no way that those shapeless, formless clothes are any kind of a uniform.

Speaking of “not uniform” there is always the handling of the Nichols boy. Compared to the new run last week, he’s back to being little Christopher again, once again proving Lynn's uncanny ability to pick strips to reprint without actually looking at them.

John to the Rescue, Sort of

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, John Patterson gets some love from Elly Patterson for finding her a job. When Lynn Johnston last reprinted this sequence of strips, this one did not make the cut. As you can tell, this strip actually makes John look good. He has acquiesced to Elly’s request for a job, and prevented her from having to go through the grueling processing of finding the job.

The final panel thought balloon from John shows that he already regrets making this offer to Elly. Ultimately it will turn out that he and Elly do not get along at work. Even though John says Elly will be working at the front desk, he has her doing all kinds of things for which she has not been properly trained and he has little patience for what I would think is her expected performance given the circumstances. On the other hand, Elly nags John about his house cleaning even there in the office. All those strips make John look really bad, and naturally they were reprinted during the hybrid year.

The thing I notice this time around, that I did not before, is that John has intentionally removed Elly from 3 important things:

1. John removes Elly from job-hunting. These are important skills to have, and Elly has probably never done them. Without this experience, it would be difficult for Elly to find a different job than the one John suggested.
2. Elly does not have to go through a salary discussion on getting a job. In fact, it’s difficult to tell if Elly got any money for herself personally through the work.
3. John’s job for Elly is temporary, so the part-time does not develop a continuous situation. Possibly John hopes that after working for him for a week, Elly will get this desire out of her system.

Even though John looks good in this strip, in reality he is still maintaining complete control over Elly. I would consider this to be very sneaky on John’s part, except I am pretty sure that Lynn Johnston was not thinking of it this way, given the happy look on Elly’s face and the hug she gives John.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

So Much More and So Much the Same

My first thought as I look at Elly sweeping in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse is that Elly must be left-handed, judging from the hand position she has on the broom. The second thought is that Elly has returned to a style we haven’t seen since Monday April 7, 2008. Lynn is using sound effect words to convey what it is that Elly is doing, even though it is not in the picture. In addition to sweeping, Elly is also dusting, wiping, and cleaning. In other words, Elly is doing a lot more cleaning than what is pictured in the panel.

Added to this is the final panel showing young Michael Patterson with a face and head shape so much like Charles Schulz’s work in Peanuts, Lynn should just have cut him a royalty cheque. We see little Michael and Lizzie making their usual mess, that has appeared in countless strips. This time, however, because it being contrasted with Elly super-cleaning mode, we know that even though Lynn has illustrated all the sound effects which appear beside the two, these are only a small portion of the actual mess these two are making. There is more mess than appears in the panel, if Lynn Johnston is maintaining the same rules of sound effects that she did for Elly in the prior panel.

This is actually a fairly clever combination in terms of how the sound effects represent more than what is seen. I thought I had seen strips with the kids making messes as fast as Elly could clean them up, but a quick glance through the last 2 years of strips, does not show the 2 elements in combination. It has been either Elly shrieking because of the housework and a mess the kids made, or the kids have been shown to be making a mess entirely on their own. It takes a different breed of kid to make a mess right in front of their parent while she is cleaning.

I know the breed though. My son is that way. Just today, he had finished sweeping up an area, and then got a chocolate cupcake and left crumbs all over the floor he had just swept. Fortunately, he knew where the broom was, and he had to resweep.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Elly Patterson is for the Birds

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, Elly Patterson finds herself at a party where she cannot relate to any of the conversation. John Patterson is talking to his dentist friends about favourite dental stories to which Elly cannot relate. Two sets of women are talking about makeup and facials to which Elly cannot relate. I guess Elly, back in those days, did not wear makeup or didn’t want to talk about it. I don't either. So, Elly ends up talking to a bird in a cage to whom Elly can relate. Get the symbolism there? Elly is like the bird kept in a cage. The colourist even coloured Elly’s clothes and the bird’s feathers the same way, in case you missed it. In fact, Lynn Johnston drew that bird with an enormous spread between its little birdy feet, which tells us this is one fat bird. Maybe Elly relates to the bird on that level too.

Considering Lynn Johnston was living in Lynn Lake, Manitoba at the time she did this strip, I doubt that Lynn could have gone to many parties where there was more than one dentist in attendance. Nevertheless, there were a number of strips in the first year of the strip which made it look like John and Elly were sophisticated party goers.

