Philadelphia

June 27th, 2007 | Travels and Appearances

library audience

Here’s the audience a little before my talk at the Free Library last night. Not everyone was there yet. More people came to this reading (on my paperback tour) than came to the one I did here last year. Which is really great. Signe Wilkinson introduced me! She’s a wonderful editorial cartoonist for the Phila. Daily News. And possibly still the only woman editorial cartoonist in the country.

It was a kind of intense audience, perhaps heightened by the fact that at one point during the Q&A an older man stood up and introduced himself as a high school friend of my dad’s. I can’t remember exactly what he said because I got really nervous, but he was very well-spoken. It seemed like he wanted to acknowledge his own memories of my dad, and he said that he hadn’t known many of the things I reveal about my father in the book. I got the feeling he might have wanted to say something more confrontational, like that I’d been disrespectful of my father, or irresponsible toward my mother. But he didn’t. Possibly he sensed that the audience was a bit on edge, and sympathetic to me–I could be misreading it, but that was my take–and he ended by saying something very nice about how my father had a very talented daughter. And then everyone clapped kindly, and perhaps with some relief. It was…well, intense. And it’s always strangely moving for me to talk about the book with men who would be exactly my dad’s age, because it makes me sad that I never got to see him get older like that. He was very handsome and poised, like I imagine my dad would be. He’s in the green shirt just above the lectern, in the photo above.

I didn’t talk to him afterward–I had to go out via the backstage, and he didn’t stick around for the long booksigning queue. But look! Our blogfriends Dr. E and Aunt Soozie did!

Dr E, me, AUnt Soozie

Here’s the lovely, 5-pound necklace Aunt Soozie presented me with. Though she confessed that it wasn’t quite me.

aunt soozie's chain

Unfortunately I could not join the two of them for a drink because I had to get up at the ungodly hour of 6:15 this morning. Which I have duly done. How do people do this every day?

47 Responses to “Philadelphia”

  1. Dr. Empirical says:

    I got the impression that he wanted to confront you, but the things you said about your family before he got up to speak took a lot of the wind out of his sails. He realized that the book isn’t an attack on your father. It was a surprisingly emotional evening.

    The awkwardness of that near-confrontation, and his inability to say what he’d gone there to say, would have fit nicely into the book itself.

    One thing I picked up on during the questioning: The way the book is structured, returning to the same events while revealing different details and emphasizing different emotions, parallels your opening tale of having your grandmother tell the stuck in the mud story over and over again. I think your words were “endlessly compelling.”

    Whenever I pick up on something like that in literature, I wonder whether it was intentional or accidental, or whether I’m just reading way more into the work than is really there.

  2. Roz Warren says:

    I agree that when he first stood up he didn’t have a very friendly vibe. He probably intended to be more negative than he ended up being. (For one thing, why confront you like that without any advance notice that he’d be turning up? Pretty hostile, I’d say…). One of the reasons he couldn’t be more negative was that it would have been REALLY RUDE to turn up to attack you at a gathering to support your book. But more important, he no doubt realized that had he tried to attack you, your audience would have cheerfully torn him apart. It was evident that we were fanatically loycal from the moment when Signe Wilkerson, introducing you, refered to your strip as “Dykes To Look Out For” and bsscially the entire audience shouted out — “To WATCH Out For!” It’s the first time I’ve ever seen an audience rise up to correct a speaker like that. It was pretty clear that to get to you, he’d have to deal with us first!

  3. Josh says:

    Re: Women editorial cartoonists: Don’t forget about Ann Telnaes! I realy like her a lot.

    It was a pleasure meeting you Sunday! I’m still babbling about it to everybody I know.

    Josh (the Comics Curmudgeon)

  4. Roz Warren says:

    Aside from the appearance of Guy From Dad’s Past, I wanted to add that the presentation you gave was fascinating and moving, and that I particularly enjoyed the technical stuff about how you create each page. Not to mention the serious, focused and respectful way you responded to audience questions. And it was fun at when you came out before the presentation and aimed your camera at the audience. “We’re going to be in the blog!” I thought to myself. Plus, it was great to meet and schmooze with the fabulous Aunt S. and Dr. E. while waiting for you to sign our books. You have created this great world, the fabulous world of Alison Bechdel Fandom, and I’m very happy to he living in it!

