On The Rocky Road To Adulthood, Illustrator Asks 'Am I There Yet?'

Mar 24, 2018
Originally published on March 24, 2018 8:24 am

Mari Andrew is the dark-haired woman in black glasses, both in real life and in the cartoons she draws for her Instagram account. She illustrates what she learns as she goes along — about loss, love and trying to grow up by the time you're 30 and accused of being an adult.

In Am I There Yet?: The Loop-De-Loop, Zigzagging Journey To Adulthood, Andrew has produced a book of cartoons, short essays, and pointed observations drawn — in all ways — from a couple of difficult years.

"During a tough break-up, I also experienced the loss of my father and found myself at sort of a rock-bottom place, which is a place where you often begin to think about what you really want in life," Andrew says. "And at the same time, I realized that I was the only person who was in charge of my happiness. And so I went on a crusade to make myself happy, and one of the things that I did everyday was do a little watercolor drawing."


Interview Highlights

On what her Washington, D.C. apartment catching fire taught her to appreciate

That was mundanity and the beautiful feeling of being at home somewhere. I've wandered around a lot in my life. I grew up in Seattle, went to school in Chicago, moved to South America right after college, lived in Baltimore as well. Never thought that I would find home anywhere, and I didn't really like living in D.C. because it was a time of life that's kind of hard for people — mid-20s. I didn't have a straight-arrow career path, didn't have the love of my life, didn't have quite everything that I wanted. But I had a really beautiful set of neighbors, and I had a beautiful daily routine. And after the trauma of being in a fire, I grew to really treasure those daily experiences.

On if she's discovered a quick route through grief

When I was first experiencing it, this little rhyme from pre-school kept coming into my head: "You can't go under it, you can't go over it, you have to go through it." And I knew that time was the only thing that was going to carry me through, and how I was going to fill that time would have a lot to do with what it looked like on the other side. So keeping myself happy and social and having moments of my day to both reflect and find some happiness for myself were key to getting through those many, many stages, which continue to unfold.

On what she wishes she'd known sooner about romance

Dating has been such a beautiful experience for me. I don't think anyone, as a child, thinks, "Oh, when I grow up, I want to not really know what I want to do in life, or not find the love of my life in my 20s." But getting to explore different parts of myself through living different places, trying different careers, and also getting to know different people romantically, has been such a wonderful way to get to know myself better, get to know the world better, get to have more insights into the world. And I think that I would just give myself permission to keep exploring and not feel like I had to have it figured out so young.

Samantha Balaban and Barrie Hardymon produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Sydnee Monday adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Mari Andrew is the dark-haired woman in black glasses in real life and cartoons that she draws for her Instagram account about what she learns as she goes along in her real life about loss, love and trying to grow up by the time you're 30 and get accused of being an adult. She's produced a book of cartoons, short essays and pointed observations drawn, in always, from a couple of tough years. It's called "Am I There Yet?: The Loop-De-Loop, Zigzagging Journey To Adulthood." Mari Andrew joins us in our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARI ANDREW: It's an honor. Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: These drawings began with sad events, didn't they?

ANDREW: They did - yeah. During a tough breakup, I also experienced the loss of my father and found myself at sort of a rock-bottom place, which is a place where you often begin to think about what you really want in life. And at the same time, I realized that I was the only person who was in charge of my happiness. And so I went on a crusade to make myself happy. And one of the things that I did every day was do a little watercolor drawing.

SIMON: You take us through some early jobs in your life in Chicago and then Washington, D.C. Then your apartment building in D.C. catches fire.

ANDREW: Yeah.

SIMON: You didn't need another near tragedy in your life.

ANDREW: I'm just collecting them, I think. I think when I decided to be a writer, I kind of signed up for a life of interesting experiences.

SIMON: But it's interesting because, well, that fire made you appreciate something all over again, didn't it?

ANDREW: Yes. That was mundanity and the beautiful feeling of being at home somewhere. I wandered around a lot in my life. I grew up in Seattle, went to school in Chicago, moved to South America right after college, lived in Baltimore, as well - never thought that I would find home anywhere. And I didn't really like living in D.C. because it was a time of life that's kind of hard for people - mid-20s. I didn't have a straight-arrow career path, didn't have the love of my life, didn't have quite everything that I wanted. But I had a really beautiful set of neighbors. And I had a beautiful daily routine. And after the trauma of being in a fire, I grew to really treasure those daily experiences.

SIMON: You have a series of six gravestones drawn in your book. Could I get you to read them?

ANDREW: Of course.

SIMON: And as you read them, I hope our hope our listeners will decide, how would I feel about that above me? But go ahead.

ANDREW: Yes. Yes. Please. (Reading) One, she talked a lot about the things she wanted to do. Two, she spent a lot of time looking at strangers' Instagram accounts. Three, she enjoyed herself. Four, she explored. Five, she was too afraid to start. Six, she spent five decades comparing herself to others.

SIMON: Is there a right answer or less wrong answer? I mean I'd go with four.

ANDREW: Yeah, four sounds pretty good. I like she enjoyed herself. That's what I'm aiming for.

SIMON: That's three, right?

ANDREW: I think that's three. Yeah.

SIMON: I was torn between three and four. The loss of your father is at the heart of a lot of these lessons that you draw - any quick route through grief?

ANDREW: When I was first experiencing it, this little rhyme from preschool kept coming into my head. You can't go under it. You can't go over it. You have to go through it. And I knew that time was the only thing that was going to carry me through. And how I was going to fill that time would have a lot to do with what it looked like on the other side. So keeping myself happy and social and having moments of my day to both reflect and find some happiness for myself were key to getting through those many, many stages, which continue to unfold.

SIMON: I have to ask you about romance.

ANDREW: Please.

SIMON: What have you learned about romance that you wish you'd known at the age of, say, 25? And you're - forgive me - 30 now?

ANDREW: Thirty-one. Yes, yes.

SIMON: Thirty-one - not a gallant question to ask.

ANDREW: Now in my 30s - now as a wise woman in my 30s - dating has been such a beautiful experience for me. I don't think anyone as a child thinks, oh, when I grow up, I want to not really know what I want to do in life or not find the love of my life in my 20s. But getting to explore different parts of myself through living in different places, trying different careers and also getting to know different people romantically has been such a wonderful way to get to know myself better, get to know the world better, get to have more insights into the world. And I think that I would just give myself permission to keep exploring and not feel like I had to have it figured out so young.

SIMON: I would feel bad if we ended this interview without me having the effrontery to share something with you that I've learned being much older than you. We never grow up. We can lose all of our parents, have children, work for a living and never feel that we're quite grown up because in the middle of the night when we get anxious, we - you know, we always hope someone will help us through it.

ANDREW: Yeah - sounds totally plausible. Thank you.

SIMON: Mari Andrew - her book "Am I There Yet?: The Loop-De-Loop, Zigzagging Journey To Adulthood" - thanks so much for being with us.

ANDREW: Thank you so much. It was a delight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.