“But Then They Both Gave Me Gifts to Make Up for That Lack”

An interview with Alison Bechdel and her work “Are You My Mother?” (English version below)

 

Feature Story

專訪《我和母親之間》、《歡樂之家》艾莉森‧貝克德爾:「他們給了我禮物,以彌補那些失去。」 Published in Okapi

United States and Taiwan

March 2018

讀《歡樂之家(Fun Home)》與《我和母親之間(Are You My Mother)》兩本厚重的漫畫文學,是在整座島嶼迎接傳統新年、家族團聚的氣氛之中。據聞去年川普當選美國總統後,作者艾莉森感覺到美國社會對LGBTQ的態度漸趨不友善,重啟了她在2008年停刊的「小心拉子!(Dykes to Watch Out For)」短篇漫畫。

我對這兩本書的想像,也停留在其廣受討論的性別議題,及性別文學中時常涵蓋的世代描繪。(不稱之同志文學,是因縱然我認為性向無須定義,是流動光譜。雖然艾莉森告訴我,她自認為一個老派的女同志。)

然而直到真正讀畢,才發覺兩本橫跨六年的著作,嘗試探尋的主題絕非僅僅性別議題,更有對於心理、精神狀態的摸索,及世代糾葛之中對彼此關係長年的想像──令我震顫的,是艾莉森如何透過兩書的赤裸,對逝去的父親、仍然與回憶奮戰的母親,遞出既直言不諱又絲絲入扣的情書,猶如她在這篇訪談中所吐露:這是她在詭譎而疏離的家庭關係中,所能唯一埋藏並表達愛的方式。

能聊聊《我和母親之間》的命名過程嗎?

有一天,我和編輯在腦力激盪,想著這本書要叫什麼名字,我開玩笑取名叫「Are You My Mother」好了。這是一本美國暢銷童書的名字,1960年出版,講的是一隻幼鳥在媽媽不在的時候,從自己的蛋孵了出來。我不知道這本書有沒有在臺灣發行,不過那隻幼鳥出發去找媽媽,問每隻牠遇到的動物「你是我母親嗎?」這跟我在書中的做的事有點像,所以拿來當書名似乎頗貼切──可是我那時只是開玩笑!我從沒想過可以偷另一本書的名字來用,但顯然可以,因為我的編輯大叫「好!」就那麼決定了。

從創作《歡樂之家》到《我和母親之間》,妳有什麼特別的習慣嗎?(例如,習慣聽某種音樂?習慣喝某個品牌的咖啡或茶?一天當中妳喜歡在什麼時間工作?)

我在寫作時很少聽音樂──那太讓人分心了。我不太是個晨型人,但由於我只有在中午前寫作思緒才夠清晰,我必須強迫自己早起。我在寫《歡樂之家》時,每個早上喝綠茶。不過,寫《我和母親之間》時,我已經晉升到喝加了一堆奶精和糖的英式早餐茶了。以前沒人問過我這個!

我好奇,妳在創作《歡樂之家》和《我和母親之間》時,分別在什麼樣的習慣或環境之下?

做這兩本書之間最大的差異,是我開始動筆把爸爸寫入《歡樂之家》時,他已經去世兩年了。書寫的主角已經無法看這本書,這給我很大的自由。不過,當我寫《我和母親之間》時,我的媽媽還活得好好的。我知道她會讀這本書,她的朋友和其他的家族成員也會讀。我想在寫她的時候保持誠實,但當然也想避免任何讓她傷心或生氣的可能,所以實在有點棘手。雖然,我在書裡對媽媽確實有些評論,但書寫的初衷是表達我對她的愛。我們的關係有點詭異、又有點距離,所以我唯一可以試著表達我愛她的方式,就是透過一本書的每一頁。

妳怎麼看待任何對性向的定義?妳如何看待任何對心理狀態的定義?

看著近幾世紀來人們對性向的理解在改變,我覺得很有趣。我年輕的時候,性向很簡單──你要不是同性戀就是異性戀,或大概雙性戀吧。但既然現在有愈來愈多人認為自己是跨性戀、流動性戀、或無性戀,早年的分類看來似乎有點過時了。老實說,腳步很難跟上一切,但我支持每個人都有更多的自由、更少的嚴格分類或標籤。

那麼妳自己呢?