  5. Ginjoint says:

    Hi Dr. E! Hi Aunt Soozie! Dr. E, you look like a scientist. A very kind scientist.

    Alison, I’m glad you were able to keep it together with Guy From Dad’s Past. How unnerving that must be.

  6. a lurker says:

    I agree it was an awesome talk, but kind of a strange bunch of questions-there was that person who asked if you were scared of dying, which I thought was kind of personal to ask ANY ONE (and rude!). I was impressed at how you handled both Guy from Dad’s Past and the various other heavy questions…it must have been tough. (my friend said he wanted to ask if you have a tattoo, which would have lightened things up. is this a more typical kind of question at these things?:)

  7. Mikhaela Reid says:

    As far as syndicated women editorial cartoonists, I was also going to add Ann Telnaes. And Etta Hulme, who has been drawing since the 1950s and is still at it. But Signe is the only woman with a staff editorial cartooning job at a major daily paper.

    (Leilah Rampa has a staff job at a paper in Alabama, but it’s a much smaller operation). And there’s a conservative and newly syndicated woman editorial cartoonist whose name escapes me at the moment. And there used to be Barbara Brandon-Croft, the only syndicated black woman cartoonist at the time she was drawing, but she quit a few years ago.

  8. Eva says:

    Alison, I’m glad Philly turned out for you, and protected you last night; it’s my hometown (though I haven’t lived there since I was little, I still have lots of relatives there).
    By the way, I checked out the paperback edition of Fun Home the other day and was wowed by the the two page list of accolades and awards – and that doesn’t include all the awards, because you’ve gotten more since the paperback edition was printed! Are you going to continue to add to the list when you have the second paperback printing, etc?

    And, oh my gosh, Aunt Soozie, when I saw your picture with Alison and Dr. E I thought that’s exactly what I thought Aunt Soozie would look like…without even realizing I had imagined what you would look like. Such a nice aunt-ly vibe! I can only hope I give out that vibe with my nieces and nephews!

  9. DeLandDeLakes says:

    I think that even if Guy from Dad’s Past had wanted to start something, you would have still been in the right. True, parents put on a different mask for their children than they do for their friends, but I would still say that you knew your father better than Guy did- you’re his bloody daughter, for crying out loud.

  10. van says:

    Wow, heavy night. I can imagine hundreds of eyes growing wider and wider, nervously shifting between you and GFDsP as your dialogue progressed.

  11. kate says:

    what an interesting night, A. Aren’t you glad you didn’t know he was coming? And how excellent that he did.

    Personally I like the necklace on you, but you give it a little more badass when you wear it.

  12. Aunt Soozie says:

    What a fun evening.

    It was an intense Q and A.
    The question, “are you afraid to die”
    …and your funny and appropriate response,
    “yeah, I’m scared shitless”.
    The woman who asked more about you/your bro grinning at each other after your father died…I did feel like I understood those grins better after your response. Ditto what Roz said you seem so thoughtful and authentic in your attempts to understand what folks are asking and to respond as best you can.

    The audience was more than double the size of your last gig at the Free Library. My perception was there was way more diversity which was also interesting and exciting. Of course in true Aunt Soozie fashion I snuck in a bit late and the homeless guy ie, genuine diversity, sat right behind me. I kept thinking…I wanna listen to Alison and not be distracted but will that aroma settle in my hair? What is he saying? Is he responding to Alison? Or just to himself?

    Your Dad’s friend said you were smart and talented and there was one other nice adjective that I can’t remember. He said he thought it was a sad story, after reading your book, and he was even more sad after hearing you talk. But, then he said how a really good thing was that Helen and Bruce had you.

    He mentioned a circle of friends of your father’s and the doctor who tended to your dad when he was brought into the hospital after he was hit by the truck being one of those friends. That was…well, stunning to hear…so very personal and real. Small town reality. Everyone knows everyone.

