The best/worst thing about Building Stories is that it added up to absolutely nothing. Sure, there are minor arcs, imposed narratives — you find out things, other things are resolved, but nothing beyond the petty dramas and frustrations and longings and nostalgia and regret, etc., of everyday life. Which is you know, the ultimate devastation (refusal of grandiosity, meaning). Well, at least to me.
I am new to comics and know pretty much nothing and no one besides the Fun Home, Persepolis, Maus stuff and really liking whenever they do comics on the Hairpin (ha! For real though). But something about comics (just, overall?) is really, specifically appealing. I won’t even pretend to be able to articulate it in the way it deserves, or to sum up an entire genre. But (OKAY FINE I WILL), it reminds me of poetry a bit, in a way, in the way it, er, spends more time with each thought. By its nature we spend more time with each sentence. There’s a picture there! Everything feels very deliberate, and therefore a little meditative. Important. And yet what we linger on and what we explore and what we see, are often sort of goofy looking little pictures. Not to diminish them! I can’t even begin to parse the artistic choices being made here or comment on a style and the way it subconsciously sets a tone or makes us feel this or that or how long it takes to be able to do something like this (a long fucking time, I imagine?). But — and especially with Chris Ware — the drawing itself feels very (for lack of a better word) vulnerable. Exposed in its… bare-boned-edness. There is not a lot to hide in here:
I goddamn hate this baby. It is so weird and pink and bold and takes up so much space (clearly) right here in the middle of this page. Why aren’t there more lines in it? Why does it look like a fucking image vector? It hurts to look at too long, and especially at night. I tried not to.
He said in this A+ Rookie interview that, “comics seemed (and still seem to me, actually) an unpretentious potential vessel for solitary authenticity.”
A refusal of pretentiousness. I think that’s what that baby is. Ugh it hurts to look at.
But anyway what I was getting at earlier was that I know nothing about comics and nothing really about Chris Ware (besides what I learned in that Rookie interview) except that his stuff is allegedly really, very SAD. “Devastating.” Sad Boys love it, blah blah. And you know, what I find sad and what sad boys find sad is usually very different. They’re easy targets — too easy. And their sadness usually seems very safe. [I dunno, that seems flip and irresponsible to say but fuck it, that’s not what this is about — this is about narrative!]
BUT THIS IS NOT SAFE.
Not because any of the plot points (if you can call them that. I mean one of the threads i a cartoon bee, so.) are remarkably sad: loneliness, creative frustration, body hatred. All fairly straightforward and clumsily, quickly told (Chris Ware in his writing also seems to refuse the slick reveal or the showing vs telling etc. More of a bumbler. Which might be the worst in prose but in comics works I guess.).
What feels so dangerous is that when I say it really adds up to nothing, I mean it. There are, if you haven’t read or seen things about this (Pierce’s post about it was what got me to finally throw down the $50), a bunch of different pamphlets and broadsides and little books and littler books and one big thing that folds out like a game board. When I read them I read them as they came out of the box. One after the other, without noticing what time it was. Dustin read half of it standing up over the coffee table, forgetting to sit down. You expect a certain degree of wonder & awe when you unwrap this thing (surely that’s half the point of it), but that wonder & awe is no less meaningful and genuine when it does come. It springs forth anyway. Like two kids at Christmas (give it to someone for Christmas, someone like me who usually cries in the shower that they can never recover the good Christmas feelings of their youth). And you shout out things about it to each other and pass bits along and the order gets mixed up and then you realize there actually is no order.
The characters repeat their stories at different moments, just like life. They bring up old boyfriends or revisit events (redrawn, too), and depending what order you read the pieces in, the backstory might have more or less meaning. You can reread things and suddenly think, “Oh so that guy was the guy who,” and it makes a little more sense (not that it didn’t make sense the first time), not unlike the way we learn things about people and everything clicks into place in retrospect. The stories balloon out and out and go back and sideways and you see them from different perspectives. All of this but not in a movie way. There is no narrator hovering above all this. Chris Ware is not there winking at us. You don’t finish the book and say, “Ah, this means ___.”