雖然如此,我還是把自己認定為一個,實在滿老派的女同志。

我對妳和喬絲琳之間的故事印象深刻。感覺她似乎試著要讓妳相信,妳真正值得被愛(妳覺得呢?)在書末,妳描述自己對母親的釋懷也非常動人。我好奇,妳相信「愛」嗎?過去呢?現在呢?

沒錯,在《我和母親之間》接近結尾處,有一幕是我終於意識到:對一個年輕孩子來說,我始終感覺到的一段與母親之間的距離,並非她的錯──她只是無法提供我所渴望的親密感,因為她自己也有心理創傷。明白這件事,是一個很強烈的體驗。我覺得我不再受自己的期望左右,重獲自由,也終於有能力用她理解「愛」的方式更愛她。我的確非常相信愛,但我也相信愛的實踐之路困難重重。對愛的錯誤理解,很容易讓我們落入主導者與被主導者之間的感情模式;然而真愛,是兩個個體平等相待,並持續、互相地在感情的路途中尋找平衡點。

當妳和卡蘿提到溫尼考特(Donald Winnicott)時,妳說「我希望她是我的母親」。妳願意多談談這一段嗎?妳現在依然這麼想嗎?

是的,我依然這麼覺得。我被溫尼考特的理論深深吸引,藉由它們,人們可以深刻地理解和接納自己內在最深處的部分,我猜,那是我渴望從我的母親那兒拿到的吧。認識溫尼考特理論的過程裡,我得以投注很多時間,意識到自己的心智發展曾經走得太快太急。這樣的認識也是一個方法,讓我重新體會那段過程,從中進行療癒和重建,最終發展出一個更完整的自己。同樣地,這樣的經驗也發生在我和心理治療師們的互動過程中;不過,多認識一些它們背後的理論,增強了我躺在沙發上與她們互動的作用。

有沒有什麼故事或想法,是妳想要收進這本書裡、最後卻沒有的?

我寫的好多場景最後都刪掉了,因為它們實在搭配不起來。就這樣,讀者必須跟上的故事線和時間軸幾乎太多;我自己在讀的時候,也差點在書裡頭迷失方向了!假如我得追溯一個場景的來由,我必須翻閱每一頁去尋找它──我不記得它在哪個章節。佛洛伊德曾描述,無意識沒有時間性。時間並不存在,因為我們生命中的每件事都同時攪在一起。我刻意試著想把這概念用在這本書裡,但這樣的安排,也無法持續令閱讀經驗達到最好的連貫性。

讓媽媽在出版前先看看妳的故事,是什麼感覺?和面對編輯有什麼不同?

嗯,我的媽媽就滿像一個編輯的!我已經把她的高批判性內化得很深了,所以當我寫作的時候,她就像在住在我腦子裡,甚至在我打出每個字之前就已經編輯過一遍了。不過每當有新進度時,我還是得讓她看看我的草稿,那對我們兩個來說都很費神。她會讓她的男友鮑伯先看過,所以如果有什麼可能會刺激她的內容,他可以先提醒她。不過最後,她幾乎沒有請我做任何修改。

對於任何妳想發表的內容,她曾經說不嗎?

我只能想到一處她曾經請我刪掉,不過我說服她不要刪,而是讓我改成另一個她覺得可以的版本。其他的要求,則大多是她擔心內容關乎某些人的隱私,我也很樂意為那些內容做些調整。

說故事對妳而言的意義是什麼?

把自己生命中真實的事件變成一則故事,是我很喜歡的挑戰。開展在我們眼前的生命,一點都不是連貫性的敘事,而是混亂的、重複的,有時候甚至看似毫無意義的。然而,假如仔細檢視、帶有情感地專注在這團混亂的素材中,我發現我通常可以挖掘出具有完整場景、主題和人物,令人津津有味的故事。

妳常以「寫作」為用詞,用寫作或繪畫來說故事,對妳來說有什麼不同嗎?

嗯,我用漫畫來寫作。我喜歡結合文字和圖像寫作,是因為這樣一來,我可以不時將自己的敘事在同一時間帶到兩個、甚至三個方向。文字和圖像彼此之間的張力,能打造出另一種截然不同的意涵,這令我喜愛。這樣豐富而細緻的敘事方法,可以帶給讀者多層次的理解。

《我和母親之間》出版後這幾年來,迴響如何?對妳、以及妳身邊的任何人來說?

