On recognition

July 4th, 2006 | The Artistic Condition

Uh…I feel like my last post might sound kind of ungrateful, like I somehow had a problem with the NPR piece. That’s SO not the case. In fact, I’m insanely, ecstatically happy about every droplet of mainstream recognition that Fun Home, and incidentally DTWOF, have received. But at the same time, I’m disturbed about just how happy it makes me. Over the years, I convinced myself it was something I didn’t need or want. So perhaps my ambivalence is seeping out as whininess.

It seems to me there are two major pitfalls one faces upon escaping the ghetto. One is to leave and never look back, to consider it your own individual achievement and willfully ignore the power structures that hold everything in place. Two is to refuse to leave, to cling in a nostalgic way to your own marginalization. I think I’m in danger of the latter, and will try to stop it immediately.

There has to be some kind of middle way, of acknowledging the whole cultural sausagemaking process (what kind of stories cross over from ghettoized subcultures, what kind don’t, who gets let in, how much of it is about the inherent quality of the work, stuff like that) while taking advantage of the new opportunities it brings.

Hey, as I was writing this post, I heard a crackling in the yard and went to see what it was.

moose in my yard

A young moose! The yearling males get sent off on their own when the mothers have new babies, so often at this time of year you can see them wandering around bewildered in the big wide world. Kind of like me. Here it is next to my Subaru, for scale.

moose to scale

18 Responses to “On recognition”

  1. Alex K says:

    Both DJ and I are happy for you. It’s grand when friends do well.

    What we hope for you is that recognition persists –

    that your proverbial fifteen minutes stretch out and out –

    that FUN HOME, and DTWOF, and whatever you put your hand and mind to next, continue to be acknowledged and valued as part of “majority culture” and its refraction through our subculture.

    Sausage is eaten and forgotten. Your work and you deserve better.

  2. Abigial Garner says:

    You have every right to respond to media that cover you and your work. Of all people, shouldn’t YOU be the one who has the last word? And you can have the last word, when ever you want it. Hurray for blogs!

    http://www.abigailgarner.net

  3. JC says:

    What you write about makes a great deal of sense, and is something that I suspect many of us feel occurs on an admittedly much smaller scale on a regular basis as we move around to new positions of cultural authority – definitely something I’m experiencing as I make the shift from lowly grad student to college prof, with the attendant increased power to tell cultural stories to students who are, in some sense, supposed to believe what I tell them about the world. (Hopefully they have enough sense to make challenges to that as well, though, at least that’s part of what I’m trying to teach them.)

    At any rate, the advantage you have on a personal level is that you’ve clearly got what my fave advisor used to call ‘inner resources’, the ability to think critically and reflectively about what you’re going through. As someone who relishes the way you mix astute political commentary, humor, and intelligence into a popular form, I think it’s wonderful that more people will read DTWOF, and I hope that one way you’ll find that middle path is to feel a renewed sense of empowerment about the important stories you tell reaching a broader audience. If there’s anything we need in this country right now it’s greater recognition of complexity, and you portray that deftly in both Fun Home and DTWOF.

    All of this makes great fodder for your blog, so thanks for sharing your thoughts / process / experience.

  4. mlk says:

    thanks for sharing the young moose w/us. he’s quite a specimen!!

    after a couple of decades in a different sort of underworld — a well of suicidal depression — I’ve emerged into a place where the sun shines (on some days at least), have shared some of my inherent goodness, and have had it greatly appreciated by the people in my world. imagine! now, my sphere of influence is much smaller than that of a cartoonist who’s been published worldwide. still, I know that recognition feels good! it fills in empty spaces and plumps up dessicated cells.

    Alison, you know you’ve got a reflective nature that grasps and articulates complex reality (given enough data and processing time). do you really think you’ll take something that is lifegiving and use it to produce whatever-it-is-you’re-afraid-of? maybe you do . . . just know that if that should happen (which is doubtful anyway) you’ve got plenty of people out there who will give you corrective feedback. isn’t that part of the system you’ve created for the creation of your work?

