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My life has become un Train a Grand Vitesse

January 30th, 2014 | Other Projects

(I.e., a very fast train.) I’ve been doing nonstop interviews and booksignings all week in Paris and this morning I just took the train to Angoulême, the big European comics festival.

My hotel in Paris was at 21 Rue Jacob…that address sounded familiar to me but I couldn’t remember why until Christine, one of the owners of Violette & Co., the women’s bookstore, said that Natalie Barney lived at 20 Rue Jacob. Here’s her house! It used to have a plaque but now it doesn’t. Djuna Barnes apparently used to stay across the street at my hotel.

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Also across the street from Natalie’s place is a shop that sells autographs and letters and stuff, and they have a letter from Natalie Barney in the window. I did not inquire about the price.

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On Monday I met with a journalist to do an interview at Shakespeare and Co., where this chat blanc watched the proceedings with complete disinterest.

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Here I am with Christine at Violette & Co.

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A lot of people came to my talk there, and were very patient as my French editor and sheep dog Jean-Luc translated for me. Here is a little gaggle of rowdy French women who wanted me to pose with them for a picture.

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I visited the Musée D’Orsay, but sadly missed both these exhibits.

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Masculine, L’Homme Nu was over, and the Gustave Doré one was still being installed. See the clock at the top of the building? You can look out through it. That was pretty genial. Which I think is French for “awesome.”

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Wednesday night I spoke at a bookstore called Les Arpenteurs where a très charmante young woman named Melanie facilitated a conversation with the audience. I met Béatrice Faveur there, who published this French translation of one of my Dykes books many years ago.

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Here’s Jean-Luc surrounded by lesbians.
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The woman with her arms crossed is Anne Cremieux, an academic who has written some stuff about my work. And she also made this cool movie with Gretchen Phillips in it that I posted here a long time ago.

Okay. I have one half of a brain cell left. Bon nuit!

Off to France

January 26th, 2014 | Other Projects

I’m going to Paris, then to the Angoulême Festival International de la Bande Desinée. If you’re in the neighborhood, please come to one of my events!

Tuesday/Mardi 28 Janvier, 19h, I will be at Violette and Co, the women’s bookstore in Paris.

Wednesday/Mercredi 29 Janvier, 19h, I will be at Les Arpenteurs, 9 Rue Choron, Paris.

Then I’m off on the very fast train to the Angoulême festival. I’ll be spending lots of time at the Éditions Denoël stall, signing books, or hoping to sign books.

On Friday at 19h, I’ll be in the Salle Bunuel to do some kind of presentation or interview or other.

My book Are You My Mother? or rather, C’est Toi Ma Maman? is one of the official selections of the festival, which is awesome, so there’s another event having to do with that on Saturday. And on Sunday I think I’m doing a joint interview with one of my favorite French cartoonists, the brilliant and brooding Fabrice Neaud.

I hope to see you at one of these things!

January 15

January 15th, 2014 | Other Projects

between the eyes

I have to make a new post here because it’s been two months since the last one, and the comments shut off after two months, otherwise they just attract spam. But I have absolutely nothing to say at the moment. So it occurred to me to post an old datebook entry from a nice round number of years ago—thirty. Here is what I was doing on Sunday, January 15, 1984, when I was 23:

Woke at 10 and stayed abed until 11. Went out for a run [in Prospect Park]. Road slippery and unplowed. Great run. Only one lap, but much energy. Then I went out and skied for while. Went down some hills. Fun. Home. Ate. Went to sleep for a while. Played at my desk and listened to my digital Bach record. Was supposed to do drawing work but didn’t. [My roommate] cooked curried eggplant. Then we played Scrabble and quit. Then we made gross brownies. Played at my desk more. Read old journals from 1980 and got depressed. Tintin antidote. Sleep.

I was puzzled by the “digital Bach record.” This was before the era of CDs. At first I thought maybe I was referring to one of those Bach-on-synthesizer albums. But by backtracking a few days I see that I had recently purchased “a record of Bach Orchestral Suites. Digital!” I guess digital recording was a new exciting thing in 1984. Of course the funniest part of this old journal entry is my note that I had spent the evening reading old journal entries.

Hmmm. For a long time I’ve had this idea for a project where I examined what I was doing on a particular day of the year over a span of different years. To see what changes and what doesn’t. I guess I’ve always had a sort of philosophical interest in whether we remain the same person, the same “self” over time. In college I felt disturbed but also strangely excited by Hume’s idea that there is no unified, ongoing self, that we’re just bundles of perceptions which of course are constantly in flux. I often feel like my “self” is a problem, a source of pain, a thing I’m stuck in. As evidenced by all this obsessive diary-keeping, and the re-reading of diary entries, and my midlife career shift of reworking my old diary entries into memoirs. And now this recursive blog post.

