Well Venice was pretty amazing. I am a bad traveler and did not do much research beforehand. I know very little of the history there, really, political or art historical or literary. Except for Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Those Who Walk Away which have given me such vivid impressions of the city. I kept wanting to know where her protagonists had stayed…but I have had such terrible wifi on this journey, I can’t look anything up. It’s hard not having that external memory–I really find it difficult to function without it. Anyhow, I couldn’t get excited about Henry James or freaking Titian. I just liked walking along all those tiny wending canals and imagining Tom Ripley having a panic attack around the next corner.
Also, even though everyone had warned me about the tourists, I somehow didn’t believe it until I was caught up in the insane throng. It was like being in Las Vegas, except everything was real. And people were not so drunk and women were not walking around dressed like prostitutes…uh… okay, it was really nothing like Las Vegas but it was a bit sad nonetheless. Yet there Hol and I were jostling along with everyone. One cool thing we stumbled onto that was practically empty, though, was this Hiroshige show at the Palazzo Grimani.
Hiroshige was a bit younger than Hokusai, and maybe a little more conservative and not quite as brilliant, but his woodblock prints are breathtaking and very comic book-like.
Look how he drew these cherry blossoms for godsakes.
Then we did this totally corny thing. Went to a Vivaldi concert of the Four Seasons in some church. It wasn’t great, and the audience was really confused and clapping when they shouldn’t and not clapping when they should and the musicians were rolling their eyes at each other. But these four well-set-up gentlemen in front of us seemed to be enjoying themselves so maybe it wasn’t so dorky after all.
Everything is so crooked and leaning and off center…I guess you can’t tell from the photo that that tower is completely askew. Hol is copying it.
Here is a lovely view of a canal obstructed by someone selling trite drawings of views of canals.
Another cool thing was the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. We visited in a downpour, which slightly reduced the madding crowds. Here I am on her front porch…deck…dock? With a Calder.
Well that’s about all I have to report. We did not ride in a gondola. But I did spring for a water taxi to go to the train station. When we arrived, we had schlepped onto a vaporetto with all our suitcases and about 4 thousand people and it took forever. But leaving the city, the water taxi ride on the Grand Canal was great fun and totally worth the money.
What a bizarre day. I’m sitting here watching my email fill up with message after message from people from so many different times and places of my life, all congratulating me for the astonishing good fortune of receiving a MacArthur Fellowship. Not to mention a flurry of texts and tweets, and I haven’t had the energy to even look at Facebook.
(I’m packing up to leave the artists residency where I’ve spent the past 6 weeks, plus I had to give a talk about my work tonight, and do some media interviews, so I’ve been pulled in a lot of different directions and haven’t been able to focus as intently as I would like on the incoming reactions.)
But I’ve heard from people representing the entire spectrum of my life. High school friends. My next door neighbors in Vermont. Long time readers of this blog. A smattering of ex-lovers. Writer friends saying the kindest, most generous things. The president of my college. A bunch of fancy authors and journalists. Several members of the cast and creative team of the musical adaptation of Fun Home. Serious heavyweight mentors and role models—namely, the photographer JEB and the cartoonist Howard Cruse, who made my work possible because of their own revolutionary, pathbreaking efforts when I was still wet behind the ears.
I heard from an 89 year old woman. My mortgage broker. Many, many cartoonist friends. Old friends I lived with in the Twin Cities in the 1980s. Friends of my parents! A cousin! A student! An old time dyke who said she was “crying tears of joy for how far society has come.” And Mary Bonauto, my fellow fellow, the MA attorney who also received a 2014 MacArthur for her tireless legal work for marriage equality.
Thank you to everyone. I will try in the coming days to answer everyone personally. But I’ll just sign off with this DTWOF episode from ten years ago. I don’t have access to the crisp line art version because I’m still away from home, but maybe you can make it out from this photo. This is the beginning of episode 451 of Dykes to Watch Out For, Pox Populi, from 2004.
I’m nearing the end of my artist residency in Umbria. I’ve been doing lots of fun projects, and here’s one of them. A big scroll on which I made sort of diary drawings. I ordered this big roll of paper, 1.5 meters by 10 meters.
My plan was to make a drawing every day, keeping the scroll intact and unrolling it a little bit each day. I kept to the daily schedule for a while but then it got more erratic.
I liked the challenge of drawing spontaneously with ink at this large scale on a continuous piece of paper. It was like walking a tightrope.
It got a little less spontaneous as I went along, because a story started to emerge. Living in this castle, I felt like I was turning into one of the medieval characters in this drawing on the cover of our orientation handbook.
I had to physically wrestle with the giant swath of paper every day, rolling up the drawn part and exposing a fresh blank area, which I’d pin to a cork board.
