I was invited to participate in a “Studio Process” for a graduate student’s thesis project, and here’s what came out of me:

After we art-ed, we were asked to write “witness statements” about what we’d made. I wrote this:

I laughed a lot making this.
I laugh looking at it.

I see a cartoon of a naked woman (obviously based on me) discovering and exploring a hole in her abdomen, in 8 sequential images.
Although you’d expect a hole in the Self to be cause for sadness and grief, this woman enjoys it the more she explores.
In the first image she looks surprised, skeptical, and concerned, as she has just discovered her hole.
In the second image she puts her hand through the hole, to emerge out the other side. She is testing that the hole is real.
In panel 3 she put her opposite hand through the hole, back to front. She seems to be gaining confidence as the hole becomes a reliable part of herself.
In the fourth panel, she performs a serene yoga move, standing elegantly on one foot as she places her opposite leg through her hole, back to front.
In panel 5 she does another poised and competent pose, balancing while placing one foot through her hole front to back.
I don’t know how panel 6 will be “read” by viewers, but my intention was to show her putting her head through her hole front to back.
In panel 7 she peeks through her hole as she’s inserted her head back to front. Her flaccid menopausal breasts hang down comically in every drawing, but especially this one.
In panel 8 she has disappeared. Up her own hole? Or through it? Has she attained perfect peace, Nirvana? Or has she vanished into obscurity? Or absurdity?

This hole is not an ass-hole. It might be an Existential Grief hole. Or it is the space left from my hysterectomy? Certainly I had that in mind when I started drawing. I am aware that many women experience grief after hysterectomy, but I had none; more relief, and optimism of a future free of pain, at least free of the abdominal pain I suffered from fibroids and complications. Indeed, I have been much healthier since my hysterectomy, which coincided with menopause. Perhaps I have a hole where my hysterectomy grief is supposed to be.

Quite aside from being happier and healthier sans uterus, I still experience grief over other things. Where is my life’s meaning? Cancelation is a near constant source of grief. I am aging, and have to accept the loss of my youth and cuteness. I grieve my mother’s progress toward death, and the demises, recent and impending, of younger friends. I often wonder what I am doing here, what is the point, and that feels like a hole, which I call my Existential Grief-Hole. But even that I am exploring and becoming friends with.

Afterwards I made a little animation of it, because I can:


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

5 thoughts on “Hole”

  1. Hi Nina,

    I absolutely love this post! At age 84 I long ago left behind my youthful cuteness
    and fertility, and yet, I find this stage of life to be the most freeing time in my life.
    The ‘existential grief hole’ is an apt metaphor and I thank you for making me
    laugh while inviting women to dance with their ‘hole.’

    Best to you,

  2. I know you’re going through difficult things Nina that would make anyone feel the same way and I’m glad you’re exploring it. Still, that last paragraph, you don’t have to feel that way. Your ‘cancellation’ has little to do with you, let alone deserve your constant grief; it’s people going through their own things and lashing out, which you don’t need to suffer, so instead of grief I celebrate weakminded nutjobs avoiding you. You preserved your health, not just for yourself but for everyone that cares about you, so it’s hard to feel hysterectomy grief. Time stops for nobody, so a little existential saudade is good, but you never lost your cuteness. Sorry for having to say all this in this way, but you’re fucking adorable.

    That animation is awesome. Angst can lead to art, and we enjoy your art. Still, we love you, and maybe love is the point.

  3. I just splattered my phone with tea ‘cos you made me laugh so much. Some of it went up my nose too. I am tempted to get another tattoo – it is going to be existential grief hole. You are Brill.

  4. Our purpose is rarely clear to us. For long stretches, we have to make it up as we go along. Or at least I do. My warmest thoughts on navigating the Grief-Hole.

    But, I can say with certainty that your work has reached my life, inspired me, and stoked my desire to be an independent animator. And I am. I’m so independent, in fact, that I’m often free from even the constraints of an audience. No matter – it’s a beautiful form of art, and you’ve contributed to it beautifully and deeply. Nobody can cancel that.

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