  5. lisa rosman says:

    everything people have said here already makes so much sense. i’d just like to add that part of the process that you’re participating in by becoming more visible is not so much about becoming mainstream as it is about modifying the mainstream by joining it. your joining a more public consciousness–adding your nuanced, extremely thoughtful perspectives on how gender and authenticity and family can/do entwineinto the public sphere and literary canon is a radical move that benefits everyone–including you. it is your task right now to breathe in deeply and embrace it. let it feed you so you can continue to create your strong, clear work in a way perhaps with less worry and more joy. which, honestly, should be the right of everyone in an ideal world. as the bumper sticker says, be the change you want to see.

  6. Deb says:

    Great pictures and once again, the universe provides opportunities to ponder ourselves using its’ wonders as a “mirror”. I think that maybe you are forging a new path for not only yourself but those of us who share aspects of your life……moving from the “ghetto” to a more mainstream and affluently powerful place in our own respective worlds. The way our culture is set up, there have been few role models to follow in regards to how to make that transition…..how it works…….the new rules so to speak. I guess, like the moose, you are exploring your new world, trying to make sense of a new place, new standing…….the entire way you are in your world. Your world has changed and I think it takes some time to awknowledge, understand, accept and embrace the changes. You are charting a new course for not only yourself but others in our community who may go through something similar. Mark the path so those of us who may follow in your footsteps can see the way! That’s another tough place to be in too, isn’t it? I can only speak for myself, but you have been “marking the path” in my life for some time, not only personally but also professionally. I am not a literary expert but a counselor who has had some experience in helping others in our community “find the path, mark it and then empower them to take the journey”. You ARE doing a great job and I admire the way you are wrestling with redesigning yourself.

  7. jaya says:

    Author Sandra Cisneros addresses the issue of leaving the ghetto as a main theme in several of her books. Her conclusion is that it’s fine and good to leave, but that the leav-er has a responsibility to come back and help her left community.

  8. Rhea of Boston says:

    I have many friends who struggle with trying to do their art (whatever it is: painting, writing novels, etc.) and wanting to ‘hit the big time’ and also trying not to be seduced by all that. I agree with the above poster; enjoy but remember and stay connected to the loyal fans of many years.

  9. cpw says:

    this is the first time i have ever posted anything anywhere. exciting.

    i think that the fact you feel ambivalent– both happy about the attention fun home is receiving but uneasy (and skeptical) about its effects–
    reflects exactly why I like your work so much. i would be disappointed if you weren’t uneasy about being recognized in the “cultural mainstream.” It is something to be critical of. the way that power functions and is structured in our society is something to continually question. i was reminded of this when the structures of capitalism seemed vitually transparent a couple of weekends ago at the pride parade in new york city.

    that being said—you should in every way enjoy and be thrilled about your success. I really think your work is amazing (and I am obviously not alone). fun home is perhaps the only text in the world that references both proust and ulysses and not been embarrassingly pretentious about it!

    It seems like you are already doing a great job finding a “middle way”–enjoy your success and the opportunities it may bring–but keep the critical awareness that makes your work unique and amazing.

  10. toddt says:

    Alison, I heard of your book and blog on the NPR interview via podcast tonight. I’m sending your blog link to my 22 year-old out daughter and will be giving her your book after I read it myself. The only complaint I have about the NPR interview is that I would like to have heard more….so, I’ll buy the book!

    todd

  11. GSH says:

    Allison, I really understand your ambivalence about prestige, but in this case I think it’s totally deserved. I’ve been reading DTWOF faithfully since I was 14 (I’m 27 now!) and it makes me really glad that your political insight and cultural point of view is getting recognition and exposure. Yes, the whole system is fucked up massively, but it makes me feel better about living in this world and in the US when folks like you get picked up by the mainstream. Certainly, the fact that DTWOF was widely published when I was young made a difference in my life–At 14, before I knew I was a dyke, I sent you a letter thanking you for your unstereotyped portrayal of lesbians (I was the kid from Boring, Oregon) and six months later, you wrote back! You said something nice about how you hoped I was “figuring things out.” By that time, I’d 1) totally forgotten I’d written and 2) come out out the closet (and gotten grounded for it, and told my folks never mind, I’d changed my mind and wasn’t really gay, so that I could go over to my gf’s house ;-). I pasted your letter to the front of my school binder for the rest of the year. Since then, your snarky political insights and fantastic storylines have kept me cheered through ups and downs.

