time space life death

November 15th, 2013 | Uncategorized

the vector of my year to date

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.)

48 Responses to “time space life death”

  1. Oh, Alison, I’m sorry you have had a hard year. Mine has been similar, in terms of multiple loved ones dying, but I had less travel and no play about my life. My dear, I think about your success a lot, and how the folks I know who have had the most impact in this world really decided early what they wanted to do and stuck with it, through thick and thin. I thought you were crazy to think you could make a living from DTWOF when you started, and crazy talented, too!

  2. Josiah Rowe says:

    I’d love to see this video, but it doesn’t show up on my iPad. Is it in Flash or some other format that iOS doesn’t like? Any chance of an upload to YouTube?

  3. Hey Josiah. I think I fixed it, thanks.

  4. Sidney! So nice to hear from you. I’m very sorry that you’ve had a hard year too.

  5. Ellen Orleans says:

    “And now, it’s now.” Wow.

    My mom died five years ago and, continuously, for three years after her death, I wrote about her last 4 months. I wrote, revised, and edited until I created a book. My writing kept me reliving those bitter five months, kept the grief going, but also, it helped me through it.

    I don’t feel, though, that I’ve gotten back to the now. And I no longer have a feel for the future. But I’m working on.

  6. Terry Dame says:

    I just saw Fun Home tonight, Amazing. I’m an old friend of Lisa’s. I read both your novels, loved them. Are You my Mother freaked me out because it felt as though I was reading a book about my life. Weirdly similar. You hang in there Alison, you are greatly appreciated.

  7. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    After a year like that, I can imagine why you would want to get it on paper. I’m sorry, I wish you had more time to process all of this at the time, but I think we never do. It just happens and we react and much later it starts to make some kind of sense to us. I remember when my father died. I was so furious for almost exactly a year. Then we got a silly offer from our bank to let us buy insurance for death or dismemberment and all I wanted to do was call my dad and tell him about it. We were laughing so hard, and then I wasn’t angry at all. I’m sorry for your loss and happy for your success and in awe of your visual sense.

  8. Roberta Stone says:

    The stage of life when our parents die is fraught with draining emotions. So few of us feel that all was healed and complete during our parents’ lifetime. I can remember driving from New York back home to Boston while crying on the turnpike as my mother lay dying. Add to our own feelings the necessity of negotiating the care taking and final disposition with ones siblings; whew! Your travel schedule contributed to your exhaustion, but is the result of your success. I hope the travel gigs helped to bring you back to feeling good about the great accomplishments that you have achieved.

    Seeing the show next month and looking forward to it.

  9. Susan Stinson says:

    I’m so sorry, Alison. So much loss, and so much movement. Plus, parallel universe with excellent music. It’s too much, and it sounds really, really hard. The graphic representation of it all here, with those numbers, those relentless numbers, and the red lines, both sprawling and thickening, with your voice, is very moving. May you have the things you need to mourn as you need to, to grieve and to work well, to move in ways that make somatic sense, to rest, to live.

  10. Josiah Rowe says:

    Wow indeed. Something so graphically simple is so profound when filtered through your visual sense, Alison. Thank you.

  11. Jane R. says:

    My wife, our kid, and I just made a weekend trip to Penn State. I showed her where, as in another life, I went to college. On the drive back, she immediately recognized the topology from Fun Home – a looming long low mountain range, cutting off the sun. We drove past that barn in Boalsburg that hosts plays, which is also in Fun Home. We were talking about how geography is tied to memory and grief.

  12. sdn says:

    Oh, what a strange and hard year. I didn’t realize that you had lost Bob too. The house is SO HARD. All of the stuff saved by someone who is now gone. (Yes, like you and others above, this has been my year too. God save us all.)

  13. Cathy says:

    So very sorry to learn that you also have lost Bob in this stressful year. I buried my father in August, though this was after seeing him endure Alzheimer’s disease a long, long time, so I had lost a large part of him years earlier. I no longer have to deal with his house or personal effects (except for the U.S. flag that had been on his coffin). Please take good care of yourself.

  14. Eva says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, the loss of your mother’s partner, on top of your mother’s death. The one-two punch. Not fair, at all.

    Thanks for the many layered video. I was especially moved by your voice, and how it speeded up at the end, corresponding with the hectic pace of the last month or so.

    I hope life affords you some time in the now to take it all in, all the losses, all the triumphs, all the pain and pleasure.

  15. Lurkalot says:

    Alison, sorry to hear you lost another family member this year. This must, indeed, have been a draining, intense, year.

    Hope this doesn’t sound disrespectful after mentioning such sad news, but the first thing I thought when I saw the vector, was how much it looks like a (drawing of a) mosquito.

  16. Amy says:

    I am so happy to have been a teeny tiny part of all those red lines when I was able to see you speak in Charleston, SC. I’ve loved your work for many years, and I feel really lucky to have seen you live and in person! You’ve had such a strong and positive influence on my life, and I just want to say, “Thank you.”

  17. Kate L says:

    My mother’s death back in 1988 really knocked me for a loop for a while. But she’s not really gone as long as she’s remembered.