個人而言,我有好長一陣子為這本書感到難過。雖然我覺得我和媽媽已經在寫作的過程中解決了各個有問題的面向,有好一段時間,我還是持續地為整件事感到內疚。再說,事實上《我和母親之間》出版後不如《歡樂之家》那麼熱門。那讓我有點生氣,好像大家喜歡我爸爸更勝過於我媽媽!《我和母親之間》是一本挑戰性比較高的書,沒有《歡樂之家》那麼直接。不過隨著時間推移,它也找到了一群極為熱衷的讀者。

那麼,妳現在覺得《歡樂之家》以及《我和母親之間》對妳的意義是什麼?和妳的初衷一樣嗎?

雖然不是刻意安排,但是兩本書最後都帶給我很類似的意義。他們都呈現了我的父母如何將我視為他們的延伸,拒絕我擁有個人的主體性和感受。然而,他們也都給了我禮物,得以彌補那些失去──我的母親教我如何書寫,我的父親教我如何做一個藝術家。即使他們無法給我一種自我完整性的感受,他們給過我的這些能力,讓我得以重建那樣的感受。曾經有人問我,妳會寧可選擇哪個──妳對父母親的回憶,或是一個快樂的童年?我豪不猶豫地選擇:這兩本書!從我的童年混亂之中,醞釀出這些故事,讓我心滿意足。我不會為了任何事而放棄。

<English Version> 

Please share with us about the naming process for the title “Are You My Mother?”

I was brainstorming with my editor one day about what to call the book, and I said “Are You My Mother,” as a joke. It’s the name of a popular US children’s book, published in 1960, about a baby bird who hatches from his egg while the mother is away from the nest. I don’t know if this book ever made it to Taiwan, but the baby bird sets out to find his mother, asking all the animals he meets, “Are you my mother?” That’s kind of what I do in my book, so it seemed like an apt title—but I was only joking! It never occurred to me that you could steal the title of another book. But apparently you can. My editor shouted “Yes!” and that was that.

Were there specific habits you had while working on “Fun Home” or “Are You My Mother?” (For example, what kind of music did you listen to? What brand of coffee or tea did you drink? What time in a day did you prefer to work?) 

I don’t usually listen to music while I’m writing—it’s too distracting. I’m not very much of a morning person, but since my mind is only clear enough to write until about noon, I have to force myself to get up early. When I was writing Fun Home, I drank green tea every morning. Somehow, when writing Are You My Mother, I had graduated to English Breakfast tea with lots of cream and sugar. No one ever asked me that question before!

As above, were there differences between working on “Fun Home” and “Are You My Mother?”

The biggest difference was the fact that my father had died twenty years before I started writing about him in “Fun Home.” Writing about someone who would never see the book gave me a lot of freedom. But my mother was very much alive as I was writing “Are You My Mother.” I knew she would read this book, and so would her friends and other family members. I wanted to be honest as I wrote about her, but of course I also wanted to avoid hurting or angering her if at all possible. So it was a tricky business. Although there are certainly ways that I was critical of my mother in the book, the main impetus behind writing it was to express my love for her. Because of our odd, distanced relationship, the only way I could manage to do that was through the pages of a book.

How do you view the definition of any sexual orientation? How do you view the definition of any psychology/ mentality status? 

It’s been interesting to watch the way the idea of sexual orientation has changed in recent decades. When I was young, it was pretty simple—either you were homosexual or heterosexual, or possibly bisexual. But those categories are starting to seem a little archaic as more people are identifying as transgender and gender fluid, and even as asexual. It’s hard to keep up with it all, honestly, but I support more freedom for everyone and fewer strict categories or labels.

And how do you define yourself?

All that being said, I define myself as pretty much an old-fashioned lesbian.

The stories between you and Jocelyn are very impressive. She seemed to try make you truly believe that you deserve love. (I would also love to hear what you think about this.) Plus, in latter part of the book, you seem to tell us that you finally realized that if what you’d asked for hadn’t ever exist, it was neither the person’s nor your fault. It is beautiful. I would love to ask- Did you believe in love? And do you?