Looking back at those strips now, I suddenly realize that at those parties, John is the center of attention and Elly rarely speaks. This fits the theme of today’s strip, where Elly wanders about the party without no one to talk to. In the CBC interview with Lynn Johnston back in 1980, she mentioned how much did not like the place and how the people there referred to her as the crazy dentist’s wife. Although the sophistication would not match Lynn Lake, what I imagine that Lynn is representing correctly is her sense of alienation at living in her husband Rod’s home town. Everyone knows who he is, and no one knows who she is. Also, Lynn could be showing us that she cannot relate to what is important to the residents of Lynn Lake; but instead of showing us swinger parties, adultery and wife-swapping (the way Lynn described Lynn Lake life in her Macleans Magazine interview), she shows us makeup and facials instead. That only makes sense. I doubt her audience would really go in for the real Lynn Lake as described by Lynn.

Friday, September 11, 2009

John’s Mom Life: Baking Cookies and Picking up Socks?

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, Elly introduces the idea she has been approaching all week – a part time job. The usual questions a husband would raise in this situation are not raised by John:

a. What about Lizzie? Where is she going to go?
b. Are you going to make enough to cover the cost of child care, gasoline, and a work wardrobe?
c. Are there a lot of jobs out there which will accommodate Michael’s school hours?

Instead John does not respond at all. He sulks. And when Elly introduces the idea that she can’t spend her life baking cookies and picking up socks, John’s retort is that his mother did that. Naturally, this leads me back to our Carrie Patterson biography:

The crucial lines are below:

Fortunately, since male teachers had become a scarcity in wartime, Carrie was given permission by the school district to continue teaching despite being married. It was a concession that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier. 1948 marked a major turning point in their marriage. Mark, who had grown into a broad-shouldered and handsome man, married a girl who brought him a quarter-section of good farmland as her dowry. With the additional land and five good crop years behind them, the junior Pattersons no longer had any need of Will's financial aid. Will and Carrie celebrated by adding another room to their house, and began to prepare for their long-delayed family. John was born in 1949, Bev in 1951 and William Jr. (Bill) in 1954.

The Patterson's life in Flin Flon came to an abrupt and unforeseeable end in 1966. Mark's wife phoned in tears to inform them that he had developed severe asthma. His farming days were over. With mixed feelings, Will and Carrie sold their house, said farewell to their many good friends in the north, and moved back to Aberdeen to take over the family farm.

In 1966, when John was 17 years old, his mom quit school-teaching and became a farm wife. Having known a few of those in my family, let me assure you that they do not spend their days baking cookies and picking up socks. Probably Carrie Patterson didn’t do too much of that as a full-time school teacher either.

The question is whether or not Beth Cruikshank or Rod Johnston’s real-life mom did that. At the time the strip was written, Rod Johnston’s parents lived in the same town as Lynn and Rod – Lynn Lake, Manitoba. There would have been easy access there, for a real answer.

The more likely answer is that Lynn was borrowing from a stereotype. After all, the struggle with a part-time job is not a struggle that Rod and Lynn had in real life; since Lynn was doing For Better or For Worse. If Lynn pulls from elements which did not exist in her real life, then she is making things up out of her own imagination, which is usually deadly when it comes to Lynn.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Confronting the Bitter Past

In today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse, Dr. John Patterson says that he doesn’t like the idea of working mothers, because a house should be a home. Apparently, his dental assistant, Jean Baker, oinks at him for expressing this belief. That lets us know that this is another in the line of “John Patterson is a male chauvinist pig” jokes, and lets us know just how out-of-date the strip is.

Because we know the future, we know how ironic John’s opinion is. Jean Baker will take time off work to have her first child and then John will beg her to come back to work for him. Clearly, John’s opinion on working mothers only applies when it affects him positively.

For Lynn Johnston, the problem is more difficult. By 2005, Lynn’s opinion on working mothers has changed. Thérèse Caine, Mrs. Caine #1 is criticized in these 3 strips for being a working mother and leaving the childcare to her husband. For years I used to interpret these strips as Lynn saying, “It’s OK for a woman to work, but she must also be her children’s primary caregiver.” I would point out that Deanna Patterson was also a working mother as a defense. That worked, until Lynn got to her final strip of the modern era and revealed that Deanna ditched her pharmacy job for a sewing school, once her husband achieved success in writing. Lynn proved I was wrong for defending her.

