Mari NaomiIllustration by Fabio Vermelho

MariNaomi is the award winning author and illustrator of Kiss & Tell: A romantic resume, Ages 0 to 22, Dragons Breath and Other True Stories, Turning Japanese, and I Thought YOU Hated Me, and the founder of the Cartoonists of Color and Queer Cartoonists databases. Her comics and paintings have been featured in  the Smithsonian, the De Young Museum, the Cartoon Art Museum, the Asian Art Museum, and the Japanese American Museum. We’re big fans of Mari over here at Gut Feelings HQ and if you’re not already we’re sure you will be after checking her out.

1. Do you actively do anything to keep your brain healthy, and if so what? No, but maybe I should! My Grandma’s Alzheimer’s and my poor memory make me worry that I should be playing Sudoku or something.

2. What or who mentally stimulates your growth the most?
New experiences of any kind—traveling, trying or finding out about something new. Like, when I found out that there’s a thriving subculture devoted to fans of Harry Potter, I could feel my mind expanding. It was awesome.

3. If you could add or take away anything from your brain what would it be?
I’d remove my ability to have panic attacks. I don’t have many of them, but when I do, they never serve me in any way.

Frontal Lobe

4. Are you more emotion or reason based when making decisions? Reason.

5. In what situations have you learned the most about yourself? I used to think I could learn about myself through other people—lovers, specifically. It wasn’t until I spent a lot of time alone (and not searching for love) that I realized I had been wrong all along.

6. Do you think you have to learn good judgement? (Are people inherently self destructive?) It depends on the person and their situation. I think self-destruction is often a learned response to a toxic culture.

7. Do you have any daily or annual rituals? Are they personal to you or your family or are they related to your culture or religion? I have a daily routine, which I guess isn’t exactly a ritual. It keeps me on track though.

8. Can you speak any other languages, and if so why that language? Not really. I was briefly semi-fluent in Japanese, but lack of practice has eroded my skills. Now at best, I can eavesdrop.

9. If you could live inside of a book, which one would it be? Anything by Brecht Evens. His worlds are so colorful and creepy.

10. Are there particular books you find yourself buying for or lending to people close to you? Oh yes. Whenever I’m captivated by a book, I want all my friends to read it too. Off the top of my head, that happened with Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio, Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, and Fetch by Nicole J. Georges. My most recent favorite, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris, is too expensive to buy for all my friends, but I’m pushing them all to read it.

11. Is it more important for you to speak or to be heard? Be heard. If no one listens, you’re wasting your voice.

12. Do you think a time exists that is easiest to create? For instance, do you strike the muse or does the muse strike you? The muse strikes me, but I try to keep busy so I’m not waiting around for it.

13. Do you have an emotional state that you find it easier to create in? Is caffeinated an emotional state?

14. Are there certain elements that you employ to set up the perfect mental space for creating? Having a corkboard and lots of Post-its helps. Also, a fresh pot of tea and no distractions.

15. Do you think you have to have an elevated ego to be an artist?  Anyone can be an artist. It helps to have confidence if you want to show your art to others.


Parietal Lobe

16. What smells do you most associate with your childhood? The scent of rose reminds me of my great-grandmother’s vanity table. Certain sweet smells remind me of scratch-and-sniff stickers I used to collect. And of course old book smells will transport me.

17. If you could only live on five ingredients for the rest of the life, what would they be? Compassion, glee, comfort, love, and creativity. If you mean food, then tofu, rice, cucumber, soy sauce, and ginger.

18. Do you have spiritual needs and if so how do you nourish them? The feeling I get when I’m helping others (people or animals) is about as close as I get to spiritual bliss.

19. Do you have a place you go to, either physically or mentally, where you feel the most at peace?Currently it’s my art studio. The moment I walk in, it’s like my creative eyes pop open. Even if I’m just walking in there to put something away.

20. Do you think that people need some form of discomfort to make art? No, but it helps if you want to make relatable art.

