Gentle reader…

December 16th, 2006 | Uncategorized

before and after

Here I am Thursday, facing my staggering workload. And here I am today, after having decided to send out re-runs of my comic strip this month.

It’s the third deadline I’ve missed this year. I feel pretty bad about it for many reasons.

1.) I only feel like I deserve to live if I’m actively producing work.
2.) Remember that episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show where we learned that Ted had never taken a vacation? He was terrified he’d get fired once the network saw how smoothly things went without him.
3.) You guys just chipped in all those donations to the website, and now I’m stiffing you two episodes.

But Wednesday evening I received an email from a reader entitled “your sabbatical.” I opened it in a panic, assuming it was someone telling me the strip had been getting stale so I should give it a rest. This person was, in fact, telling me to give it a rest, but she didn’t mention anything about staleness, just suggested that a little time off might be rejuvenating. I think my haggard Family Zone photographs alarmed her.

So I mulled over her message for a day or so, and decided she was right. I’m well and truly fried to a crisp. I have a billion things to do. They’ve just been piling up all year while I’ve been flying hither and yon promoting Fun Home. Already I’ve had time to get a much-needed haircut. And a Christmas tree. And to install SpamSieve, which has caught 80 of those @#&*$ penny stock emails in the past 24 hours. Even without the spam, my email inbox is utterly out of control.

Plus I just found out I’ve been invited to the Angoulême International Comics Festival in January. This is great, a really huge honor. But it means another big intercontinental schlep that I hadn’t accounted for in my schedule. Lewis Trondheim is winning the Grand Prix this year. Here’s what his Lambiek page says:

Lewis Trondheim is one of the most prolific authors of his generation, and has published more than thirty-five books in a period of ten years.

Fuck. Maybe I better crank out those strips after all.

42 Responses to “Gentle reader…”

  1. Ivy says:

    My humble opinion, as one who generally lurks, is that you should chill out. We’ll all be here when you get back.

  2. Helene (in Paris, Tours and Angouleme) says:

    Relax, Angouleme will be just great; plus, since you’ll have a stopover in Paris, you can get a really groovy haircut in the Marais (though the one you just got is perfect)… And by the way, are you up for the Moulinsart/ Cheverny visit?

  3. Rora says:

    It will be good to know that someone is getting some time off while I’m writing my final papers. Make sure some of it is time off if you possibliy can.

    You may not produce as much as some other artists but we love what you produce and *you* are necessary for that production. There is no way what you create would exist without you in all your humanity and limitations– limitations without which your work would be unbelieveable and totally outside of our ability to identify with. Things will go on smoothly while you’re doing other things: we aren’t your responsibility, but when you come back we will welcome you with joy because you add something wonderful to our lives.

    If only we could give you donations in hours and minutes…oh wait…I haven’t got any just now, I don’t get my time-wages until Thursday. Better go back to work.

  4. BamfChyck says:

    You deserve time off! Take it, and relish it, and leave all that nasty horrible guilt behind. Your strip is important to all of us here, but we understand you cannot spend every single moment of your life entertaining us. We do not expect you to. And we will remain your loyal fans.

  5. Pam Isherwood says:

    Sometimes it’s only when you try out the daring possibility of “What would happen if I didn’t do this?” that you realise how stressing, and probably impossible, it is, and how much you don’t want to do it. Then the relief following the decision to let go, confirms that it is necessary to do so. Creative work depends on so much more than just putting in the hours. Anyway this will give The Dykes time to really get up to all sorts of mischief while we’re not watching.

    But can we still have some blog updates? Pretty please?

  6. Melly says:

    Don’t feel bad about taking time off – taking care of yourself is important (I wouldn’t want you to become the haggard cartoon version of yourself from “The Indelible Alison Bechdel,” the one chained to the table in the basement). I will look forward to new strips when you get to them! BTW I just re-read “fun Home” for probably the 5th time since it came out and it blew me away just like it did the other times.
    Have fun on your trip!

  7. Deborah says:

    When you are in Europe, take note of how much time they get for vacation – minimun of four weeks/year is my understanding.
    You deserve a vacation. I am glad you are taking a bit of a break, even though it sounds far from a true vacation – a sabbatical is a pretty good analogy – lots of work to do, still, but a bit of a rest from some of the regular grind (teaching/administration or biweekly comic).
    We will all be here, happy for the next installment, when Mo and the gang return.
    And the donations were not to bind you to future work, but to celebrate and thank you for all you’ve done in the past.