Now modern Lynn Johnston has to go back and face her opinion from her earlier years. Interesting enough, the subject is more controversial now than it was back in 1980. Searching the internet I found this:

54% - The proportion of children in Canada aged six months to five years who were in some form of child care in 2002-2003, up from 42% in 1994-1995. (From the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth.)

And I found this:

Almost five times as many children experience parental separation before their sixth birthday as did their counterparts in the 1960s

I know that Jean Baker is making her oink noises to show that John is a male chauvinistic pig; but is it necessarily chauvinism? John singles out working mothers for his opinion, and he hires women for his business. There are many people who want to stay home with their children for reasons of higher quality parenting during a child's younger years, and not for reasons of saying that women are inferior to men.

The way Lynn Johnston handled the situation is by changing the order of presentation of the strips. According to aprilp_katje , the original order of presentation was Thursday’s strip, Wednesday’s strip and then today’s strip.

In that order, it makes it appear that the idea of Elly getting a job comes from Jean Baker, while Elly is thinking the same thing at home. Modern Lynn changes the order. Therefore, on Tuesday, we have a new-run where Anne Nichols offers Elly childcare and suggests getting a job to Elly. On Wednesday, Elly considers it and then on Thursday and Friday, Jean Baker talks about it with John. It is almost as if Lynn can no longer stand the idea that her avatar in Elly would come up with the idea herself.

As for me, I am simply amused to see John Patterson talking about something Elly plans to do using the same words that Anthony Caine used to talk about his ex-wife Thérèse. That makes today's reprint all worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I Guess Elly Will be Getting a Job

As Elly Patterson was trying to remember what her field of interest is, we have the contrasting point-of-view with Dr. John Patterson in today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse. John would prefer if Elly does not work at all, even if she does manage to figure out what her field of interest is. Of course, John has to use the phrase “she can be as liberated as the rest of them” to remind us not only what time period it is, but also to remind us that John is an sexist pig.

The more interesting aspect of the strip is with the 2 women (1) Jean Baker, working in her dental assistant role and (2) the unknown woman who is the dental patient.

Jean Baker makes the statement which starts the strip off. “—with Michael in school, I guess Elly will be getting a job!” Now why would she make that presumption? Most stay-at-home moms I know, like to stay at home for all their kids, not just the first born. If Lizzie were in school (and April hadn’t arrived yet), I could see Jean making that statement. As it is, it makes little sense, unless Jean Baker thinks that only boys are worth staying home for. I suspect the real reason is that both Lynn Johnston’s kids were in school at the time and she wrote the strip from her perspective, even if her life did not exactly match that of Elly Patterson in timing.

Aside from Jean’s confusing presumptions, there is a lot of fun in watching her apparently put together the strange dental tool she hands to John. I also like the look of pure anger in the last panel from either a reaction to John’s sexist statement, or to what appears to be John closing his eyes and inserting that dental tool in his patient’s right temple.

As for the patient, she appears to be whirling around in her dental chair. John and Jean hold the same basic position, but the patient goes from left to center and then, quite mysteriously, starts heading down. She appears to be quite exasperated in the final panel, possibly from John’s sexist statement or the dental instrument John is inserting in the side of her head.

The dated part of the strip is the discussion equating a woman working with a woman being liberated. When this strip came out, in the early 1980s, I remember very clearly the topic of discussion for women’s liberation was the backlash of women who were tired of being told that they had to work in order to be considered liberated. Lynn’s topic would have been about 10 years out-of-date at the time the strip was originally published.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Forgotten Field of Interest

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse provides an interesting mental exercise.

Elly says, “Either I have too much education for most of these jobs or I don’t have enough!”

As we know, Elly has a high school education with a few semester of university courses she was taking towards a major in English. It is easy to figure out jobs for which Elly does not have enough education. The tricky part is to figure out jobs for which Elly is overqualified.

Looking on-line I have found those jobs to fit Elly’s category:

Personal and home care aides
Home health aides
Amusement and recreation attendants
Adjustment clerks
Janitors and cleaners, including maids and housekeepers
Salespersons, retail
Waiters and waitresses

It is no surprise then that Elly comes up with clerk and waitress as possibilities.

Then Elly says, “But I really want a challenging career in my field of interest! - If I can remember what it is…” It was English, Elly; because supposedly you want to be a writer.

