“judge a country by how it treats their weakest and poorest and also their richest”
Last night I killed her. Watched her bleed near the gutter. Left her to rot by the sewer gates. There is a place where they bury dreams. They have headstones. “Here lies my need to fly.” “Loved and cherished, mother of all my desire.” “He saved the world. Now dead.” Don’t talk to an Indian about risk-taking. From the day we are born – the act of birthing itself – is a risk. The air, itself, is a risk.
“I am an introvert,” Owl said. Followed by silence and Robin burst out laughing. “No, really, I am,” Owl insisted.
“Oh ya! And, Obama is King of the World,” Robin got up and hugged me, while still chuckling.
“Well, in a way he is. And, I am.” Sparrow had her hand over her mouth. “I mean I am not King of the World. Obama might be. But, I am an introvert. I do not enjoy company. I am happy being on my own. In fact, I avoid people. With a vengeance.”
Robin made a faux glum-face, “Oie don’t be mean now, we have been friends for so long. We know you love us. Plus you are so social.”
“That is the whole point. I do love you. But from a distance. I care deeply. But you make me anxious. Very anxious.”
Sparrow poured us some more tea, “These red velvet cupcakes are to die for.” “Do you know Kingfisher’s birds have flown from the nest? Poor girl she is so restless now.”
Later, much later, after four, or five years, this episode was narrated as the day Owl had her moment. “Remember that time she went all introvert on us.” Laughter. Hysterical giggles.
“Oh no you don’t,” Owl said, hitting Sparrow with the cushion.
Once upon a time when Owl was young her mommy used to throw her these massive birthday parties. The cake was a basket decorated with delicate flowers. There were pink roses, blue pansies, and violets, white daisies layered over a weave so exquisite and edible. The table had heaps of treats – mushroom and chicken patties, mini burgers, sandwich rolls, animal-shaped cookies, mountains of spicy diamond cuts, sausage wraps and melted cheese straws. This was for the children. For the adults that accompanied them there were freshly fried hot puris, dahi vadas, aloo dum, chicken drumsticks and garden salad. Games were organized; a treasure hunt that had prizes at each step, passing the parcel, musical chairs and dark room.
As the silver metal hexagonal shapes on the front gate swung a bell used to ring in the front verandah. By the time the cars rolled up the gravel and came up the front porch the servers walked out with their drink trays. Each guest was welcomed with care.
Owl always had new shiny clothes. She was asked to be polite and wish everyone. However, there was a big problem. Owl did not want to meet people. Owl hid behind her mommy and refused to budge from there. As she was prodded and poked to dip her head out to say hi she would more insistently hold on to her mother’s dress. She got attached to it. Being dragged from end to end, trying to smile, but clinging on behind became a habit, till mommy got exasperated. “This party is for you. C’mon you have to make your guests feel good. Stop being so painfully shy.” Everyone in Owl’s family loved to talk – they hooted the night away, making merry with lots of noise. Owl wanted to curl. Owl wanted her books. Owl wanted that corner between the twigs and rags. And, thus, every party, every year became a dreaded affair for Owl. The more she was asked to step out the more she hid her face in the pleats.
One year, when Owl was a bit grown-up (but not-fully a grown-up) she decided to make mends. She let go of the dress she was desperately holding on to. She was amiable, friendly and almost gregarious – all to prove she was anything but shy. She did not lack confidence. She wrapped her not-want-to-meet-people into neat folds and put it in her back-jean-pocket. Mommy Owl felt a lot better. No one prodded or poked. After five hours of hopping around and eating too much Owl had a moment to herself. Everyone had left. Their pet dog Poodles was slumped on the floor. Owl leaned on him. National Geographic was playing on the television. She could get through this. As long as there were these moments – after. She could glide through events. Post these, she had the pillows, the corners, the little feel-good-factors.
Below is a letter Owl sent to me to post here on her behalf:
A lifetime of — being social, cheerful, peppy, chirpy, for occasions — is tiresome. It is a performance. One, which I can assure you, can be skilfully mastered in order to let people (you care about) feel that you do. Because people (aka we) have been conditioned to constantly crave affirmations.
But, here’s the catch, I want to sincerely apologize if my introversion has caused you any hurt. I don’t care any less. I do think of you, often. I do miss you. But, I am not lonely when I am alone. I am happy. Content. Peaceful. Excited. All of those. And, I do love you. Very much. And, lastly, this will make you laugh out loud: this is not about you – it is about me. Funny, eh! Not. Oh ok. I tried.
(image courtesy: buzzfeed)
Caring for your Introvert – Jonathan Rauch (an excellent piece to understand how presentations and parties are different from groups and small talk)
Why do we feel compelled to include ourselves? Susan Cain, thank you. Quiet. Introversion as a fuel for being creative.
Because I like graphic novels. And this is a simple enough explanation. How to interact with someone who tells you they are introverted.
The need to create. Why we are the way we are?
The reason why Owl sent the post: Daring Greatly.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” —Theodore Roosevelt
[If your curiosity is piqued – I am an INTJ]
These wet and windy days aggravate the rheumatism in my joints. I struggle to keep the body at pace with my mind. My mind: the curious two-year old, with the passion of a teenage romance, and the gravity of mid-life. The body oscillates. Move forward, I demand of it, it stays at home. Then comes a poem that speaks to me as well as listens to me, and I want to share it with you.