    I do understand your ambivalence about being in the mainstream, though. After growing up first in an urban commune and then as a poor hippie in the country, it’s been a wierd, slow transition to where I am now–a grad student in English in the Ivy League. Even if I say that my values are the same, to what degree is my perception of what’s “normal” warped by those around me? If I’m trying to “get along” by dressing (to a certain degree) to fit in, not always speaking up when to do so would be really awkward, etc., when does my basic commitment to social justice become compromised? We are, after all, what we do much more than what we think. Supposedly I’m seeking presige because I want to do good work and because I’m hoping against hope to land a proper job with health insurance and a chance of tenure. But at my grandmother’s dinner party last week, we kids, who are doing prestigious school things, got lots of kudos from our granny’s ritzy neighbors, while our parents, whose hard work, dedication to social justice, and refusal to bow to the system get nothing but polite silence, because it involves working class jobs. As my sis, who’s becoming a doctor, has said, we’ve made different choices than our parents because we’ve experienced firsthand the effects of poverty and marginalization, and we’re trying to keep what was good about our parents’ commitment to social justice without the alienation effect. But can you really do that? Don’t I begin to make compromises not only in the way that I act but also in the way that I think? I still don’t know.
    Anyway, thanks so much Alison for your wonderful art. It makes my life a better place to inhabit.

  12. Jaibe says:

    Wow, you can always find the tarnished lining! Don’t be unhappy about being so happy — it’s a normal response to acclaim, and anyway it may wear off once you get used to it :-). And don’t be unhappy you sold more books than even your publisher expected! The amazing thing is it took off so fast they couldn’t even see it coming & get the second printing out in time. Wow!

    I think there are probably way more talented & deserving people out there than can be famous, so why worry about why it’s your turn now — lots of stuff moved around recently, and you wrote a kick-butt book on what happens to have become a fairly mainstream topic! The only useful thing I ever learned in gym was a poster in the wrestling room (girls had to take wrestling in my highschool freshman year) “luck is when opportunity meets preperation”. So you can help make your own luck by trying to prepare & trying to make opportunities more likely, even though there’s always those chance elements too.

  13. Ed says:

    You sound like Mo! I love it. And oh, I love the green Eden you call your yard!

  14. Katia Noyes says:

    A fascinating discussion.

  15. Ray from NH says:

    I agree with Ed. Your complex response sounds just like something Mo would say whether success plopped in her lap overnight or if it came from decades of work.

    I think that’s that’s why I like DTWOF so much. When something bad happens it’s not the end of the world. When something good happens, it’s not the time to “spike the football and do a dance” because the next crisis could be around the corner.

    You go on being complex Alison, but please budget some time to smile at the fact that now the Rest of the World sees what us fans have seen all along….

    CONGRATULATIONS!

    –Ray

  16. La Gringa says:

    Um, there are MOOSE in Vermont? Fer real???

  17. mary anne says:

    Have been reading(and buying!) your books since the l980s,prob from the first year because i think remember when More dtwof came out and I was so exited to read another one. In fact, although you would have spelled my name wrong, could i have been the original ….? I too, frankly have been worried abouthow all this success will affect your openess with the public, which I’ve been so priviledged to enjoy these years. Unfortunately, there are many people in the general public i.e. outside our subculture-that is the DTWOF readership , who perhaps to not value our complex honesty, as much as we do. I’ve been wracking my brain, “did ol Bechdel ever make any references to Oprah in her books?” And if so, well, I guess Fun Home is one memoir that probably won’t be featured on Oprah.

  18. Snoopy of Oly says:

    It pains me to see a groovy couple like Clarice and Toni break up and seeing Raffi and Stella doing electronic mischeif. If there was ever a rock it was C&T. I could understand that there were issues (Gloria) and the fact remains that there maybe was a chance that they could reconcile and deal w/Raffi as goes fron happy kid to dark sided-restless adolescent that will be in more trouble than he can handle… Parents aren’t tools, and it’ll be just a matter of time ‘fore it blows up in Raffi’s and Stella’s faces and THEN what will they do?