One possible interpretation of the dialogue would be that Elly has a serious short-term memory problem. However, to the demographic for whom this strip was intended to appeal, what we have is the stay-at-home mother or wife with a desire to be great and significant for something other than being a mother or wife. The only problem is that the woman has no earthly idea what that something other could be. This is definitely aimed at women, who do not have to work, but who do not have a great deal of disposable money. For a woman, who has to work, there is no question that you take the job for which you can get hired, that pays the best, be it a clerk or waitress or something else. For a wealthy woman who does not have to work, the question is how she is going to spend her time and her money. Elly does not have to work, but does not have a lot of money to throw around. Therefore, her desire for work is based solely on personal satisfaction. The problem is that Elly does not know what would satisfy her. This strip works well with that understanding.

We are going to see Elly struggle with this for the next 20 years, until John buys her the toy and book store Lilliput’s in 2000. Just 3 years later in 2003, Elly starts talking about retirement. And in 2006, Elly actually does sell the bookstore and retire. However, before that can happen, notice what happens in this strip. Yes, employee Beatrice Alfarero has to tell Elly that she has created a landmark. In other words, Elly has achieved greatness and significance. She has met her goal from 1980.

What is that? A Video on How You Should Visit Your Elder Parents

Lynn has written a new blog entry for the first time since July. I will repeat and then comment on the text.

Kate I went to see Anna H. yesterday. She's 87 and was a great friend of Ruth's.

Ruth is Ruth Johnston, Rod Johnston’s mother and Kate’s grandmother. I remember Lynn’s interview with Caring Today, where she talked about Ruth’s stroke, and indirectly stated that she preferred being around Ruth’s husband, Tom; because he didn’t complain about his illness. In other words, Ruth did complain, and Lynn doesn't like complainers. It’s interesting that Kate would want to see Anna H. Given that Anna H. was Ruth’s friend, I have the feeling that Kate had a better relationship with her grandmother than Lynn did, in order to get this association with one of her friends.

Katie had promised to give her some lupin seeds and had shelled a bowlful for her. I called, thinking she was surely busy with her family on a holiday weekend, but she was alone at home and so glad for the company.

The overall theme of this is going to be that Anna H. is not getting the attention she deserves from her family, which is going to be what Lynn took away from the film “What is that?” The film really beats you over the head that you need to treat people with kindness, even when they do something that is irritating. Given Lynn’s opinion in the Caring Today article about she gets irritated by old people who complain, I can see why she might miss this point.

We stayed for tea and as we were leaving, she hugged us both and said she had lived far too long. She later called me to thank me again for the roses I brought and said that it must have been hard for us to visit an old person! I was stunned. I guess she has a good relationship with her daughters, but they have their own lives and Anna is very undemanding.

Back to her theme. Anna is glad Lynn came by to visit, but Lynn has it in her head that the reason must because Anna’s daughters are inattentive. I remember visiting with people in rest homes with my kids, and they liked visitors, even if their children were attentive. However, notice Lynn’s caveat. “Anna is very undemanding.” In other words, Anna H. is an old person worthy of being visited. She is not a complainer.

She has lost 2 sons and her husband and many of her good friends have gone...and I guess she spends a lot of time alone. I had no idea. She is bright and kind and wise and I'm going to see her much more often. I DO enjoy visiting with "old people"- as does Kate, surprisingly. It was her idea to go and visit Anna.

The idea that Anna H. spends a lot of time alone is foreign to Lynn. The idea that Anna H would be bright and kind and wise is foreign to Lynn also. Lynn is even surprised that Kate would want to visit an old person. Lynn needs to get out more often. From the way she has written this, it appears that Lynn has never visited Anna H. before, and was doing it this time, only because Kate was doing it. “More often” is a promise to Anna H. Lynn can easily fulfill.

After all...I'm on my way to being an old person, and Anna is another friend who is giving this part of the journey all she has to give, without complaint and without reliance on anyone else- if possible. It's people like Anna who are teaching me "how to do it"!!

So, back to the theme presented by Lynn in Caring Today. “without complaint, without reliance on anyone else.” Anna H. is showing Lynn the way to be an ideal old person. I just hope Anna H doesn't get sick and need help from other people, then she can kiss those Lynn Johnston visits goodbye.

Anyway, the video reminded me that it's so important to include our elders whenever we can, to learn from them, to cherish them and to keep making memories with them- because, there will come a day when that's all we have.

