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.)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
So the musical based on my book Fun Home is about to open at The Public Theater in NYC. It will be in previews from September 30 through October 21. October 22nd is opening night, which I am sadly going to miss, but I will be at the October 19th performance just before they “freeze” the show for the official run.
The theater has given me two pairs of tickets to give away. I thought I would make a little contest, a little series of questions about my book, and if you want to play, you can email your answers in and we will pick two winners at random from the people who get them right. I say “we” but I really mean my kind girlfriend Holly who has agreed to manage this since I am a little crazed right now. Also, I know it’s kind of weirdly narcissistic and self-referential to make people answer questions about my book, but I suppose that is the blight memoirists were born for, to paraphrase Gerard Manley Hopkins, so I will embrace it. Here they are:
1. What is the date of my father’s death?
2. What is the name of the family hunting camp where my dad takes my brothers and me camping?
3. What was the line that my father added to my first poem, “Spring”?
4. What was the name of the bar my father tried to take me to when I was 19?
5. What is the phrase my father writes to me in a letter, echoing something Stephen Dedalus says near the beginning of James Joyce’s Ulysses?
If you know the answers, email them to Hollyraetaylor at gmail by 5pm on Friday September 27. And she will pick two winners at random. Assuming that more than two people choose to spend their time in this fashion.
If you don’t want to bother with the contest, you can get discounted tickets to the preview performances with this code: ALISON
Go here to purchase tickets. Full price is 90 bucks, but with the discount code they’re 50.
On another note, today at 4:44pm the earth’s axis is tilting neither toward nor away from the sun.
I love seeing these Sears cartop storage things. Here’s the logo…
… a cartoon snail combined with the word “X-cargo.” Meaning extra cargo space. But it’s also a pun on escargot, the French word for snail. And a snail carries its house on its back. So it’s like a bilingual pun and a visual pun all together.
I don’t know if I read about this somewhere or figured it out myself. It was a long time ago when I first noticed it.