… which I just finished. It is indeed a lesser work than Fun Home but that was inevitable because the earlier book was an unrepeatable one-shot (not as extreme as “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” but still…). Fun Home includes built-in bombshells and an undeniable finish, plus many years of reflecting on Bechdel’s relationship to her father and his life. Her mother is still very present and ongoing and while there is a tragic death of a person you have come to adore and admire, it is not her mother. I do want to add that I think complaints that the book veers too much into an examination of the thoughts and theories of British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott are hooey — at least as much space is devoted to Virginia Woolf and neither figure buries or derails the narrative.
The other point of gratitude I must make is that Bechdel has convinced me that my mother had as much to do with making me a writer as my father’s respect for art and love of books. (Like Bechdel, I referred to her as “Mother” all the time.) When Mother would indulge me in spinning out fantasy tales whenever we were alone together, she helped me strengthen and enlarge my imagination, my sense of story and narrative and my adventures inside language. It was a tormented day when I realized I wanted to craft dreams I could no longer share with her. But Are You My Mother? helped me understand more of what she gave me.
When it’s too cold outside for a long walk, I work out in the basement, where inevitably I stare at storage boxes, mostly from Montana. I can’t bear to more than glance at anything I wrote as a teenager or young adult. I tell myself it’s because I didn’t really know how to write then. But it’s also because I’m not that guy, or those guys, anymore and I’m not sure I want to meet them and find out what I think of them. I know I believed foolish, naively happy and optimistic things and it was painful enough losing the illusions once.
It’s painful to sort through my long-gone parent’s possessions and letters and photos (I’m almost three times as old as I was when my father passed away). But I feel disrespectful, dismissive even, leaving everything in old, dusty boxes. Can only go on for so long, though, before I’m hit with a memory like this: The last time I dreamed I was in the house where I grew up — haven”t been there since the ’80s — I was the age I am now and I felt a crushing sadness.
Bill Clinton had a number of cowardly moments, but one that really stuck in my craw was the whole “didn’t inhale” garbage. The first POTUS to admit he was going to let the powerless rot in jail for ages because of a harmless “crime” he had committed himself. That’s a new level of hypocrisy and indifference to the weak.
I fell short when I forgot that there was a confessed tyrannical agenda behind these irrational “wars.” And I see how it worked. Operating in total ignorance, my parents thought maryjuana was Satan incarnated in a plant.
I couldn’t understand it — our house in Livingston MT had beautiful views, esp. the spectacular living-room picture window, but over the course of three or four years, my Mother came to want the curtains drawn day and night. One problem was that she suffered for years from undiagnosed cataracts. But even after they’d been removed, the shades stayed down.
“Makes the house too hot,” she’d say. But by then the place had central air-conditioning and I knew damn well the darkness remained in winter. Eventually I felt strongly the pulled curtains were a symptom of her depression; a withdrawal from the world, a refusal to look out and engage.
So I resolved to never become afraid of sunlight. (Tough equally determined to not get sunburned ever.)
.. is endless refilling and cleaning and refilling humidifiers and air purifiers. Still, I now believe I had skin problems and nasal infections as a kid because my parents didn’t believe in humidifiers. Because, you know, they had grown up without them and were fine.
All I’ve read is Tuck Everlasting, which I picked up when it was new, even though I was past youngster reading age, because it was so celebrated. And it’s all that and a Fountain of Youth. Read it if you haven’t. My strongest feeling while going through it was that it was such an innately valuable and necessary work and how much I wished it had been around for me when I was just beginning to read. I was terrified and obsessed by death, not so much mine as my parents’, since they were so much older than the other parents I knew, particularly my Dad. It’s left me with weird, panicky moments of feeling abandoned to this day. Tuck Everlasting, given my bottomless love for books as long as I can remember, would have been balm for the soul.
I was amazed how much our fascinations overlapped — esp. up until the start of high school when I was equally obsessed with becoming a painter/comic-book artist and a fantasy writer. (My mother refused to let me take the one art class Park Senior High offered — because “artists starve” — but she couldn’t prevent me from taking English.)
Shortly after I began exploring the, yes, labyrinthine arrangements of rooms and themes, I fell into multiple simultaneous states and experiences:
I was awake and asleep. I relived the dream when I was eight where a giant rattlesnake was coiled in our shower stall and the most hideous creature my imagination ever created blocked my escape into the hall. I was watching TV shows and films that scared me so much I shivered and cried. I was being bitten by the monkey in the rock shop. I was so deep into comics in the sunny corner of my bedroom they felt like films unreeling before me. My father slammed the car door on my hand. I saw a shadow man dancing for many minutes at the foot of my bed. I saw whimsical, slightly scary creatures that nobody else could see scramble across floors and up walls. I poured over stills from horror movies that I longed to view. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad changed my life. Dinosaurs were the perfect obsession because they were monsters that had been real and were hiding somewhere in this current Earth. I was feeding hay to a hippo in a circus that came to town. I was looking at the carcass of a dead sheep as my father skinned it. I encountered Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come To Life. I saw the headlines that a second murder-suicide had happened in our little town in the space of 18 months. I flowed through the hallucinations caused by raw ether when my tonsils were cut out in first grade that prepared me for every drug illusion of my life.
I witnessed a collector who thrilled and gratified my heart.