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A cartoonist's guide to navigating 'normal'

Liana Finck

This interview is part of the TED Radio Hour episode So Awkward.

Cartoonist Liana Finck is easily startled.

For instance, someone asking to borrow a pen or asking her to watch their laptop is enough to make her jump out of her skin.

/ Liana Finck
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Liana Finck

Finck says, "It would startle me to the point where I got a migraine and, like, couldn't get back to work for 10 minutes."

Most people don't experience these commonplace coffee shop interactions as hostile takeovers, and Finck knows that. But understanding what's socially "normal" doesn't lessen the intensity of her reactions.

"I think my perceptions are pretty dead-on, but I also think that they're magnified to a point of distortion," Finck says.

Her magnified perceptions make her jump at the smallest intrusion, but that same perceptiveness gives her an edge as an artist.

Finck has channeled her big feelings into a prolific cartoonist career.

What to do with nonsense rules

As a kid, Finck often felt out of place and awkward. "I didn't have what felt like the manual that everyone else had," she says.

Finck now knows what is socially expected of her, but she isn't fully convinced. "I feel like I know the rules, but I feel intensely that they don't actually make sense to me," she says.

So when things seem illogical, she uses her simple, sharp sketches to poke at the everyday absurdities.

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Liana Finck

She has a knack for chronicling the cringey.

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Liana Finck

Sketching out a new world ... with a new God

Finck also uses her art to ask and explore bigger questions.

Her book Let There Be Light is a twist on the creation story.

The Book of Genesis didn't make sense to Finck because God seemed too confident. In her 2023 TED Talk, she said, "For me, creation is an act of solving problems, of figuring things out. God already seems to have everything figured out."

So in her reimagining of Genesis, God is a young girl who is both enamored with and overwhelmed by her own creations.

This is a vision of God that Finck could relate to. God is an earnest and flawed woman, overly critical of her messy early drafts of the Earth. Finck makes God in her own image, as an artist.

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Liana Finck

Becoming a mom

In her newest book, How to Baby, Finck documents the odd adventures of new parents, from making a baby to giving birth to keeping said baby alive.

Finck highlights the ambush of unsolicited baby advice and the countless contradictions of modern parenting.

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Liana Finck

The balancing act

From a shy young kid to a perplexed new parent, Finck has always used her art to move through big feelings and understand herself.

Finck identifies as neurodiverse.

She tries to balance fitting into social expectations and playing by her own rules. "Certain things I've learned to do, even though they make me really uncomfortable, like make eye contact," she says.

But now, she feels more comfortable picking her battles.

For instance, Finck gets overwhelmed and can't focus on her work when she has to guard a stranger's laptop. The whole interaction is unfathomably illogical to her.

"Asking a stranger to watch your laptop is ridiculous 'cause you want the laptop to be protected from strangers," she says.

So nowadays, when a cafe stranger approaches with a request, Finck protects her peace and simply answers, "No."

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Liana Finck

This segment of the TED Radio Hour was produced by Katie Monteleone and edited by Sanaz Meshkinpour.

The digital story was written by Fiona Geiran.

You can follow us on Facebook @TEDRadioHourand email us at TEDRadioHour@npr.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Manoush Zomorodi
Manoush Zomorodi is the host of TED Radio Hour. She is a journalist, podcaster and media entrepreneur, and her work reflects her passion for investigating how technology and business are transforming humanity.
Katie Monteleone
Katie Monteleone is a producer for TED Radio Hour. She started out as an intern for the show in January 2019. After her internship, Monteleone began producing for Life Kit before returning to the TED Radio Hour team in October 2019 as a full-time producer.
Fiona Geiran
Sanaz Meshkinpour