Yes, there’s a scene toward the end of “Are You My Mother?” where I realize, as a young person, that the distance I’ve always felt with my mother was not her fault—she’s just not capable of the kind of closeness I long for, due to her own psychic damage. It was a powerful experience to realize that. I felt freed up from my own expectations, and that made me able to love my mother more on her own terms. I do very much believe in love. But I also believe it’s a challenging practice. It’s much easier to fall into patterns of domination and submission with other people than to meet them as equals and engage in the constant negotiation that entails.

Can you tell us more about your saying “I want him to be my mother” when you mentioned Donald Winnicott with Carol? Do you still believe in what you thought then?

Yes, I still feel that way. I was drawn to Winnicott’s ideas because they offered such a  profound understanding and acceptance of our deepest inner selves, and I guess that’s my fantasy of what my mother would have provided. In learning about Winnicott’s theories, I got to spend a lot of time learning about the ways that my own developmental processes got rushed along too quickly. And that was a way of getting to experience them again, to do some healing and rebuilding, and ultimately developing a more intact self. That happened in my experience with psychotherapy, too, but learning a little bit about the theory behind it all reinforced what I was doing on the couch.

Are there stories or ideas that you would love to include in this book, but didn’t?

I wrote a lot of scenes that eventually got edited out because they just didn’t fit. As it is, there are almost too many strands and timelines for readers to keep track of. I tend to get lost in the book myself! If I need to find a scene for some reason, I have to flip through all the pages to find it—I can’t remember what chapter it’s in. Freud talked about how the unconscious is “timeless.” Time doesn’t exist because all the events of our lives are jumbled up together, simultaneously. I was intentionally trying to replicate that in my book, but it doesn’t always make for the most coherent reading experience.

What was the feeling of letting your mom review your storylines before they were published? What was the difference of that feeling from that of facing an editor?

Well, my mother was kind of like an editor! I had internalized her critical eye so deeply that it was like she was inside my head as I wrote, editing things before I could even type them out. But I still had to show her my drafts as I progressed, and that was always a nerve-wracking experience for both of us. She would have her boyfriend, Bob, read through the material first, so he could tell her if there was anything that might upset her. But in the end, she made hardly any requests for me to change anything.

Has your mother ever said no to what you planned to publish?

I can think of only one thing she asked me to delete, but I talked her into an edited version that she felt okay about. A few other requests were related to other people whose privacy she was concerned about, and I happily made those changes.

What does storytelling mean for you?

I love the challenge of turning the real, given facts of my life into a story. Life doesn’t present us with a coherent narrative at all. The events that occur are chaotic, repetitive, and sometimes even seem meaningless. But by looking very carefully and with emotional attention to this mass of material, I find that I can usually excavate a story complete with all the plots, themes, and characters of satisfying fiction.

You read a lot. Do you also write? When choosing forms of storytelling, what makes graphics/comics different from writings for you?

Well, I write in comics. What I love about using a combination of written language and pictures is the way I can sometimes take my story in two, or even three directions at once. I like how the tension between the images and the words can create a whole separate layer of meaning. It’s a rich, dense way of storytelling that engages the reader on multiple levels of cognition.

What was the outcome after the publishing of “Are You My Mother?,” for you, your mom, your family, and anyone around you, during all these years?

Personally, I felt sort of bad about the book for a long time. Even though I felt my mom and I had worked through the problematic aspects of my writing about her, I continued to feel guilty about the whole thing for some time. And then there was the fact that Fun Home met with more popular success than Are You My Mother. That made me a little angry, as if people were preferring my father to my mother! “Are You My Mother” is a more challenging book, less straightforward than “Fun Home.” But over time, it’s found a following of extremely devoted readers.

Last but not least, what do you think “Fun Home”and “Are You My Mother?” mean for you? Are they the same as your very original motivations?

In an unintentional way, both books ended up having a similar meaning. They’re about the way my parents used me as extensions of themselves, denying me my own agency and feelings. But then they both gave me gifts to make up for that lack. My mother taught me how to write. My father taught me how to be an artist. And with those skills I was able to rebuild the sense of an intact self that they were not able to give me. Someone once asked me, which would you rather have–your memoirs about your parents, or a happy childhood. I didn’t hesitate—the books! The act of creating those stories out of the chaos of my childhood was so gratifying, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.