I wonder if I will ever exorcise the need to keep such close tabs on myself? Rather than get to work right now (although I can make the argument that this is my work), I’m going to look up a few more January 15ths, and post them here as an experiment. Am I the same person I was on these earlier dates? I leave it to you.

Tuesday Jan. 15, 2002 (age 41)

(this one actually made its way into my memoir Are You My Mother?)

I’m on a plane, flying to Sacramento. I just wanted to note an interesting thing that happened yesterday. I went to the lumber yard to buy a board to make a ramp for Julia–she’s been limping, and I wanted to make the stairs easier. I was hoping to get an eight-foot board, which I could have just stuck in the car but they only had a twelve-foot one. So I had to strap it on the roof, and it hung way off the front and back. It was cold and I was struggling and my hands were getting numb and I was in a hurry because I wanted to get some skiing in at Bolton.

Finally, I got it on, and walked briskly around the car to the driver’s side–straight into the board. I got it right between the eyes. It was stunning. The top edge cut my forehead, and my nose is scraped and bruised. I was afraid I might get a black eye, but that has failed to materialize. Still, I look quite thuggish and disreputable.But since I’ve been reading Freud on the Psychopathology of Everyday Life, I can’t help but wonder if there might be something going on besides pure accident.

Monday Jan. 15, 1973 (age 12)
I got an 83 on my English test. So far my average is about 84. Bleah! Miami won the Superbowl. BooBooHooHoo (?) I was for Redskins. After school, we went downtown. I got a pair of jeans and a gigantic gym suit. I practiced [the piano]. We took down the Christmas tree. I got in a big box and handed out bags [the plastic bags we kept the tree ornaments in]. I washed my hair and my clothes.

Thursday 15 January, 1981 (age 20)
I don’t really want to write. I have been putting it off. Am at low ebb. Self-disgust stage of cycle. Mediocre mediocre mediocre.

1. Mediocre lover.
Things have palled with [X]…or do I just think so?
Pall: from appall 1. to become vapid, dull or insipid. 2. To become satiated or cloyed, as the stomach.
Cloy: to satisfy or fill to excess. To cause surfeit.
I don’t know. She’s in some kind of mood too, I guess. Kind of coming down after the high of December, I suppose. Both of us. Anyhow..no more of that awe, that incredible feeling of tenderness. Just mediocre. We hardly look at each other. Why does this happen? [long passage about bad sex that I will not try your patience with (any more than I am already trying it)]

2. Mediocre student.
UGH. C on Greek final. B+ on Hood’s slides. Just wrote an INSANE paper for Surrealism. Long, hyper-intellectual, pointless. A detailed logical argument in order to make a vague, debatable, artistic point. Ludicrous. I am DUMB. I am not even SMART.

3. Mediocre worker.
I almost got fired from the library for showing Tom how to input obscene words as books. Why did I do that? [My boss] thinks I’m a jerk now. I fucked off all semester there, didn’t do anything. What a jerk I am.

4. Mediocre artist.
My stuff has no impact. I have no motivation. Those text-sculpture pieces I did last semester…they are BORING! TRIVIAL! Over-processed! SHIT. And I have to materialize some sort of portfolio soon. Soon?! IMMEDIATELY. Goddamn shit fuck

Tuesday January 15, 1974 (age 13)
We had gym. We started volleyball. I finished my clay devil in art. Now I have to glaze and fire it. Hokay. Mr. Weaver talks too much. YA KNOW? I had my [piano] lesson. It was pretty good. When we drove into Woolrich, we saw [my friend/my piano teacher's son] walking home from the bus, and he was wearing the jeans he got like mine. He went in the house and changed them! While I ate my orange out front. MAN! He gets everything I do. I’M ANGRY. Dad dropped me off and went to Williamsport. He was late and I had to eat with [my piano teacher's family].

Saturday Jan. 15, 1972 (age 11)
We watched cartoons. The men came to put in the carpet. Chris got the (illegible). We went to (illegible) We tried to get (illegible) Snuffy’s bucket, but it broke. We had fondue. We watched T.V. The (illegible) was nice. Dad & I went to the store. It’s cold out.

Sunday Jan. 15, 1995 (age 34)
Hell night at [Y's]! Really windy out, blowing musty attic/wall smell into [Y's) room through gaps in the baseboards. Such a rickety house! Y goes to sleep downstairs. I manage to doze (badly) till 12:30. Then me & Y cooked a BIG BRUNCH. Banana-walnut pancakes, fake sausage, grapefruit....I left at 7pm and came home. Cooked and ate and fucked with computer. Stayed up really late answering letters and stuff, putting stuff together for some comics shows. Then I worked on planning my dinner party. To bed at 6am. Read Middlemarch and tried to sleep but kept getting my party plans confused with the characters in Middlemarch.

