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Month: March, 2014

Two-Way Mirror: The Involvement of Self in Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?

Alison Bechdel’s second graphic memoir, Are You My Mother?, has received much criticism for not meeting the expectations set by her first book, Fun Home. Beginning with the title, everything about Are You My Mother? Is complexly introspective and universally aware.  Explicitly, the memoir is about a (lack of) relationship with her mother, but always underneath, it is also about the search for someone to fill the needs she couldn’t meet. 

     Are You My Mother? Combines Bechdel’s journey through girlfriends, therapists, theories, and their affects on her relationship with her mother. And they affect her relationship with her mother.  Near the present of their relationship, Bechdel has stopped listening to her mother’s personal phone calls in order to transcribe them for analysis (within the space of her latest text). 

     The major complaint for Are You My Mother? is that it doesn’t contain the complex narrative of Fun Home. Without this narrative, Bechdel has been accused of self-involved therapy transcription.  Furthering this claim of self-indulgence, it is noted that Bechdel rarely draws engagement between her and her mother in a frame. The assumption seems to be that Bechdel is the only person of importance, in the frames recreating therapy sessions. Even without Bechdel clearly demonstrating her intimate relationships to these women, her therapists should be seen as humans to engage with and not merely furniture or simply a service to the patient. 

To understand the importance of the isolated “I” in this memoir, the reader needs only to return to page 49 and remember Bechdel’s self-censorship of her own diary entries as a child: “By far the most heavily obliterated word is ‘I’”.  Bechdel’s separation from her mother and self, especially her female body, requires a fair amount of metacognition.  It is important that this happens in the space of this narrative.

     Furthermore, with the same brilliant attention to narrative that Bechdel wrote Fun Home, which we all seem to agree to love, Are You My Mother? was created.  The frames and dialogue are active in the book about her father, because her relationship with him was active.  The interaction that readers protest for at the end of Are You My Mother? doesn’t exist to write. Had Bechdel written it, we would be outraged at the inaccuracy of it all. 

     Bechdel draws her mother, the performer, as something to be observed and not someone to be interacted with because that is how she experienced her.  The alternative would be 289 pages of playing “crippled child.”  That is not a text to engage with. 

     Was Bechdel’s mother a bad one? Has she healed? Bechdel exposes her relationship to her mother without answers.  Answering these questions ignores the complexity of their present relationship and everything that she has gained from both the presence, and lack of guidance, that her mother offered her.  And in Bechdelian honesty, readers understand that Bechdel is just as removed from their engagements as an adult.  Readers also understand, once again with the aid of her drawings, that Bechdel is a lot like her mother. 

     There are times when Bechdel would rather offer the reader theory than a bridge to her own understanding of it in the context of her relationship with her mother, which is not only distracting, but leaves the reader with difficulty reengaging.  Usually, though, Bechdel provides the reader with enough musing and memory to navigate the matrix. 

     This tangled narrative does more than offer readers a look into an evolving relationship of an imperfect mother and daughter pair.  Without answers, Are You My Mother? invites readers on their own metacognitive journeys.  Alison Bechdel is holding up a two-way mirror.  

Bechdel, Alison. Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.

Self-Portrait as Mother: 2011

It is 7:20 and I finally give in

to the alarm’s hour of solicited

demands. School starts, the principal’s e-mail reminds,

at 8:05 sharp– half-asleep, half-dressed, half-fed

I rush him out the door


I smoke in the car again

on the way to pick him up.

This time after I roll-up all four windows

I don’t even try

to mask it with the cheap lavender spray

that leaves the seats sticky

and the air thick with lies.


We don’t have a TV- it is too violent,

besides families should interact.

So, we spend the evening on the laptop–

watching heroes persecute villains

on the entertainment center we made

by stacking Candy Land and Connect-Four.


The oven almost pre-heated,

another metal cookie sheet clanks on the rack.

I thaw tonight’s home-cooked meal after

I wave away the swarm

to toss the mush that has replaced

the organic produce on the shelf.


Six year-olds need at least ten hours of sleep.

After “just one more chapter” or three

there is usually enough time for nine

before the alarm goes off at 6:20.

All impossible things exist.

What does it mean, to steal?

Sometimes I wonder if our lessons not to steal aren’t a fundamental tool of capitalism.  

Is it only people who do not want to share, telling us not to steal?

Have you ever went through a corporate training at a new job where they tried to convince you that taking something from their trash or that would be thrown away was considered theft and would lead to both termination and prosecution?  

Can humans really be fined or jailed for taking what a corporation decided to put in a landfill?


Whenever the threat of theft is brought up by poor people I know, like when someone suggests locking a door, this is what I hear: 

“If they are going to take it, they must need it more than I do.”  


But of course, this is not a business model.  This is socialism, on the other side of the curtain of evil we hang in front of it.           Where I grew up, it wasn’t called anything, it was the right way to live your life.                                                                                     It was the only way of communal survival.                                                                                                                                        Trailer park theory.  


What happens between our attempt to teach preschoolers to share and our tradition of graduating one valedictorian? 


I recently read that the heirs to the WalMart fortune made approximately $94 million a day in 2013.  

They woke up and before they went to sleep they had $94 million additional dollars.  This money was not earned.

It was stolen: Child labor.  Less than living wage.  Refusing full-time, benefit including, hours. Dignity.                                                                   And that is just what was stolen from humans. 


If stealing is taking another’s property, and a corporation owns even their trash, what happens to humans in a world where nothing isn’t the property of corporations?  It is becoming impossible to even grow my own food without corporate owned seeds.  


We need to redefine stealing, before capitalism steals the rest of our rights from us.  


Can you imagine a world where our local air is bottled up, branded, and sold back to us?

Can you imagine a world where our local water is bottled up, branded, and sold back to us? 



                                                                                                                                                                        We live here.  


Not a bedtime story

A recent conversation with a friend reminds me:

We don’t often read out loud for pleasure.  We read to children, until they are trained to read quietly inside themselves.  

Tonight I am reading out loud at a local college, primarily to queer students, and I am worried that I am leaving them with fear.  Queer + Public = Scary.  I don’t want to leave them with fear, but I do want to hold reality up and have a conversation about it.  Stand within a construct, define it as such, and realize that the human created walls are still keeping out the snow.  The actual consequences of the abstract constructions.  

What do I hope to leave them with, if not fear?  I don’t know.  I am hoping they will question and challenge me and we will all leave together a little more uncertain of how we should feel and a little less afraid to talk about how we do feel.  

I will show them a picture of me on my parent’s porch, male date hooked on arm, ready for prom.  

What other heterosexual dating rituals begin with our mandated educations?


Maybe we are simply beginning with fear

and learning, together, how to re-purpose it:

maybe I will ask them to write a poem.  




BoogieMan stalks the printer

The cat is not patient, waiting to see what I have written.

This, or she likes the sound of the printer.

Words are coming. Sounds are coming.