    In addition to the audience, perhaps hearing you speak in such an honest…even if you are simply compelled to be that way…voice and with such respect for your family influenced what he said. Though your work may be powerful seeing you in the flesh is evidence of your humanity, humility and intention.

    This wasn’t Mommy Dearest by any means and your ambivalence is clear. There’s that compelling need Dr E and one of your audience members mentioned to re-tell the story. It’s a staggering tale that can’t ever be fully understood…so the telling and re-telling may be a way of managing the emotions. Like the thrill and horror of hearing of your dad almost freezing to death as a boy and ending up in the oven!

    I think you’ve said that writing the book was personally cathartic for you? Or that it was a story you felt you had to tell? Anyway, I don’t think your dad’s friend was just cowed into being nice to you…I think you moved him.

    He also mentioned that he, your father and their friends used to play in the caskets at Fun Home. I think he said they would go there with their dates and take pictures of themselves in the caskets…?? Did I hear that right??

    I was so excited to meet Roz Warren and Dr E. I got all the inside scoop on Doctor’s passions over a couple drinks…he’s a multi-focused (multi-talented)geek…quite the renaissance gentleman! (and I don’t mean he dons those outfits and goes to faires)

    I also met the incredible Roz Warren who is so humble…
    What? You like my books? Oh, thank you so much!
    She looks exactly like the photo on her website, which was good…it was easy to find her in the crowd.

    Thank you Eva but I did want to say that both Alison and I look nothing like that photo above. Yuck. I’m so much cuter in real life and Alison is too. Dr E must be photogenic…what can I tell you?

    Alison does look fabulous in the photo where she is wearing her Aunt Soozie necklace. It wasn’t really “her” and I heard she had to have a masseuse sent up to her room at the Four Seasons after she took it off.

    I also, just barely in the nick of time, met the infamous Riotllama!! Argh didn’t have a red carnation or a mouse in argh’s back pocket but argh did have a red hanky in argh’s back pocket. Which? Right or left? I’ll never tell.

    If you’re wondering “argh” is the proper pronoun as Riotllama in neither male nor female but rather identifies argh’s gender as nerdy pirate. At least that’s what I have been able to ascertain so far…I”ll keep you posted. And if you’re wondering, I just don’t know if Nerdy Pirates are welcome at MWMF.

  13. LauraP says:

    Sounds like a good and intense evening. For me, this post and in particular the picture brought a big chunk of my childhood back. My mom worked as a children’s librarian for the Free Library of Philadelphia and ended up spending much of her career in the Main Branch. I watched many a movie and heard speakers galore in that very room. It’s probably been 25 years since I was last there but it looks the same.
    It was through the library that I first met gay men and lesbians, first heard my mom tell my father to leave “those people” alone, they had the right to love whomever they wanted and they were her work friends, and first snuck books out that dealt with dangerous topics like love and sex and being outside the mainstream.
    Thanks, Alison, for helping me remember all of that, and for speaking of your childhood in place that was so formative of mine!

  14. Dr. Empirical says:

    “A very kind scientist.” Well, okay, but I still can’t solve a quadratic equation.

    I must confess I’d imagined Auntie to be a bit older. I was picturing a slate-grey buzz cut. Still, I’d adore her no matter what she looked like. She is indeed very auntly; perfectly suited to her vocation of working with troubled adolescents.

    Yes, Soozie, GFDsP did say they used to photograph their dates in the coffins at the fun home. Sounds like a perfectly good time to me!

  15. ksbel6 says:

    If you are indeed a scientist, then there is no doubt in my mind that you are quite capable of solving a quadratic equation…we are talking about high school math afterall…just plug in the numbers and simplify πŸ™‚ But solving polynomials of higher degree than 2…that takes some thought. And I’m pretty sure Rafi was working on polynomials in general…not just quadratics.