And back to Lynn’s theme she got from this video: Don’t ignore your elder parents, folks. You'll regret it when they are dead. Are you getting that hint, Aaron Johnston?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Christopher Nichols Grows Fast

In today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston returns to one of her running themes: Christopher Nichols is a violent little boy. The thing I find most interesting about Christopher Nichols is how much he has progressed in the last 2 months. Note that Christopher and Lizzie are both wearing a shirt and pants. In other words, both children are wearing diaper-changing unfriendly outfits, implying that they are both potty-trained. Not only that, but their fight over the bear occurs while both are standing up. These are significant achievements, especially when you look back 2 months, as I am about to do.

Thursday July 9, 2009 is a reprint showing Christopher crawling and drooling.

Friday July 10, 2009 is a reprint showing Christopher crawling to Lizzie and grabbing her doll for a fight, they have sitting down.

Sunday July 12, 2009 is a reprint showing Christopher pulling up on his mother’s chair and sitting in her lap.

Monday August 10, 2009 is a reprint showing Christopher and Lizzie playing nicely by the blowup pool. Christopher is set into the pool by his mother, but later appears outside the pool, pulled up on the side.

Monday August 24, 2009 is a new-run showing Christopher and Lizzie sitting quietly with their mother watching a commercial for Hinkley’s Handy Haven. Christopher is sitting on Anne’s lap.

Tuesday August 25, 2009 is a new-run showing Christopher and Lizzie, not walking but being strollered through the store.

And then we have today’s strip with Christopher walking, standing, wearing big boy pants; and able to fight over a stuffed bear without falling down. That is a lot of progress in 2 months.

The reason for this sudden progress is obvious. Lynn Johnston must have looked at the “Anne Nichols baby-sitting Lizzie” strips and seen Christopher is standing in those strips. This is not quite as obvious a fix as Deanna Sobinski suddenly reappearing in school; but it’s nice to know that Lynn Johnston does actually, from time-to-time, look at the strips she plans to reprint.

Before you get the idea that children don't progress that quickly, I will remind you that just last October, Lizzie went from her first steps to standing with full rain gear on to being able to go outside and play standing up in the rain. So you see, Christopher's rapid progress, is perfectly in keeping with the standard of child development established by Lynn Johnston.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Bad at Parenting, Great at Guilt

One of my favourite new-runs in For Better or For Worse was the one from September 30, 2008; where Elly Patterson talked about how she was so busy at home, she didn’t even have time to read a newspaper. John had time to read a newspaper; but not poor, constantly-labouring Elly. I think it is appropriate that here on Labour Day, in addition to thinking about how quiet her house is with Michael at school, the first thing you see is that Elly’s labour has decreased to the point where she can actually take the time to read a newspaper.

As for me, personally I found that my kids in the 0 – 2 year age range kept me a lot busier than kids who were 6 years old, when they were at home. Fortunately, Elly doesn’t have to deal with my kids. She has little Lizzie, a girl who apparently doesn’t make a sound; and who is such a gentle eater, that she does not make a mess when she eats; and she even picks her teeth with a toothpick. Little Lizzie appears to be a girl so demure that you can put her in the crib for a nap, without changing her diaper first; and when she doesn’t look like she is the slightest bit sleepy. No wonder Elly considers the house to be quiet with Michael gone, if her other child is like that.

How long should Elly feel guilty for enjoying Michael’s departure to school? At the heart of the matter is whether Elly should feel guilty at all. She lives in a country that can afford to educate its children. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Does Elly think she should be home-schooling Michael? Does she think that any parent who enjoys a relief of burden from dealing with their child should feel guilty? Does she feel that a parent should want to be around their child 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Or is this simply another case of Elly finding a way to make herself miserable, when she should be very happy?

Elly is good at guilt.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Will Do Anything for Cookies

One of the recurring themes in the Patterson family is how Michael and Elizabeth will do almost anything for a cookie. I think there is a special part of a kid’s head devoted to this idea; because I remember when I was a young fellow, my favourite character on the Sesame Street TV show, was Cookie Monster. Cookie Monster, by and large, seemed to be a fairly unintelligent monster, or at least a monster who was unaware that the first person singular subject of a sentence was “I” and not “Me.” Nevertheless, when it came to getting cookies away from other characters on the show, he was matched by no one. Even Ernie, who was known for tricking cookies away from his old, buddy Bert; could not keep his cookies out of the paws and mouth of Cookie Monster.