Friday Jan. 18, 1985 (age 24)
(okay, this is not the 15th. I didn't make an entry on the 15th that year. But this one on the 18th is so apposite I must include it.)
Sitting trying to organize my affairs in the Northampton Public Library. From a book review about a new book on Virginia Woolf in Wednesday's Times:

"What a disgraceful lapse," Woolf once chided herself. "Nothing added to my disquisition, & life allowed to waste like a tap left running. Eleven days unrecorded."

(this Woolf quote also made its way into my book Are You My Mother?)

Saturday 15 January, 2011 (age 50)
Had a long talk with [my agent], telling her about [a business conversation I’d had], then listening to her take on it.

[My theatrical agent] emailed, saying he thought [the conversation] had gone well. I feel extremely exhausted by all this. [My agent] called again later, while I was out skiing. I stood in the cold dark woods listening to her and trying to stiffen my spine for [yet another business conversation].

That will be happening at 1 today. Before then, I need to hammer out a script for what I will say. I was hoping to just get back to work on chapter 6 [of Are You My Mother?] and do this later, but now I’m doing it anyway. No. Don’t let this completely derail me. Do my own work first. Then prepare for the conversation.

Woke with a migraine. I’m stewing in my own juices, my own feedback loop…can’t get out, can’t move forward…stuck on this spread about mirroring, freud’s “narcissistic or anaclitic” desire model…Trying somehow to summarize my entire psychic/erotic development in two pages.

time space life death

November 15th, 2013 | Other Projects

the vector of my year to date

This is the vector of my life since January. I have been having a really crazy, intense, draining, grief-stricken, and surreal year. And in an attempt to orient myself again, I’ve been trying to figure out how to capture it all visually somehow. I’ve come up with this animated chart which was extraordinarily complicated to devise, involving Photoshop, iMovie, a graphic tablet, a screen casting app, and the stopwatch and Voice Memo apps on my phone. The resulting video has three layers. Time—the year elapses day by day. Space—the red line is me traveling hither and yon, mostly to Pennsylvania and back where first my mother dies, in May, and then, her partner Bob dies, in October. And in and around all of that awful, abysmal loss, I’m flying and driving all over the place for work stuff that I scheduled way before I knew anyone was going to die. The third layer of the video is my voice-over, trying to explain where I’m going and why.

The surreal element enters when Fun Home, the musical, opens at The Public Theater in October, to great acclaim. I’ve seen the play five times now. And I keep trying to come up with a way to describe the feeling of seeing this simulacrum of my book—and thus of my life—take shape on a stage, in song, embodied by supernaturally gifted actors. And I keep failing. But one metaphor that occurred to me today is that maybe it’s kind of like getting a glimpse into a parallel universe that’s just slightly out of synch with this one. Uh…and set to startlingly beautiful music.

The video ends with me here, today, in Vermont. “And now, it’s now.” To quote a line from Fun Home, the musical. (later note…the line from the play is, “And then, and then, it’s now.” Sorry I got that wrong.)

two women talking to each other about a musical

November 15th, 2013 | Other Projects

Funny, enthusiastic, thoughtful, long conversation between Patty & Emily about Fun Home which has been extended through 12/29 at The Public Theater. It’s about 13 minutes long but if you’ve seen the play it’s really fun to hear these two responding to the various actors, the music, the writing, everything.

Testy

November 8th, 2013 | Other Projects

bechdel test logo

There has been some hubbub this week about The Bechdel Test because a chain of movie theaters in Sweden just launched a rating system based on it.

I was approached a while ago by a group of four Swedish art house cinemas who wanted to call attention to gender inequality in film by “Bechdel-testing” their repertoire. They would create a seal of approval for movies that pass the three simple criteria of the test: at least two (named) women characters, who talk to each other, about something besides a man.

I said sure, that sounds awesome, go for it.

So they did, and the Guardian ran an article about it on Wednesday. Which prompted a flurry of emails from radio programs who wanted to talk to me. I spoke to Marco Werman at PRI’s The World, and got to join in his conversation with Ellen Tejle, the director of the participating cinema in Stockholm. I also did a background interview with the NPR program Here and Now.

Yesterday I got a lot of other requests from other media outlets but I’m ignoring them. I feel bad about this. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong about not seizing every possible chance for publicity—if not for myself, then at least for the brave Swedish cinema consortium, not to mention the cause of women everywhere.

But inevitably in these interviews I say simplistic things, or find myself defending absurd accusations—like that the formal application of the Test by a movie theater is somehow censorious.