    Glad to hear the talk went well. Alison I sure wish you would add a stop ANYWHERE in the midwest. Chicago, St. Louis, KC…PLEASE πŸ™‚

  16. kellan says:

    Aunt Soozie, I

  17. Jaibe says:

    For some reason I always thought Aunt Soozie would be more like one of the Aunts in Ethan Green. I guess Eva is way more socially perceptive than me! πŸ™‚

  18. Rohmie says:

    I see I’m not the only one who thought of Ann Telnaes. I like her minimal, art deco style. It’s a little reminiscent of Al Hirschfeld’s theater caricatures, but unlike anything else on the op-ed page.

  19. Dr. Empirical says:

    ksbel6: Thanks for the vote of confidence.

    Generally, book signings are instigated by the bookstore or library. Alison has little control over where she goes. If you want to see her, scout out a likely site and start lobbying them to invite her. The publishers will send her there if they decide it’s cost-effective. That’s how the cut-throat world of publishing works.

  20. shadocat says:

    With all due respect to Eva and Dr.E; I don’t think Aunt Soozie looked all that “aunt-ly”…but then, none of my aunts are freakin’ hot!

    Dr. E: If I weren’t a lesbian…

    And finally–Alison, love to see those pearly whites!

    Doesn’t Alison have a lovely smile?

  21. kate mac says:

    i never knew authors did tours for hardback and paperback editions…does this mean there is a chance i may see a. bechdel back in portland? unless she’s already been through, in which case i am dissapointed i have missed both rounds.

  22. Jana C.H. says:

    Dr E. = Stuart with hair, and a great deal more sense.

    Jana C.H.
    Seattle
    Saith Floss Forbes: When you don’t know the tune, sing tenor.

  23. kellan says:

    Ok, I give up with any other comments. Aunt Soozie, I wish I could have been in Phila to meetcha.

  24. Josiah says:

    Erin and I will be at the Happy Ending reading tonight β€” details in the thread about it. Hope to meet some blog folks there!

  25. Eva says:

    Just so you all know – I would be totally happy if I was as hot and auntly as Aunt Soozie is in the photo above, whether or not it actually resembles her! However, I’m not always that photogenic myself (and photos don’t always produce a good likeness of me), so I understand your chagrin Aunt Soozie. Meanwhile, I have seen Alison in person and I agree the photo with you, Alison and Dr.E is not a great one of Alison. I like the one of her with the necklace you gave her…she looks kind of winsome…as much as that’s possible with a length of chain link look-a-like around one’s neck – no offense intended toward the necklace! – it is just an interesting and unexpected juxtaposition.

    Shadowcat, please take it easy with the exhortations for Alison to smile more often. She does have a lovely smile, but asking her to “show her pearly whites” more often may not have the desired effect.
    At least, it never worked on me, and if Alison is anywhere near as contrarian as I am, it may have the opposite effect.
    I think the best way to encourage happiness in other people is to say (and do) things with them, and then let them react however they react…and enjoy the reaction…without needing a particular outcome.
    This is a lot harder to do than to say, and I am mostly writing it to remind myself, as I am certainly guilty of having out of whack expectations of all sorts of people…but I particularly practice this with my niece and nephew (speaking of aunts), as my brother and sister-in-law have been bringing up their kids to be free of emotionally heavy handedness from all us relatives.

    Whew. Okay, end of lecture. Sorry to go so far off topic, and hope I haven’t dented anyone’s evening! Thanks again for the blog time Alison!

  26. Eva says:

    P.S. Shadowcat – I just reread the posts above and see you weren’t making two requests to smile. The first mention was a request, and the second mention was a comment and praise. Sorry, as I mentioned, I am the one who is working on the heavy-handed emotional stuff. Et, voila, here it is! Oh well.

    …and now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

  27. lil' sooz (A. K. A. her daughter) says:

    Yooooo! My mom looked weird in that picture!

  28. lil' sooz (A. K. A. her daughter) says:

    I mean talk about acting unatural in front of the camera

  29. shadocat says:

    Eva–don’t worry about it!

  30. van says:

    ASooz, thanks for the detailed account– and you told it so well! And you three look adorable in the pic!