Today’s reprint of For Better or For Worse fits that theme. Young Michael draws a picture of his mother and gets a cookie in return. Then he takes the same picture, declares it to be his father, no doubt in the hope of another cookie from his dad. The part which doesn’t work for me is the picture. My kids, at that age, were obsessed with the idea that what they drew was what they drew. If they drew a picture of their mother, then that was who it was. End of story. There was no switching around and saying it was someone else. It was who it was.

In the same situation as Michael Patterson, my kids would have drawn another picture, this time of their father, and tried to use it to get a cookie out of me. Or, if they thought their mother was the soft touch, they would have drawn another picture of her. They would not have ever tried to take the same picture and tell me that it was me, when they drew it to be a picture of their mother. They just didn’t think that way.

As for the Patterson kids, it is probably a different story. Their obsession with cookies is at a whole different level.

The November 23, 2007 strip is one of the best examples of Pattersons using and abusing cookies. It turns out that little Lizzie is so upset by Michael’s taunting of her with a cookie, she actually manages to say the word “Gookie.”

In the June 25, 2008 strip, Elly proves to be a soft touch for cookies and Michael takes advantage of that to supply cookies to his friends.

In the June 29, 2008 strip, young Lizzie is almost completely incoherent as she talks on the phone, except she manages to get out, “Cookie. Num-num!” She knows what is important in life.

In the September 11, 2008 strip, young Michael manages to keep cookies away from Connie and Lawrence Poirier and declares, “The rude dude gets the food.” as he eats a cookie.

In the October 25, 2008 strip, Michael goes to Mrs. Baird’s house to ply her for cookies and is quite successful.

As you can see, Michael Patterson is clearly the same personality as Cookie Monster, except Cookie Monster is a little nicer.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The First Reprint of the Second Year of New-Runs

And now, finally, the reprint that aprilp_katje in her excellent FOOBar thought was going to come on Wednesday. You will note that in the reprint, young Michael Patterson is operating without any sign of a button nose.

This has been a banner week of new-runs. It has been awhile since I have seen so many fixes to the continuity occurring in such a short time. Shall we review? I think I shall.

Saturday, August 29 Fixes to Continuity
1. Lawrence and Michael are going to ride the bus with the big kids. That fixes this strip where Lawrence and Michael ride the bus with big kids on their way to preschool.

2. Lawrence and Michael are going to be gone all day. That fixes this strip where John is going to pick up Michael from preschool at 4 pm.

Tuesday, September 1 Fixes to Continuity
1. The school looks and smells the same as when Elly went to school. In other words, the strip is not set in modern times. This will fix any reprints upcoming where the teachers use antiquated equipment, like blackboards.

Wednesday, September 2 Fixes to Continuity
1. Reinforcing that Elly has not seen Michael ride the bus to school before.

Thursday, September 3 Fixes to Continuity
1. Deanna Sobinski returns. That fixes the whole storyline back in January where Deanna left for Burlington 4 years too early for the reprints.

2. Michael continues to be obsessed with Deanna. That fixes this strip from 11/13/1996, where Michael confesses his extreme feelings for Deanna from his time in Grade 4, which had never been seen before in the strip.

Friday, September 4 Fixes to Continuity
1. Michael Patterson is a trouble-maker. This sets up stories between Michael and Miss Campbell, where Michael is portrayed as the worst kid in her class.

Oh, it’s been a good week, watching Lynn Johnston pay the price for her own negligence in researching the story that she originally did 30 years ago.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Miss Campbell - Master of Discipline

Well, Miss Campbell is certainly a hardass calling down Michael Patterson by name for writing an “M” on his paper in today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse. If this is going to be Lynn Johnston’s idea of Michael being a disruptive influence in his Grade 1 class, then I am going to love the new-runs for their snarkability. The disappointment of today’s strip is that this is Friday and Michael did not go over to Deanna Sobinski to find out why she is back in town. Lynn Johnston’s nonlinear style of story-telling can be frustrating at times. I suppose this means the subject will be touched on in Saturday’s strip. Of course the other possibility is that Lynn will not touch on the subject at all, since her only objective is to get Deanna back so she can be in the scheduled reprints. Why Deanna is really back is unimportant compared to that.