  8. Amy says:

    Congrats on the invitation to Angouleme. What an honor! Hopefully you will be able to catch the Herge exhibit at the Pompidou center while you are in France:

    You deserve this well earned break.

  9. Duncan says:

    Megadittoes on taking a month off, Alison. (I have been following the strip long enough to know that you’ve done it before; as others have pointed out, you’re far from the first good cartoonist to do it.) The new haircut is cute, but you also look endearingly scruffy in the “before” shot. If you were a gay man, I’d be sending you flowers or whatever symbolic things we fags are supposed to send as tokens of romance. (Cock rings? Bette Midler CDs?)

    You’re not Ted; the strip will not go smoothly without you. But after 20-some years, we fans can wait a bit for the next fix … no, wait. I HAVE TO KNOW WITH TONI AND GLORIA AND THE SEX COPS FROM FREEDOM TO MARRY!!!! AGGGHHH! *is dragged away by security*

  10. Feminista says:

    Echo what all the others said above. Maybe you can find a retreat center w/o phones,TVs,computers,etc. I’m going to one myself for N.Year’s weekend.

  11. Deena in OR says:

    Alison, please quit guilting! If anybody deserves some break time this season, it’s you. And a request…if you’re going to rerun classic strips, could you run some that aren’t available in the archives? Pretty please?

  12. dw says:

    I work as a mid level government functionary and the saying in my department is, ” If you have a heart attack on your lunch hour, your office will open as usual at 1:00.” Which is to say, I am utterly replaceable. You, however, are not replaceable. Take a rest. Take time to savor your achievements. As others have said, we’ll be here when you return; and the $$ was a token thank you for what I have received for twenty years.

    from The Fairie Queen
    “And well I wote that of your later fight
    Ye all forwearied be; for what so strong
    But wanting rest, will also want of might?
    The Sunne that measures heaven all day long
    At night doth baite his steeds the Oceans waves among.
    Then with the Sunne take, Sir, your timely rest.
    And with new day new work begin:
    Untroubled night, they say, gives cousell best”.

    and from Bye, Bye, Birdie
    “We love you, Conrad. Oh, yes, we do.”

  13. NLC says:

    As Deena says “please quit guilting”.

    You’re among friends here. We love you and want you
    to take care of yourself.

    From all accounts you’ve had one hell of a year, in both the best and om the most hectic sense. Take a month off and celebrate that. (Or if you need other reasons, today is Jane Austen’s, as well as Beethoven’s, birthdays!)

    If you’re asking our permission, for godsakes do it. You #&$^#4! deserve it.

    (OTOH if you taking requests for re-runs –if uploading them are feasible– how about some really early strips. May be the very first Mo&Lo strips. Or some of the pre-standard cast strips, maybe bundled into a multi-strip package.)

    Have a good time ol’ net-buddy. See you when you get back.

  14. Xanthe says:

    Your Family Zone pics were quite disturbing and I’m actually relieved to see who’ve made this decision.

    Take care of yourself while you take some time out. You of all people deserve it 😀

  15. Sarah says:


    Please don’t let any Residual Catholic Guilt™ keep you at your drawing table. If I were in your sneakers, I would be feeling both exhilarated and drained from having been catapulted into the media spotlight this year. Give yourself a break.

    One of my favorite feminist writers, the late Ellen Willis, wrote “Intellectual Work in the Culture of Austerity,” an essay that touched on her decision to leave the Village Voice to teach journalism at NYU.

    She says that the profit-driven U.S. ethos calls for sneering at the working conditions in academia as “pampering.” But the real outrage, she declares, isn’t that professors get to take sabbaticals and lengthy (at least this culture) vacations — it’s that sabbaticals and lengthy vacations aren’t available to EVERYONE.

  16. Sarah says:

    That would be “(at least IN this culture).” Internal copy editor on sabbatical, obviously …

  17. Xanthe says:

    who’ve = you’ve – oops

  18. Donut Rooter says:

    Yes, take time off. You definitely deserve it! 🙂

  19. brynn says:

    I’ll add my two cents’ worth, too: relax! Take as much time as you need. You deserve it. Creative work requires downtime to recharge. You’ve already given us so much, you have absolutely no reason to feel guilty!!