  31. Doctor E says:

    Shadocat:

    If I had a blowjob for every time I’ve heard that…

    In college, I was the guy in whose bed drunk lesbians felt comfortable passing out. Possibly not a role I would have chosen for myself, but it provided its share of entertainment and friendship.

  32. Lynne says:

    I so wanted to come into town & see/hear you but could not find someone to watch my munchkins & I wasn’t sure if a 5 & a 10 year old would be welcome. So I stayed home & figured I’d catch the recap here. Sorry I missed you!

  33. cheesethug says:

    wow. i was also at the philly reading. it was super intense….totally reality when guy…stood up. first of all he was the only one to address alison directly….Hello Alison my name is ……, second when he introduced himself and went right into his narrative about knowing alison’s dad, not just knowing him but growing up with him, i started empathetically tearing up. I am sure it was prety unnerving to have dude a.k.a guy… stand up and say hey, sorry that had to happen in a crowded room. Just wanted to say thanks again for stoppin in philly, thanks for sharing your reality with us. You were quite sweet and accomadating signing amd even drawing in some folks books. Take care.
    ps I wasnt any of the “weirdos” who asked any “strange” questions, im just too shy.

  34. ED says:

    I’m glad the guy either changed his mind or did whatever. Obviously, he must not have been THAT close to the family is Alison didn’t know him, so who would he have been to tell her anything?

  35. shadocat says:

    Oh DR E; you smooth-talkin’ devil…

  36. Aunt Soozie says:

    Thanks Kellan and Van and others…someday I’ll post a photo where my face isn’t mushed into a huge grin because there’s only a little piece of black cotton shirt between my right hand Alison Bechdel’s sweet little waist…wait, no, she’s really butch and tough…not sweet at all…she’s all muscle…rock hard abs, that’s what I meant to say.
    and yeah,Doc E is one schmmoove geek!
    I loved that line but now my kid isn’t gettin back on this page…that’s fer shure.

    Alison did know who that gentleman was and I think she was very pleased that he was there. Certainly he’d have another perspective on things as a friend of her dad’s and as a member of that small community.
    We all get protective of that Alison. I re-read Fun Home last night and I think,not just loving her work from dtwof for so many years but getting to experience her as a little girl and growing up…it’s hard not to get all Auntie about it. And, I see I’m not alone in that. But, I got all warm and Auntie towards that gentleman in the audience, too. I think Alison did as well. She was disappointed that she didn’t have the opportunity to see him/speak with him afterwards during her book signing.

  37. Dr. Empirical says:

    Sorry Auntie!

    I thought the joke might generate some fallout, but I didn’t even consider the effect on your daughter.

    This is why I have dogs instead of kids.

  38. Another lurker says:

    I, too, was baffled and annoyed by all the people who felt entitled to ask intensely personal questions (like the one about dying, and about anger etc). Just because someone communicates intensely personal feelings and experiences through their art does not mean they necessarily want to talk about it with perfect strangers!

    Now I just wish I’d gotten myself together to ask some questions (if only to use some of the time taken by those people)… I didn’t ask anything because I was pretty sure that no matter what I’d planned to say, it was going to come out sounding something like “Oh this is just so amazingly thrilling to be actually standing here talking to you, I know I’m supposed to be asking you a question but honestly first I can’t help but thank you profusely for writing DtWoF, (thank you! thank you! thank you!) I can’t tell you how much I’ve loved your work, and how it changed my life when I discovered it in my college library, and frankly I’ve known since I first read your stuff (like most people who post here of course πŸ˜‰ what a genius you are (you _get_ it politically and emotionally, and then you present it so well, and it’s funny too! how many people can do that?!) (G.B. Trudeau is the only person who even comes close, in my book), and when you finally starting winning all the awards my thought was “it’s about time!” so really, you don’t have to say anything, in fact I would be happiest if you just take the time you would have taken to answer some idotic or uncomfortably personal question to do whatever it is you want to do for the next 30 seconds – though of course I’d be thrilled if you decided to ask some of those people how they’re able to live with themselves after everything they’ve done to hurt their mother/brother/father/sister/step-god-cousin, or what color underwear they’re wearing and why. Did I mention how great I think you are? You deserve all the ice cream in the world.”