Every week we went out on a field trip to see ancient hill towns and Piero della Francesca frescoes. This is a mash-up of his Madonna del parto, a pregnant madonna, and his Resurrection.
Medieval life has its tedious aspects. There’s no washing machine here.
The character kind of fell away as I got absorbed with another project—drawing myself in different yoga poses with charcoal at life-size scale.
On a field trip to Assisi, we saw more Piero frescoes. Actually I guess there’s some dispute about whether he actually did the frescoes in the Basilica there. But there’s an awesome one of St. Francis and some other monk casting the demons out of the city. Here I am casting the demons out of my head.
This was after our trip to Arezzo, where it seemed like one of the Piero figures could just be walking down the street.
And all too soon I reached the end of the roll.
The other thing I like about the scroll is its unwieldiness. I could never see the whole thing at once. Until one night a bunch of the other fellows helped me, and I rolled it out in the hallway and into the next room.
I just heard that B.K.S. Iyengar died. Strangely, one of the things I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks is making drawings of yoga poses. Here’s me working on one last Thursday.
I studied Iyengar yoga in the late 1980s and early 90s, and have kept up a minimal practice ever since. Several years ago I got out Mr. Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga, and started doing quick brush drawings based on the lovely black and white instructional photos of him in the book. It was very fun and freeing, and really loosened up my drawing. Now I have found my way back to a similar project. I started by doing giant life-size charcoal sketches of myself in various yoga poses. It’s an interesting challenge to draw on this large scale, without preparatory sketches, just trying to draw from my whole body the way the pose feels.
I haven’t really thought this through intellectually…I guess it’s something to do with the body as a signifier, as a sort of unmediated vessel of meaning. But mainly I have just experienced a lot of joy doing these poses, and I feel grateful to Iyengar for his carefully codified teaching methods. I’ve tried other kinds of yoga, but nothing else has ever felt quite as deep or precise.
After drawing myself in a few poses, I got some other people to do their favorite poses for me. I did a quick sketch, took some reference photos, then later made a more careful, but still quick and spontaneous ink drawing—not life size but still much larger than I am accustomed to drawing.
It’s been a really fun and rewarding drawing project, plus I’ve been constantly googling images of B.K.S Iyengar doing the poses over the past week, since he is the gold standard. So it’s especially strange to hear that he is gone.
I am at an artists residency in Italy. I was magically given a fellowship to spend 6 weeks at this crazy castle in Umbria, a place called Civitella Ranieri. (See me poking my head out of the battlement window? My bedroom is in that tower.) There are a dozen or so of us—writers, visual artists, and musicians. (I count as a writer.) We get studios, amazing rooms in the castle or on the grounds, and they feed us wonderful local food every day. It’s pretty unbelievable.
I’ve never done an artists retreat of any kind. I’ve listened to my writer friends talk about their stints at various places, and it sounded nice, but not worth the hassle of packing up and leaving home. Now I understand why people do it. In recent years I’ve been feeling so raveled and shriveled and creatively wrung out. But with all this open time and generous space, I feel like I’m reviving a bit. I can just do whatever I want whenever I want. Here’s one of my rooms–a tall tower with a great old drafting table in it. I got myself a giant roll of good white paper, and I’ve been doing big drawings on it. First cartoony things in ink, then more naturalistic, life-size figure drawings in charcoal.
They take us out on field trips once a week. Last week we saw Piero della Francesca frescoes in Sansepolcro. This is Saint Julian, after realizing that he just accidentally killed his parents.
Here’s everybody’s favorite, Saint Sebastian.
Here’s a little movie I made of this strange bird I hear in the mornings.
It sounds like someone tapping away on an old manual typewriter, this funny erratic rhythm. You can hear it and not see it in the first half, and you can see it but not hear it in the second half, because it stopped chirping in order to groom and fluff.
Another cool thing that happened since I got here was the announcement that Fun Home will move to Broadway next spring. Who would ever have thought that beginning a 6 week artist’s residency at a gorgeous castle in Umbria could get better?
I did a cartoon recently for the Cartoon Issue of my local alternative weekly in Vermont, Seven Days. It’s about the experience of seeing my book Fun Home turned into a musical. Well, it’s about a very small part of that process–to convey the whole bizarre experience in all its complexity would take a book. This is just a little essay. Every year Seven Days does an all-cartoon issue—they have journalists work with cartoonists and run all these great visual stories.
Also, here’s how to pronounce my name, in case you ever need to know. That link will take you to a site called Teaching Books. They have these audio links of all different authors telling stories about their names. Find your favorites here.
Yesterday I had to go to the DMV to renew my license. How many identification cards have I posed for throughout my life, how many moments of bureaucracy-induced anomie have been captured, laminated, and carried around in my pocket for years until replaced with the next iteration? Roughly seventeen, apparently. Here I am aging from 17 to 53 in 20 seconds.