    My mother, father, sister, brothers and I were all in Dallas, Texas, 50 years ago, today. My parents had taken us kids out of school to attend a family reunion in Texas, and our route led thru Dallas the day after President Kennedy was murdered there. We drove thru Dealey Plaza 24 hours after the event. People were still lining the sidewalks, just like on the newsreels you see, but by now they were hysterical. I find myself turning away from the television coverage of the 50th anniversary of the assassination. Having been there, I don’t need to see it again.

  18. Mentor says:

    [Several folks have asked about plans for a cast album for FHtM.

    Well, it looks like it’s going to happen. Details [HERE].

  19. Adam says:

    I wonder if it means anything that the red back-and-forth looks like, to me, a mosquito.

  20. NLC says:

    OK, so how many folks are having latkes for Thanksgiving dinner this year?

    The best of everything to all, old blog-buddies.

  21. Kate L says:

    Adam (#20) The red emblem immediately reminded me of A.B.’s hurried flight around the country (play Flight of the BumbleBee).

    NLC (#21)According to a report on Food Network in the U.S., there is a fast food place that serves reuben sandwiches with latkes in place of rye bread. Any takers?

  22. Calico says:

    Grieving takes time. I’ve lost many people over the last year and a half and and now starting to come out of the clouds.

    Congrats on the success of your musical!

  23. Straight Ally says:

    Alison, I wish you “strength and good courage”—or whatever you need. (I lost both parents in 1999.) We all love you.

    I haven’t been following the blog, so forgive me if y’all already know this: Fun Home, the musical, has been extended again, through December 29.

  24. Adam says:

    Kate L (#22) And have A.B. dressed up as Chaplin running from the Keystone Kops.

  25. Ellen Orleans says:

    Own an original Alison Bechdel: Did you all see this? I think it originally appeared in Ms. Magazine.


  26. Mentor says:

    [This week’s update:
    FHtM will now be running through Jan 12, 2014:
    [Click Here] –Mentor]

  27. Mentor says:


    The cast album for FHtM is now available for pre-order over on Amazon: [Click Here] –Mentor]

  28. Kate L says:

    I just told my class about the Saint Jude Storm in Europe this past October, and about the 1987 storm and the Windstorm of 1703 that Daniel Defoe wrote a history about. Now I hear that another windstorm has ripped thru Britain with winds as high as 140 mph? Blimey!!! πŸ™

  29. Kate L says:

    … and another thing – Jade Rabbit is on its way to the Bay of Rainbows! No, I’m not seeing unicorns and pink bunnies (I haven’t seen unicorns since, well, never mind). China’s Chang’e spacecraft, named for an ancient Chinese goddess who lived in the moon, has just entered into lunar orbit. It carries the Yutu (Jade Rabbit) lander, named for Chang’e’s pet. Landing is scheduled in the Sinus Iridum (Bay of Rainbows). Meanwhile, India has launched its first Mars orbiter, which is now en route to the red planet. The Indian vehicle is called Mangalyaan (Hindi for “Mars Craft”).

  30. Robin M says:

    Remember me?
    Your year video is simple and profound. Amazing how much one can feel from days, dates, states…then…
    too much death and loss.
    one loss kicks up all others…your father, I’m sure.

    Finally got to Fun home last night after the two aborted attempts. If the play could have repeated over and over and over, while I sat with my daughter, I might never have gotten up.
    I have Tyler to thank for asking for the show as a bday present. However, I ended up seeing it with my older daughter. Thank you. Fun home is another wonderful connection for us.
    I hope 2014 is better for you.

  31. Ellen Orleans says:

    Geena Davis’ Fast & Fun Steps for adding female characters to Hollywood movies. Gina writes:

    OK, now for the fun part: It’s easy, fast and fun to add female characters, in two simple steps. And I want to be clear I’m not talking about creating more movies with a female lead. If you do, God bless and thank you. Please consider me for that role.

    Step 1: Go through the projects you’re already working on and change a bunch of the characters’ first names to women’s names. With one stroke you’ve created some colorful unstereotypical female characters that might turn out to be even more interesting now that they’ve had a gender switch. What if the plumber or pilot or construction foreman is a woman? What if the taxi driver or the scheming politician is a woman? What if both police officers that arrive on the scene are women β€” and it’s not a big deal?

    Step 2: When describing a crowd scene, write in the script, “A crowd gathers, which is half female.” That may seem weird, but I promise you, somehow or other on the set that day the crowd will turn out to be 17 percent female otherwise. Maybe first ADs think women don’t gather, I don’t know.

    And there you have it. You have just quickly and easily boosted the female presence in your project without changing a line of dialogue.

  32. freyakat says:

    Off-topic, but this is the place to perhaps find an answer
    to this highly-important (not!) question. Is it worth seeing “Blue
    is the Warmest Color”? Has anyone here seen it? My impression from
    reading about the film in various places is that it is likely to
    piss me off because it is purportedly primarily about its sex
    scenes, which again purportedly are voyeuristic scenes thought up
    by and filmed by a straight man. (I really liked the graphic novel
    that is the original inspiration for the film.) Any

  33. Andrew B says:

    Freyakat, I haven’t seen the movie, but everything I’ve read agrees with what you’ve read.