I genuinely kept waiting (and really, just, hoping) something would be revealed that would “make it all make sense”. The book is incredibly straightforward and pretty much makes sense the whole way through, but I wanted some sort of meta-commentary or some sort of reveal — something like, And surprise, this whole book was written by the baby the whole time! Or, like, we are on some other planet where the banal trivialities of our lives are stamped onto paper goods, or god fucking knows. But it never came! There was literally no end. And no start. Just some overlapping stories about really pretty boring and typical people’s lives — that was pretty interesting and fun to read! That’s it. And that is…horrifying. See: that’s what I want. I want Chris Ware to be like, “The point of this book is that there is no point. No linear narrative. And this was necessitated by the form of blah blah blah.” But no. I think it was just fun. A delight. Maybe the ultimate sign you’ve made it, too: your publisher lets you print a big fucking box of crap in a dozen different ways, and charges $50 for it. And people buy it. And that’s it! Our lives are small and mean a lot to us but don’t really have any bigger meaning, and that’s it. Noooooooo.
Oh, also, the 2nd most devastating part was (see above) the way this husband and wife duo is always looking at their computers and phones :(
7:57 pm • 1 December 2012 • 80 notes
I asked Dustin if he had any ideas about where to put these plants for Thanksgiving, since we are gonna have 8 people here, etc. he suggested we put them on the ground when it comes time to pull out the table and sit around it. I didnt say anything out loud, but in my head i laughed the laughs of a thousand men. Guess he doesn’t read the same blogs as I do, or realize the flowers/candles/tablecloth visions i have in my head, or know that, for the love of Christ, YOU SET THE TABLE THE DAY BEFORE.
11:36 am • 21 November 2012 • 24 notes
I went to the dermatologist for the first time today, and am now one mole less…moly. A part of me that existed this morning no longer exists (or it does, but it’s in a lab somewhere, floating in water, extant), and I didn’t even have a warning (aside from, you know, hey, get that mole checked out.) I assumed I’d have time to think about it, to say my goodbyes. Maybe take a photo.
My mom has been “freaked out” about this mole for give or take two years, and dealing with this was one of my new year’s resolutions (2012: A BIG YEAR FOR ME!), so I texted her after to say, “are you happy, the mole is gone, consider it an early birthday present.” I figured it would make her feel powerful, like she could steal things from me all the way down in Florida. All she really wanted to know, though, was was she right. Literally her first reaction was, “So was I right?” I think she wants me to have skin cancer at this point, as vindication.
Anyway my arm hurts now. As in: actively. A part of me is missing! And I will also say that while you all should get a skin cancer screening at some point in your lives and I don’t want to discourage you, having a cute woman in a little red dress, a headband, and kitten heels inspect your SKIN (ie, everywhere, guys!) under the *least* flattering lights, is frankly very demoralizing. She just held up my pale, flabby arms and stared at them, quietly. I felt moved to apologize, on behalf of my complexion. She said, “And now let’s look at the chest,” and I just sort of sat there with my tits hanging out like…Hmm ok, yep, get a good look.” You know, when you go to the gyno it’s like, Okay, we will definitely be seeing your vagina. But this is some weird middle ground where it doesn’t seem like your tits are going to be out — she doesn’t have a stethoscope, there are granola bars in the waiting room (My first brush with fancy New York doctor world! So thrilling!) and ads for plastic surgery, and kitten heels, and then boom: she’s just passively scanning your tits. Not even squeezing. Just looking. Ugh. It’s sort of an insult! And then of course the best part was yet to come: “the buttocks.” God help us all. And I hesitate to bring this up, but I kept my underwear on for this (!!!). I still am wondering if that was a mistake, if I violated some skin cancer screening code (no one told me!) by keeping my underwear on. The technician guy (YES GUY UGH) handed me a robe and told me to put it on and didn’t say anything else, so I figured I wouldn’t go for the gold without some deliberate instructions. Which led me to the point where I was standing in this cold office with a cute woman in a headband saying, “And now I’m going to check the buttocks” and then, I swear to god, pulling down my fucking underwear and looking, silently, at my butt.