21. Are you more motivated by the promise of reward or the threat of punishment? Reward.

22. How much does your conscience/morals come into play when making decisions? Very much so. Each instance I’ve gone against my conscience/morals has haunted me forever.

23. Do you ever experience your emotions in physical ways? If so, how? Oh yes. The most obvious is getting goosebumps, losing my breath, or getting teary-eyed when I come across really good art.

24. What is your least favourite physical sensation? Anxiety/panic attacks.

25. What is your favourite physical sensation? The endorphins from cuddling a cute animal.

Temporal Lobe

26. Do you think a person has to understand art in order to be able to appreciate it? I think it’s pretty rare that anyone understands art in any one way. But if the viewer can find a way to relate to the art (which may feel, to them, like understanding), that can help them connect to it, and thus appreciate.

27. Do you connect more to the lyrics or music in songs (assuming a song has both)?  It depends on the song. Sometimes I’ll connect to the music and then realize the lyrics aren’t what I thought they were, and it’ll ruin the music for me. But I think generally, good lyrics will endear me to a song in a deeper way than good musical notes.

28. What is your earliest memory? My earliest fully-formed memory was sitting at the top of some stairs with my best friend, at age four, as my parents did a last walk-through in the house we were moving out of, so all the furniture was gone. My friend and I were convinced that the adults were lying to us when they told us the plural of “foot” is “feet,” trying to make us look stupid. So we plugged our ears and yelled “FOOTSES FOOTSES FOOTSES” as loud as we could.

29. If you got alzheimers or dementia what memory or memories would you be saddest to lose – or – which ones would cause the biggest loss of your personal identity? I’m more worried about losing my ability to communicate than losing memories. Most of my best stories are already written down, so it doesn’t matter if I forget them.

30. Do you expect happiness in your life? I hope for it, and if I don’t find it, I change my course.

31. Do you feel like falling in love is a spiritual or chemical process?

32. Do you try and avoid feeling negative emotions or do you feel it is more constructive to experience your emotions fully? If the negative emotions are keeping me from getting work done, I try to distract myself away from them. When negative emotions are unavoidable, I console myself with the idea that I can use them for creative work later.

33. What flaws do you think you have when it comes to communicating with other people? Sometimes I get defensive when I’m being criticized. It’s something that I’m getting better about with age.

34. How do you deal with situations or individuals that fail to stimulate you creatively or emotionally? Do you avoid these situations/have a set of tools in which to navigate them? I leave.

35. What do you think your ex partners would say the hardest thing about loving you was? I’m not shy about saying what I want, which can come across as bossiness to some.

36. What are your biggest fears? Hurting the ones I love.


Occipital Lobe

37. Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares? If so, what do you think they mean?
I used to have a recurring dream of being chased by a mummy. That was mostly through puberty, and I have no idea what that was about. Hormones?

38. If you have ever taken psychedelic drugs, did you have any interesting hallucinations on them? Do you feel changed from having taken them? LSD changed my life. I was fourteen the first time I took it, and it opened me up to be a more compassionate, philosophical person. It showed me that there’s more out there than meets the eye.

39. Do you find your mood affected by different colour palettes? I do get irritated by stark fluorescent lighting, yes. And warm light soothes me.

40. If you could live in a world where the aesthetic was controlled by a particular visual artist or film director, who would you choose? Ridley Scott! But then everything everywhere would be damp, so maybe not.

41. What’s the most unbelievable thing you’ve ever seen? I can’t think of anything unbelievable—if I’ve seen it, then I believe it. But I’ve had strange sensations, or seen things that blew my mind. Most recently, my new puppy has started wrestling with my two-year-old cat every morning. It’s totally weird. They’re both really into it.

42. Have you ever seen something which you feel has directly resulted in certain elements of your personality today? I’ve seen people make terrible decisions, like in relationships, and learned from their mistakes.

43.Would you rather lose your sight or your hearing? I’d rather not.

44. Do you feel like you surround yourself with the people who see you for who you really are? I try to surround myself with genuine people. The goal in any relationship is to show the ones I love who I really am, but that takes time, and is truly kind of impossible. Who I am can change from day to day.

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