As for the joke of the strip, we have a pun on the words “pay” and “cost”, which no Grade 1 kids would ever say. One odd part is when young Michael says, “I wonder why they always say…” As this is Michael first day in class, it seems a little unlikely that he would have drawn some kind of universal conclusion about what teachers do or do not say. I can only presume from the comment, that Michael’s teacher in preschool /kindergarten had a similar problem with Michael’s attention span. Likewise, Lawrence’s comment about “it’s gonna cost ya!!” seems odd considering that it is also his first day in Grade 1 and he should be completely unfamiliar with the punishment techniques of Grade 1 teachers. I can only presume that Lawrence’s teacher in preschool /kindergarten was big into punishment. The more natural conclusion is that Lynn Johnston is trying to write a strip which she expects teachers will clip out and put on their refrigerators. Teachers are the people for whom the dialogue seems to be intended.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Return of Preschool

With today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, I think we can safely bring back all the preschool strips of November 24-29, 2008; and January 12 – 17, 20, 29 – 31, 2009 into the canon. Button-nose Michael says, “Deanna’s here, Lawrence. She’s back.” Normal –nose Lawrence whispers, “Yeah. I wonder why.” I imagine there are a host of loyal For Better or For Worse fans, who are unfamiliar with the events of the first 4 years of the strip, who are asking the exact same question. I imagine there are folks who fully expected that when September, 2009 came around, Lynn Johnston would roll into straight reprints. I imagine that one of those persons is Lynn Johnston herself. I can just hear the conversation now:

Lynn Johnston: OK. September, 2009 is finally here. I can start doing straight reprints.

Webmaster Stephanie: No you can’t.

Lynn Johnston: What is it this time? I fixed the business with Anne Nichols 2 boys, didn’t I? There's only one now.

Webmaster Stephanie: Yes, but you wrote a story where Deanna moved away from Milborough, last January.

Lynn Johnston: I loved telling that story. The tragedy of Michael not getting to see her leave because he was sick. Deanna just disappeared the first time, and this time we have closure. I almost cried when I wrote that story. It was so touching. It was almost like I had a camera in my own house.

Webmaster Stephanie: You do have a camera in your own house. But Deanna didn’t leave until Grade 4.

Lynn Johnston: And?

Webmaster Stephanie: We can’t reprint the stories with her in them.

Lynn Johnston: Because?

Webmaster Stephanie:
People will get confused when she leaves because she already left.

Lynn Johnston: My fans won’t question it. They love everything I do. I’m thinking about publishing a treasury edition featuring pictures of old handkerchiefs I have sneezed in. Do you think it will sell?

Webmaster Stephanie: It would be make more sense than a treasury edition featuring your new-runs.

Lynn Johnston: Wait! Something just occurred to me. If I bring back Deanna, then I could write an even more tragic departure the second time she leaves. What do you think of this? Deanna has to decide if she is going to leave or stay, but then Farley dies rescuing her, while Elly is running down the street in her housecoat carrying garbage bags and a stampede of kids' legs with hot dogs coming out of the buns that Elly holds. After Farley has a heart attack from seeing that, then Deanna realizes that she has to leave.

Webmaster Stephanie: What kind of drugs are you on? You can’t write a strip about Farley dying. He dies much later on saving April from drowning.

Lynn Johnston: If my fans will let me bring back Deanna, then they will let me bring back Farley. They love the story of Farley dying and they will love it twice as much if he dies 2 times.

Webmaster Stephanie: Sheesh! We are never going to get around to doing straight reprints.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The End of Preschool Forever

With today’s new-run of For Better or For Worse, I think we can safely eliminate the school bus-riding, full-day preschool strips of November 24-29, 2008; and January 12 – 17, 20, 29 – 31, 2009 from the canon. I now consider them to have gone the way of the second son of Anne Nichols into the land of “Lynn Johnston does no research and her memory stinks.” Not only does eliminating the preschool strips help with letting today’s new-run make sense; but in the long term, when Deanna Sobinski reappears in the strip over the next 3 years, it helps that reappearance make sense. The new canon therefore is:

a. Michael and Lawrence did not go to full-day preschool riding on a bus. They experienced this for the first time going to school for Grade 1 (or First Grade, if you like to suck up to people living in the States).
b. Deanna Sobinski has not left Milborough to live in Burlington.

Aside from egregious errors in the continuity, the most amusing parts of the story are those new-run button noses. Everytime I look at Lizzie and Michael now, I see a miniature clown or a miniature alcoholic – maybe both.