  20. Silvio Soprani says:

    Guilt is the least productive of human emotions. (I forget who said that, but it has comforted me for years.)

    PLEASE tale a sabbatical , Alison. Creativity (in my experience) demands periods of SLOTH. The Catholic Church was all wrong in making SLOTH one of the 7 Deadly Sins. (Or else they totally feared creativity.)

    It will personally make me very happy to think that you have severed all connection with your fawning and desperate blog fans (of which I count myself one), because a BREAK is most invigorating. Whenever friends or co-workers tell me that their child has gone away to college or overseas or something and HAS NOT CALLED IN (or e-mailed), I tell them that unless one breaks all connection with “home,” one cannot truly experience travel.

    The other topic I wish to weigh in on is the “great relief of being able to get a haircut” (to paraphrase an old John Sebastian song.) Today, for the first time in TEN LONG YEARS, I got a haircut. People move from the DC area to Baltimore and they stop cutting their hair. I don’t know why. But today I found a slammin’ barber who gave me an awesome flat top fade and I sent my 15 inch braid through the mail to LOCKS FOR LOVE (which is a foundation that makes wigs for children with cancer.)

    Ostensibly it was a charitable gesture from a person who has lost two old friends to cancer this year and is herself a survivor of radiation therapy, but really, it gave me permission to go back to my 90s look.

    Then I walked into the neighborhood liquor store where this very good looking mediteranean man who works there did a double take and gave me total affirmation. Either he is extremely open to style, or else he is gay and his gaydar went off for this quiet neighborhood bi-woman. Whatever, it was nice.

    The final jewel in today’s crown was finding a christmas tree lot (albeit, 10 miles out of the city) that was selling perfectly lovely white pine trees for a mere TWENTY FIVE BUCKS!!! TWENTY FIVE BUCKS!! (usually all the trees start around $45 (The artificial trees don’t smell like christmas!! )

    Alison, may you find peace, revitalization, and SLOTH in great quantities. THANK YOU FOR ANOTHER YEAR of all your wonderful work!!!

  21. Silvio Soprani says:

    p.s. Forgot to mention that the very first Alison Bechdel work I ever saw was a one-panel postcard on the refrigerator in the kitchen of the dyke/separatist/wiccan/vegetarian household where I lived (VERY briefly) when I first came out.

    The panel was about two lovers who were mortified that the guacamole dip in the communal refrigerator was all gone.. (apparently they were hoping to do naughty/nice things with it…) Alison, how did you know about all this stuff at such a young age?

    if you are re-posting old stuff, how about that one?

  22. judybusy says:

    Ah, Silvio, and all the rest, you have said “take the break!” in the most lovely way. I, too, am glad for you, Alison. I would also like to advocate for you NOT to blog your trip.

    I read a short interview today with the woman in charge of Flickr. She was saying how great it is becuase we can let people experience our travels right along with us (it was in Traveler Magazine) She also talked about how it allowed friends of hers to post a picture of their newborn “really soon after the birth”!

    My reaction is that perhaps people are so busy blogging about their lives that they don’t acutally feel/enjoy/LIVE the experience. I must say I had similar thoughts as we “followed” you around Europe on the Fun Home tour. Immerse yourself. Don’t bring the computer. Don’t think about us. Connect with the warm, living people who will be right in front of you.

  23. Rebecca B. says:

    Hi Alison,

    Do please take a break. It is well earned and very belated, as I’m sure you would have needed one after completion of Fun Home, as I imagine creating that as well as the strip would have been utterly exhausting and draining (though of course well worth it as it is a wonderous book). And I agree with judybusy – don’t feel the need to blog about it. In fact, it is probably best to get someone to hide your computer from you so you do not accidently find yourself doing work.