    See, that’s why I didn’t raise my hand. πŸ™‚

  39. Roz Warren says:

    lurker, you too deserve all the ice cream in the world! you have perfectly described the thoughts of those of us in the audience who kept quiet because of some combination of awe and bliss.

  40. Riotllama says:

    It was a strange sensation to be sitting in an audience (right behind yr father’s friend for that matter. (he kept leafing through the book as you were talking and it seemed to invariably open randomly to parts with naked people on the age and he would hurriedly turn the page. this amused me and made me cringe in vicarious uncomfortableness.) and to be looking and listening to you and thinking, “this person is someone who ‘s work I admire greatly. They are famous. I know what the baby birds outside their house, their bathroom and their knock-about-the-house shoes look like. they would have no idea who I was if idoc introduced myself.” It was a little strange.

    The question I was too shy (and annoyed at the obnoxious questioners) to ask was, what do you think it is that propells you to document your life so intensly and put it out for public consumption. It seems to have started with the memoir, but then the blog has become such a part of your life seemingly and now you are planning another book detailing your past relationships. It’s obvious that people want to know all this stuff about you, but why do you want them to know it?

  41. GOod fuckin’ question, Riotllama. I have no idea why I want people to know these things. It’s some sort of intimacy disorder, is all I can think. I’m working on it.

  42. Formerly "Another lurker" says:

    Hi all,
    My real name is Adena. I am making this announcement to bring a halt to the copyright-infringement challenge that has been gathering steam over the past week on the part of “a lurker”. How do I know that I am in this danger? Ah, well, I can’t reveal my connection to “a lurker” because that would be a form of outing and I don’t believe in outings unless they involve cous cous and pasta salad and a picnic blanket. πŸ™‚
    Roz: Thank you for your response to my post! It felt awesome to be greeted and validated like that πŸ™‚
    Riotllama: I was thinking the same thing about knowing without being known. And I had the same question.
    Alison: Thank you again for everything! πŸ™‚ (One last boring fan comment: I’ve been gushingly showing everyone the picture of you waving from the window of the house on the title page! Eee! That was so awesome!)

  43. Tera says:

    wow, that must have been so intense to have that high school friend of your father in the audience. you should get some sort of warning in advance of these types of run ins- it seems only fair : ) you can’t just sneek up on a person like that! It’s so cool to see pics of the “regulars” on this blog- now I have a face to go with the name! I hope you come back to SF soon, maybe on your next book tour.

  44. mlk says:

    probably is an intimacy disorder, Alison. as you might’ve guessed, your fans are in no hurry for you to find a cure. I guess that shouldn’t stop you from looking for one, though.

    Aunt Soozie, are you goosing Alison in that picture (or otherwise acting upon your lewd impulses)? she looks a bit shocked — maybe now we know why?!!?!

  45. Natkat says:

    Aunt Soozie, if that’s a bad picture of you, I can’t imagine a good one. I think you’re adorable!

    I’m not hitting on you though. Honestly. I’d push you down so I could put my arm around AB’s waist!

    I’m just cracking wise. My point is even in bad photos you’re darn cute.

    Say. Where is AB anyway? I don’t think she’s ever been away this long.

  46. Aunt Soozie says:

    Natkat…you are too funny. I’d totally understand if I ended up on the ground in that situation. reminds me of what my aunt used to tell her son when he was young and was first flying by himself. She was concerned that he was such a soft-hearted do-gooder…so, she would coach him…”what do you do if the plane is on fire?”…his response, “get out immediately” her next question..”what if there is a baby in the aisle?” what she trained him to say…”if I can pick the baby up without stopping ok..otherwise, step OVER the baby and get off of the plane.” she “yes, that’s correct. Okay, you’re allowed to go on the trip.”

    And MLK
    dang…you got me!
    NOT!