Far more painful than getting a mole removed, which I might add, was not fun.
Almost as painful as when the male tech said, “If you don’t mind me asking, when was your last menstrual period?”
"Um…it’s now. Ha!?"
"Okay, so, then your last one was about a month ago, right?"
Are you allowed to go to the dermatologist on your period? I still don’t know. But I did very quickly yell, “NO!” when she asked me if I had any moles in “the groin area.” I’ve never been so happy to have someone take me at my word.
I’m not saying skin cancer seems like a barrel of monkeys or anything, but i’m not not saying it, ok? Jk Jk, wear sunscreen! Slice off your moles with a box cutter! (that’s basically what happened to me today.) You’ll get out of doing the dishes!
11:06 pm • 5 November 2012 • 53 notes
Tomorrow Magazine is now online: tomorrowthemag.com
I haven’t read all of it yet, but I have read most of it, and it’s really great! This story in particular has stuck with me / is something I tried to recount in full over dinner (the truest test): http://www.tomorrowthemag.com/articles/the-waiting-is-the-hardest-part
11:17 am • 1 November 2012 • 13 notes
Our pumpkin really sums it up this year.
11:06 am • 1 November 2012 • 52 notes
Spent last night helping the marketing manager of this household take photos of himself saran wrapping books and reading outside in a hurricane, under a tarp. Seems about right.
11:37 am • 30 October 2012 • 56 notes
||I hate carving pumpkins because I'm not GOOD at it, and I don't want to learn. And I can't do things halfway.
||Oh, you can do PLENTY of things halfway, believe me. I've seen it. You are more than capable of doing all sorts of things between about 50 and 10% of the way.
8:47 am • 24 October 2012 • 36 notes
“How do we stop needing things, though? I think the main way is that eventually they disappear and you look around and are not dead, and say, I guess I didn’t need that.”
A Lady on the Hairpin,
2:59 pm • 16 October 2012 • 177 notes
I have forgotten how to be a Strange Woman Alone — I am in a smallish town upstate this weekend, trying to remember. To see what it feels like now to wander without agenda, to eat dinner without commentary. In most ways it’s not as fun. I find I don’t want to dip into anything too deeply. I want to wait until he gets here, and see it better with him. I want everything witnessed doubly and passed through another brain and then back again. I’m going to refrain from assigning value to that but there it is.
I’d, more specifically I guess, forgotten that when I am alone I become open without meaning to. It feels like a liability to walk around this town unaccompanied. How many times in the past 26 hours have I turned a corner quickly, or just turned my head. Looked down. Two people are a shield. I feel unarmed; dangerous.
In college I wrote a paper purporting that — bear with me now — Virginia Woolf writes female subjectivity into the streets (flaneuse!) with Mrs. Dalloway, and while I am not saying I would like to rewrite my senior thesis, or even reread it - I already regret evoking it - I have often thought that I would change that thesis statement now. Include an addendum, something less hopeful, less fictional. This is the tragedy about college, about writing life before it’s lived, about not knowing that particular impossibility of women (or this woman) passing through public space unobstrusively.
Now I would write about how subjectivity for women is often at odds with the men around us, cornering us in Hudson art galleries, reeking of bad weed, wearing their barn coats, checking out the real estate print-outs in all the windows, grey-bearded, saying, “Whoops!” as they knock into us sideways. I would write now about the challenge of consuming one’s surroundings with agency and with (false, but comforting) dominance when one’s own “city stroll” is retracted every few blocks with a “Hi there little lady.”
Is self-consciousness at odds with dominance? How to do both? Or neither?
Perhaps this is not a woman thing. Perhaps it is just a human in the world among other humans thing. And either way it may be that it’s better to be shaken into reality, into community. Maybe this double-consciousness is why I love women’s writing so much. To watch and to know you’re being watched.
