Panel from Piece by Piece, an online weekly comic strip. Copyright, Mario Menjivar and Rosemary Rivera
Like most families affected by this pandemic, dealing with the crisis, and the abrupt shutdown of life as we knew it, has been surreal. The hectic pace of each day ground to a halt. Before there was too much to do and not enough time, now there’s nothing but time and few places to go, unless it’s necessary.
We’re fortunate enough that my husband could teach animation from home while I became co-teacher, lunch lady and recess buddy to our tween son. College courses happened in the basement while 5th grade took place in a bedroom. Technical issues were few compared to the emotional toll remote schooling took on our son, who is on the autism spectrum. Some days were great, but most were met with angry meltdowns.
Living in one of the hardest hit boroughs, it was near impossible to take our son outside to take walks during the height of New York City’s explosion of Coronavirus cases. Unlike most Bronx residents, we’re lucky to live in a private house with a small back yard. Our son enjoyed it for a while but has since retreated indoors.
At first, I worried then remembered another time in our lives where surviving in The Bronx meant living a lockdown life. Decades ago, kids like my husband and I were growing up in a Bronx that was burning all around us, leaving rubble as our playgrounds. Those 10 plus years were the subject of a recent award-winning documentary. We spent most of our childhood retreating indoors, with little to do except to embrace creativity.
Creativity took my husband to a career in animation during Disney’s renaissance and took me to a career in media and television. Our combined creativity helped us come up with animated show ideas we pitched at networks and studios. Life had taken us to different paths since, but now it was making us call on that creativity again.
I pitched my husband an idea based on our life as an autism family. I wanted to celebrate moments that don’t often get attention when talking about life with someone on the spectrum. There are lots of challenges but also some funny moments that are universal, yet colored with a point of view that tests (and expands) our neurotypical logic. Plus, our son has a quick, offbeat sense of humor that’s perfect for a comic strip.
When we ran it by our son, we weren’t sure if he’d be comfortable with us telling stories based on familiar experiences, or if he’d like to be involved. To our delight he’s become a co-creator in his own right. Each week he oversees the progress of our work, pitches his own strip ideas and helps launch the strip online. Piece by Piece has become a way for him to tell his stories, his way
Piece by Piece features art by illustrator/animator, Mario Menjivar.
Growing up during a time of socio-economic neglect had given my generation a lesson in how to pull ourselves up through sheer creativity. As we navigate our way through this world-scale crisis, we hope that the power of creativity opens up even better paths for our son and his generation, too.
Originally published in LinkedIn