  34. katelambert says:

    The International Astronomical Union has only been widely famous for two things: a fictional role in the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey, where an IAU scientist travels to the moon to investigate TMA-1, an alien artifact that had been deliberately buried several millions of years before, and (all too real) for demoting Pluto from planetary status in 2006. But the IAU also sets the rules for naming features on other planets (all features on the planet Venus must be named for real women or women from fiction, for example). Surface features on Mercury must be named for persons active in the arts, and the IAU has just approved the naming of three craters on Mercury in honor of John Lennon, Truman Capote and Alexander Calder.

  35. Fi says:

    Hope all here get to have a festive holiday season, in the company of your most funny, smart and kind ‘significant others’. See you back in 2014…

  36. Kate L says:

    Back at you, Fi! πŸ™‚ I’m having a real down east Christmas out on the High Plains, meaning that I’m having baked beans. Meanwhile, the Board of Regents that governs Moo U has gotten press in the Chronicle of Higher Education, but not in a good way. Now that Governor Sam Brownback’s appointees to the Regents outnumber those of his predecessor Kathleen Sebelius, the Regents have ruled that any university employee, tenured or non-tenured, can be summarily fired for “disturbing the harmony of the academic community thru their postings in social media”. Hmmm… 1984 came early this year. I wonder if my postings in various media agitating for the right of the LGBT community to exist will be considered disharmonious?

  37. Mentor says:

    [Those who’ve not checked out the Events page recently might be interested in AB’s clever plan to avoid Vermont’s infamous Mud Season…

    …schedule events in France at the end of Jan/start of Feb, and in Australia and New Zealand during the month of March. –Mentor]

  38. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    I loved “Blue is the Warmest Color” as a picture of a relationship and the maturing of Adele, the younger woman. The sex scene was interesting but weird. I checked with my friends and none of us have/had sex like that so maybe it was the director’s fantasy. But the story is good, the slow pace reveals a lot of details, the cinematography is excellent. When I got home, I sobbed for all the relationships I’ve had that ended. See it and make up your own mind. The book’s not that good; we’ve been spoiled for lesbian graphic novels by Alison.

  39. Alex K says:

    Click Here! for the specific contribution that AB will make to the Comics Festival in Angouleme.

    [And [HERE] is Google-Translate’s attempt at putting the page into English. –Mentor]

  40. Liz says:

    I think the resultant vector image is stunning as is the
    content that caused its creation. It is you – winged and flying and
    running – with your head as evidenced by the dark red lines –
    clearly in Vermont and Pennsylvania.

  41. Mar says:

    Hi Alison, wow! I don’t know if you read these comments or not, but in case you do, I wanted to say how sorry I am to hear about your mom and her partner. I just finished “Are you my mother?” and it is brilliant! So, I was poking around your site and saw the video. My partner’s mom died 2 months ago and it is still so hard for all of us, especially for her. We send you a heartfelt wish for peace in 2014!

  42. Kate L says:

    Mar (#43) Sorry to hear of your loss. In a few days, it will be the 26th anniversary of my mother’s death.

  43. hairball_of_hope says:

    Fabulous New Yorker article, thanks for the link. I had read several stories online about Streep’s speech, all discussed the Disney “gender bigot” and anti-Semitic issues, some included the “rabid main-eating feminist” quote, but none mentioned the Bechdel Test.

    I especially appreciated Emma taking off her heels as a feminist statement, I can really relate. I am continually pushed to “dress the part” for my current job as a senior manager and I do the bare minimum of corporate drag only when absolutely necessary. I intensely dislike the double standard for business attire, no man has to suffer debilitating pain by dressing for work, but a woman is expected to shove her feet into overpriced stupid little crippling shoes. A guy can always loosen his tie if he’s forced to wear one, there’s no equivalent relief for women and the uncomfortable shoes.

    Even the “business casual” standard sucks, men can wear a pair of khaki Dockers and a golf shirt with company logo and nothing is said, but a woman at the same level of responsibility is expected to be much more dressed up. Been there/done that decades ago when I was climbing the corporate ladder, and now I have no aspirations/expectations of going up, just going out when I’m ready.

    N.B. There’s a long stupid backstory here about how I got downsized a few years ago, landed a job with a significant downgrade, and ended up getting periodically shoved back up the ladder to a bunch of hassle-filled managerial jobs (that no one else wanted) because I was still being paid at my previous salary. I’m grateful to be employed, and also grateful I’m still in the same field, but I would be much happier doing technical project work instead of fighting administrative and budget battles to get projects funded and staffed. [End of rant]

  44. Kate L says:

    Hi, hairball! πŸ™‚

  45. Kate L says:

    Steve Martin once wrote a book called, Cruel Shoes. I finally had to give up my favorite new pair of shoes to the local Episcopal second-hand clothing shop because they simply WOULD NOT FIT! Cruel shoes, indeed.

    hairball… do you drive the George Washington Bridge? People are beginning to ask, what did Chris Christie know, and when did he stop knowing it?