    I do understand the feeling that you only deserve to live if you’re producing work though (another ex-Catholic here, though I’m not sure that’s what it is as my brothers are well-practiced in the art of sloth). This week I signed a contract for my first book (as an editor), and got my dissertation accepted with flying colours on Friday (thank you so much for letting me reprint those DTWOF frames!) and yet here I am on Sunday morning getting ready to do some work and also looking over my schedule for January. I have managed to pack into my to do list AT LEAST four academic articles, a book proposal, three job applications and two quite involved grant proposals as well as writing the intro to my book and final editing of it. Something has got to give (and it will probably be me if I’m not careful), so I know how difficult it is to stop doing work and how awful it can feel to feel like you’re not doing it. But looking back at the last few years, the longest time I’ve had off is when I was recovering from an operation a few months ago and was in so much pain I could barely move….and yet that was an extremely peaceful time because for once I did not feel guilty for every second of the day I wasn’t doing work and wasn’t sub-consciously repeating to myself like a mantra “I have work to do, I have work to do”. Which tells me there is something extremely, creepily masochistic about this drive to do things, and both you and I should take a decent Christmas break.

    So for god’s sake, take a break, relax, enjoy yourself, and don’t worry about your work, your email or your fans for at least a month (I would say two but I know that probably won’t happen).

    Best wishes,

  24. connolly.maryann says:

    My donation was most definitely in gratitude for years and years of past enjoyment.

    You owe me nothing, and you keep giving so much.

    XO MBC

  25. tallie says:

    congratulations!! ooo…. you should do things like spend a whole day WITHOUT TURNING YOUR COMPUTER ON and watch six feet under.
    okay. that’s just my plan for winter break.

    but seriously, you should do something that makes you feel a bit guilty. it’s marvelous.

    you are a freakin rockstar. who deserves a damn break.

  26. Duncan says:

    I’m not Catholic, though my mother was, and I grew up imbibing a big ol’ dose of Catholic guilt. (Which as far as I can tell is not very distinguishable from Jewish guilt, or the guilt that Confucian children feel if they have not been sufficiently filial.) It has taken me years to get rid of it, and I still have relapses from time to time. Little ones. The philosopher Walter Kauffmann wrote a book in the 70s, “Without Guilt or Justice: the Roots of Decidophobia,” that I’d recommend to Alison or to anyone who struggles with guilt; it has its flaws, but it helped me a lot in thinking the whole problem through. In fact, I should reread it myself. One thing about guilt that Kauffmann pointed out: it has little or nothing to do with one’s actual performance. The most destructive people seem to feel no guilt at all, while the most guilt-ridden people obsess over tiny failings, or the possibility that they *might* have committed some infraction.

    Incidentally, I was not especially bothered by the ‘family zone’ pics, because I supposed from what Alison had written that she was having a great time mugging for her computer camera. Posed photographs don’t always tell us what’s going on with a person.

    But the “family zone” stuff did give me pause. On the one hand respectable gay people want to belong to The Family, to make more Families like those that produced them, because Families are like So Great! On the other hand, they dread going home to the Families that produced them. What’s up with that? And it wasn’t just Alison, a good number of commenters seconded her experience. I think we have a small contradiction or discrepancy here.

  27. Chris (in Massachusetts) says:

    Oh, my FSM! SAVE me from guilt-ridden lesbians.

    You need break. You know you need a break. We know you need a break.

    Go, have a break! Have some ice cream. Do the little fiddling small things that need doing. But only a few per day. Then have some more ice cream.

    Then do nothing at all, and have a rest afterwards.

    We will wait for you, because as odd as this might seem, coming from a decidedly straight white male, we do love you and we want you to be happy (if an apparently guilt-ridden lesbian CAN be happy.) and WELL. This has been a hell of a busy year for you. You deserve a rest.

    And ice cream. Especially ice cream!

  28. Josiah says:

    Just chiming in with the rest of the chorus: yes to rest, no to guilt! We’ll still be here when you’re ready to make more DTWOF.

  29. Pam Isherwood says:

    Sloths get this really unfair press. You can’t help but admire an animal that goes increasingly green with age as algae grow into its coat. They give birth upside down – beat that. I once spent a happy afternoon googling about sloths when I should have been preparing next day’s classes…

  30. aimes says:

    Rest is fuel for the creative engine.

    That said, my life’s work is defending the Constitutional rights of those charged. When I can’t come up with a case winning argument, or for that matter, ANY respectable argument, I come here and read the strips and posts. It provides me with a respite, and give my mind a break.