I have always felt ambivalent about how the Test got attached to my name and went viral. (This ancient comic strip I did in 1985 received a second life on the internet when film students started talking about it in the 2000′s.) But in recent years I’ve been trying to embrace the phenomenon. After all, the Test is about something I have dedicated my career to: the representation of women who are subjects and not objects. And I’m glad mainstream culture is starting to catch up to where lesbian-feminism was 30 years ago. But I just can’t seem to rise to the occasion of talking about this fundamental principle over and over again, as if it’s somehow new, or open to debate. Fortunately, a younger generation of women is taking up the tiresome chore. Anita Sarkeesian, in her Feminist Frequencies videos, is a most eloquent spokesperson.

I speak a lot at colleges, and students always ask me about the Test. (Many young people only know my name because of the Test—they don’t know about my comic strip or books.) (I’m not complaining! I’m happy they know my name at all!) But at one school I visited recently, someone pointed out that the Test is really just a boiled down version of Chapter 5 of A Room of One’s Own, the “Chloe liked Olivia” chapter.

I was so relieved to have someone make that connection. I am pretty certain that my friend Liz Wallace, from whom I stole the idea in 1985, stole it herself from Virginia Woolf. Who wrote about it in 1926.

Okay? So in Chapter 5 of A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf is describing a book she has just taken off the shelf. (It’s a fictitious book, Life’s Adventure, by a fictitious woman novelist.) Woolf pretends to be scandalized by the words, “Chloe liked Olivia…”

“Chloe liked Olivia,” I read. And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature. Cleopatra did not like Octavia. And how completely Antony and Cleopatra would have been altered had she done so! As it is, I thought, letting my mind, I am afraid, wander a little from Life’s Adventure, the whole thing is simplified, conventionalized, if one dared say it, absurdly. Cleopatra’s only feeling about Octavia is one of jealousy. Is she taller than I am? How does she do her hair? The play, perhaps, required no more. But how interesting it would have been if the relationship between the two women had been more complicated. All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. There is an attempt at it in Diana of the Crossways. They are confidantes, of course, in Racine and the Greek tragedies. They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men…

Also, I continued, looking down at the page again, it is becoming evident that women, like men, have other interests besides the perennial interests of domesticity. “Chloe liked Olivia. They shared a laboratory together…” I read on and discovered that these two young women were engaged in mincing liver, which is, it seems, a cure for pernicious anaemia: although one of them was married and had—I think I am right in stating—two small children. Now all that, of course, has had to be left out, and thus the splendid portrait of the fictitious woman is much too simple and much too monotonous. Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the plays of Shakespeare could be allotted to them: how literature would suffer!”

If you made it all the way through this 5,276 character blog post, you get an A!

Fun Home The Musical is really really good.

October 8th, 2013 | Other Projects

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I am still trying to figure out how to describe the surreal experience of seeing my memoir Fun Home, and thus my real life childhood and family, turned into a musical. I have not been closely involved in the evolution of this thing but have seen two versions of it in the past couple of years. I could tell it was amazing, but I also knew that I couldn’t possibly have any objectivity about such a project. And I could also see that a musical is a staggeringly complex, collaborative behemoth, entailing levels of creative risk and patience that are unthinkable to me.

It’s still in previews at The Public Theater. The creative team (Sam Gold, director; Jeanine Tesori, composer; Lisa Kron, writer and lyricist) are still tweaking things, and the actors have to keep learning all these constant changes. But it will at long last take a final form and open on October 22nd. I saw it last weekend. It’s hard, as I say, for me to describe this experience. There are two parts—one, my own personal emotional response to seeing what feels like a very faithful representation of my family come to life on the stage. And then there’s the other part which is not quite separate from the first part because my parents already felt like fictional characters to me—and that part is just how beautiful this play is as an aesthetic experience, how neatly it fits together and how deep its own emotional resonance is.

fun home family

Here’s a picture of me and my real life brothers with the stage version of our parents–Judy Kuhn and Michael Cerveris. It’s so odd.

But the play is totally worth seeing if you can manage it. Here’s the Public Theater’s calendar where you can click through to get tickets. For previews shows, there’s a discount code: ALISON.

Howard Cruse originals

September 30th, 2013 | Other Projects

I just bought a page of original art from Howard Cruse’s epic graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby. I got to see some of these pages way back in the early 90s when Howard was working on the book. But I’d forgotten how huge and amazing they are. Look at this thing!

stuck rubber baby original

I know it’s overlapping the sidebar, sorry, but I don’t want to run the image any smaller.

Anyhow, I’m just blown away to be in the presence of Howard’s incredible line work. He did this all with a freakin’ Rapidograph. And bear in mind, this is ONE of 210 other densely cross-hatched, beautifully designed, painstakingly hand-lettered pages. You should buy a page too! Go here! There’s art from his long-running strip Wendel, too, and it’s all on sale.