Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Are You My Mother?

Since it was my birthday a couple of days ago, I decided to buy myself a present yesterday: two books. One was an anatomy book for artists (it's so beautiful!) that I've been meaning to buy for a while, and the other one is a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, Are You My Mother? It's the companion to a previous novel, Fun Home. Of course, I'm already 3/4 of the way through it, and completely loving every second of it.

When I read Fun Home, it was my first time in college. I was 18, and determined to become and English major. In taking as many English and Literature classes as I could, I ended up taking one of "The Graphic Novel". My teacher at the time said that he had had a hard time getting permission to teach this class, and met with a lot of resistance from fellow professors. This was not astonishing news. At the time of this class, almost 4 and a half years ago, graphic novels had not yet reached a great degree of recognition. Today, they're making better progress.

The rest of my class was completely flummoxed by Fun Home. Bechdel is smart, and it wasn't like many other graphic novels I had encountered. I read the entire thing twice before we discussed it the following week in class, completely enthralled with a form of storytelling that I didn't yet have much experience with. It had such a personal, yet matter-of-fact tone that I hadn't seen in the other comics and graphic novels that I had read up until that point. She was good at thinking, which sounds crazy, but is something that most people are not very good at. She thought about things, and then thought about thinking about them.

During my Fine Arts program, I had to talk two classes: Cultural Theory, and Critical and Cultural Theory. Hands down the hardest classes I have ever taken in my life. At the beginning of the first class, my teacher Lynn Ruscheinsky, told us that this class was supposed to teach us how to think. We scoffed. Thanks but no thanks. I'm fairly sure we already know how to think. We thought of this statement as arrogant. But you know what? She was right! It did teach me how to think! Okay, not that I didn't already know how to think about things, but it taught me how to think about things harder, if that makes any sense. I came to see that it was a kind of glorified philosophy class, but less of the stereotypical ideas of what a college philosophy class is like, and more reading and reading and reading and READING about all these people and ideas. I already knew a bit about most of them. Plato, Nietzsche, Freud, Darwin... I had a bit of a footing with them. The others (Hume, Althusser, Foucault, Saussure, Essed, etc) I was much less framiliar with, but quickly learned to keep up. There was a lot more on psychology than I had anticipated. It was a little dizzying sometimes.

After the class was over, I was convinced that I learned absolutely nothing from it. I passed with a B (somehow?) and was content to forget about it. But two weeks ago, discussing it with Sarah, we both agreed that it had completely changed the way that we approached thinking about things. I feel like I'm more mentally capable than I used to be. And since that class, I have read so many things that directly reference things that I learned in Cultural Theory, and I would have been lost in my reading if I hadn't learned about it in school.

So, back to Alison Bechdel. I feel like I found Fun Home and Are You My Mother? at very appropriate times in my life. Fun Home was my first foray into what else graphic novels could be, and it enticed me in. Are You My Mother? would have been so much more impossible to understand if I hadn't taken Cultural Theory. It's smarter than Fun Home, and more challenging.

I can't gush enough about it. I wish I wasn't almost done. I always do this, where I completely power through a book. I know I'll go back and read it at least 3 more times though, and each time I'll pick up on an idea I missed the first time. I wish I could meet her, and tell her... I don't know, I don't want to say "what an inspiration she is to me!" because it sounds so over-eager and dramatic. I just really wish I could make comics like she can. To be fair, she's been at it a lot longer than I have, and maybe longer than I've even been alive? She's just cool as hell, and she makes me want to learn more. She talks a lot about this guy Donald Winnicott, a psychoanalyst, and I'm thinking about going to the library and finding some of his stuff to read, because it's actually really interesting.

If I actually met her though, she'd think I was the biggest idiot ever though, because I cannot talk to people that I admire without losing my voice and going red. Thank you, anxiety. It sounds like she's got anxiety problems like I do too though, so maybe she'd understand and take pity on me, haha.


  1. When we FINALLY MEET THIS YEAR you will have to tell me about that class.

  2. Yes, let's make this a reality! And it was a seriously cool class. I strongly recommend it.