    If I was not able to read DTWOF online, I would get an attitude. When I have an attitude, my clients, whose rights are always implicated, are not happy. When the clients are not happy, they have attitudes. When they have attitudes, some may, though very few might, resort to alternative, possibly unlawful, methods of resolving their “dysfunctions.”

    Thus, AB, take a break, so that others might also. 🙂

  31. Deb says:

    Alison, do what you feel you need to do. In the second photo, you look more relaxed in that photo than I have seen you in any other photo for quite a while. Rest, play and take some time to rejoice in the incredible life you are living. Someone above said that we are your friends here. That’s very true. As your friend, take a break and give yourself permission to relax. We will still be here and our admiration and love won’t change!

  32. dw says:

    If I may second judybusy’s advice: don’t blog the vac. Colin Fletcher on his walk through the Grand Canyon broke his camera the first day. He thought later that he experienced the trip more because he wasn’t recording it for later. And just for definition’s sake, how is it a break if you’re working?

  33. Colino says:

    Okay, the blog has moved on and it’s a bit late in the day to comment on this, but here goes anyway: I just knew they’d be waiting for you in Angoulême. They couldn’t miss that one. And even though it’s only fair, it’s very nice to hear.

  34. --MC says:

    For that matter, I’ve gone seven years without taking a vacation because I was sure at my last job they’d replace me as soon as I was gone, so you and Ted and I all deserve some time off.

  35. Revcat says:

    Speaking as someone who has been reading your work for well over a decade, and who (coming out moment here) works as an ordained minister – a profession that often has to be reminded to TAKE A DAY OFF – I’m going to go biblical here: even the Holy One took a sabbath, and the bible has the wonderful image of the jubilee year, where all debts are laid to rest, people are set free from everything that is binding them, and everyone gets to start over. We humans are hard wired (whether you take that as spiritual or not) to need times of rest and rejuvenation. Enjoy yours, and may it refresh you deeply.


  36. Boondocks says:

    May I echo Deena in OR and NLC? There are many strips I have never seen–and I would be perfectly happy to view backstory for quite some time while you take your well-earned rest.

  37. Sir Real says:

    Hmm, so familiar is your item 1) “I only feel like I deserve to live if I’m actively producing work.”

    I associate that with the clinical depression I live with. Or, at least, I associate finally finding a useful antidepressant with the lightening of that terrible feeling of Not Earning My Oxygen.

    We’re pretty darn different, it appears. But, I just wanted to offer the observation: It appears that it was impossible for me to stop feeling that way (and acting in various other self-negating ways) until my chemistry was altered. No matter who told me otherwise. Parallels?

    Sincerely, SR

  38. Tera says:

    maybe it’s time to look at some of those cognitive distortions you got going on : )
    1) Are you really only worthwhile and deserving of life if you produce work?? Do you not have inherent worth as a human being? Does this rule apply just to you or others as well? just a thought…..

    3) your fans donated money because they love and appreciate the work that you have already produced- not to bribe you into writing more.

    You deserve rest, like anyone does, your loyal fans are not going anywhere and will be there after your sabbatical : )

  39. mlk says:

    if accepting donations from fans is a hardship for Alison, perhaps we should contribute to other worthy causes.

    anyone out there want to contribute to Raffi’s therapy fund? or help Lois pay off those defaulted student loans that we learned about when Ginger et al. (ignore the punctuation there if it offends) bought the house? or invest in a new work wardrobe for Mo (based, of course, on some variation of the striped t-shirt)?

    and, of course, someone’s got to pay the cast while Alison’s taking a break . . .

    hey, the strip’s got operating expenses! there are some folks we’ve come to know and love who’d appreciate help with their own financial commitments!

    maybe it’ll help to take Alison out of the picture for a moment. Loyal Fans know that there’s more going on here than Paying an Artist For Her Work.

    may I also suggest that if Alison is taking a break, the arduous task of deciding what strips are to be rebroadcast should be delegated to Katie. Maybe she should take the reigns for awhile where the blog’s concerned. She’s shown herself perfectly capable!

    my $.02 🙂

  40. mlk says:

    p.s. — that’s reins, not reigns, right?

    and I hope that last post didn’t go in too many directions at once.

  41. Pope Snarky says:

    Hail Eris!

    Good to hear you took a break — your strip is great, and a boon to humanity, but it’s not so important you need to slowly kill yourself for it.

    Now get back to work!;-{P}


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