Women have to go from laughing inwardly at, “Richard Mapplethorpe” (Could it be?, looking up and there is, yes, a magazine tear-out of Robert Mapplethorpe photos labeled “R. Mapplethorpe, 1987) to having an older, 60ish man in aforementioned barn coat sidling up to you in a quiet corner, trying desperately — really just flinging his head all over the place, like a slithering snake, trying to catch your eye.
For my part, I did look up at him open-faced as he approached. This was my mistake. I was so joyous and smug and eager to tell someone, anyone, that they got it wrong, that this man’s name was not Richard Mapplethorpe, that come on, people, what the fuck is this exhibition anyways, a clever teenager’s bulletin board? (No, it’s an often quite brilliant but so poorly presented and in the context of shitty, shitty Hudson art and in sad wooden frames that it makes absolutely no sense — this is part of it’s allure but also renders it meaningless and weird. I wished the we of my me was here to remark on how Amazing! it all was. Part of me now is always spent wondering if something I’m seeing is something he would think is “Amazing!” or not. My instincts are getting better every day.). But when I looked up tonight and saw this grey-bearded barn-coated man, I looked away from him quickly, felt in danger of sharing anything with him, retreated from my exuberant wine-drinking self and stared straight ahead at another 80s magazine photo juxtaposition.
But he says to me anyway, as I’m shuffling away, and quite pointedly:
"Ah, beautiful nudes, aren’t they?"
10:14 pm • 15 October 2012 • 74 notes
Tonight at dinner I was holding court (a court of two, but I was mildly drunk and rambling, so) over this book and how the premise of it is very, very close to Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters. They both feature women in sort of comfortable but twitchy marriages, grappling with the fact that they haven’t had a child. They both live in gentrifying but poverty-ridden neighborhoods in big cities, and are constantly confronted with and dealing with class differences. And, most importantly, they both deal with an intruder. Desperate Characters’ is a stray cat, NW is a lady/drug addict. In both cases, the husband thinks the wife a naif, a fool, she shouldn’t have let the woman in and given her money / she shouldn’t have fed the cat. The women both obsess over the cat/the lady and the line is never fully drawn between their childlessness and the maternal instinct to help the helpless but it is definitely THERE. Helping the cat/woman leads to both women’s unraveling, and in both cases, sort of affirms their decision to not have kids, or at the very least, affirms the reality that things are more complicated than, “We’re trying!” or, “We forgot to have kids!” It’s very blatant!
Also I should say here that you should read Desperate Characters! It’s some fucked up shit. And Paula Fox is a reeeally, really great writer. Well, the kind of writer I like: emotional microcosm, elegant prose, strong female 1st person or close third, FEELINGS, and so on. This is pretty much all I read.
LUCKILY for Zadie Smith, this book is also that. Her shit is not usually like this, and I like it much better for that reason. Eat your heart out, Michiko. If I want to read a novel like White Teeth I can go watch Love Actually or something, am I right? (No? No?)
Anyway. I realized this then started furiously googling, “Zadie Smith” “Paula Fox” “Desperate Characters”” in bed this morning, and I found, well, I found an abstract of a review Zadie Smith wrote in the June 2011 Harper's of Paula Fox's latest book of essays (my review: kind of indulgent, but still worth reading if you like her). Now, I cannot read this review because Harper’s has a business model straight outta 1993, but I did read someone’s blog post about this review (for real) and she referenced how much Z. Smith loves Paula Fox’s fiction. This, I assume, means Desperate Characters. Which means she had read it; loved it; stolen a plot device from it.
Boom! So, here I am vindicated in the pettiest, most meaningless way. Kind of thrilling, honestly! Just wanted to…tell everyone that. And Zadie: I’m onto your shit. Congrats on evolving as an artist and whatnot. I’m into it. Onto it and into it.
You guys gotta read Desperate Characters though. Oof.
10:23 pm • 1 October 2012 • 28 notes