The body unbuckles the door latch
and stands behind the screen. To hide its bloated legs
it wears the frayed red bathrobe of its grief. The sun, that swollen increment,
gathers to a dark burr in my mouth. The green leaves
tighten down across their stems, a small voice coming toward me
on someone else’s phone.
There was something I wanted to say
about the body. (The sun, that swollen
increment, a dark burr in my mouth—) That the body
is a tent stake. That the figure I am chasing through the late
short grass is mine. But the lip makes no remittance
and the sparrow in the boxwood
cools itself to quartz. Then the sparrow casts the spiral
of its sleep. Our feet in the earth are chisels.
The lights in the houses turn in
The moment we say alone we are
not. The sun tucks under the mouth
of a mountain yet still light fills
our skin. Every day a heart is pulled
out like a wet plum from one body
and placed inside another. Every day
someone comes home to a lover
packing her bags. It is normal
to fall asleep in pain and wake
with more. We break open
clouds by waiting long enough.
Behind this midnight other midnights
trace a face so familiar we touch
our cheekbones like twin moons.
With closed eyes we wonder what
we are to do with all this living.
She remembers from inside the story,
inside the forest’s heart (a flush of green):
a dowry of twigs. Tree trunks as thick as lies.
When she is allowed, she misses herself,
covets the clean corners where her bones
meet, the dull pulse of her tongue on his.
All those misplaced stars, a misery
she can’t find. She has killed things
(though it is forbidden) with her hands
(the wedding mehndi long-faded),
has eaten on the wrong day, forgotten
to fast. She has pulled the strings
of the jungle behind her like a black net,
a wide-mouthed yawn. She holds it tight
so it can’t grow when she isn’t looking.
Experiencing Fun Home by Alison Bechdel in Prof. dr. D.M. Oostdijk’s class, October 15, 2015.
By Amrita Das
“What’s lost in translation is the complexity of loss itself. In the same box where I found the photo of Roy, there’s one of Dad at about the same age” (Bechdel FH 120).
Alison’s Bechdel’s graphic novel and memoir Fun Home (2006) is a complex, delightful, tragic, inter-textual text that offers the best of the visual and written medium. It deals with the coming-out of two characters, Alison the protagonist and her father Bruce. But, the novel is about much more as students discovered.
On October 15, 2015, Prof. dr. D.M. Oostdijk taught a Bachelor’s class on Fun Home that combined living in a visual culture, American Literature and pedagogic elements. Students were asked to make a poster presentation on panels from Fun Home that they would present to visiting High School students from the OSG in Hoorn.
Prof. Oostdijk began the class with some profound observations about the world we live in today. It is a visual age in which we are bombarded with images on a continual basis. This reverberates in our daily existence – television, screens, advertisements, signs, posters, flyers, even the word is (to quote W.J.T. Mitchell) an image. On paper it transforms, making what is written a multi-medial experience. How do we deal with this?
W.J.T. Mitchell’s book on Picture Theory (1995) makes us mindful of these aspects. It is about becoming savvy on the facets of visual culture. It is not merely the prerogative of intellectuals and academics — visuals are pervasive. It confronts children, and makes us question what is it that we see? How does it affect our mind? And, what does it imply for the future?
We do not have answers to these questions. Nevertheless, it is important to ask them. The fuelling of a critical mind that investigates these practices is vital to the task of literary studies and also for the Humanities.
As our first step into investigating Fun Home we delved into the differentiation between a comic book and a graphic novel. The comic – by definition – deals with aspects of comedy. The comic book is a form of entertainment, which is lighthearted, jovial and fun. Fun Home is different. Bechdel calls it a “traginomic,” a pun that is an amalgamation of the words tragedy and comic. Though, the book is more a graphic novel than a comic book.
In the book The Graphic Novels (2015) authors Jan Baetens and Hugo Frey argue that between the two genres lie, “…common scales of differences.”(7). They discuss four ways of distinguishing comic books from novels:
- Publication format
- Production and distribution aspects
In conclusion, it was well established in the class that while comic books are an escape from reality graphic novels were an immersion into it.
Fun Home is not about fun, it hides within it the funeral home it houses. The gothic font used in the cover, in its connection with Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the fall of Icarus, Oscar Wilde, amongst many other inter-textual elements; it is evocative of how knotty human relationships are. In loving her father Bechdel has to accept and deal with the inadequacies that make the man. In this she is confronted with her own struggles. She tries to elucidate this by reaching out to several texts, contexts, characters, that she uses to connect her story to a larger fabric.
The story is the narration of imperfections. But then who decides what is perfect? Who chooses the definition of normal? To quote from Anna Karenina, which begins with the line: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” What are the variables in happiness and unhappiness? Isn’t the presence of happiness splendidly built on unhappiness? How do we know that we are happy if we haven’t been unhappy? The Bechdel family in their moments of vivid isolation harbor genuine warmth too. Illustrated in how Bruce plays with Alison wielding her like an airplane and their bath-time routine, in which the washing with water is almost redemptive. There are pockets of contentment in this dismal family-life.
The book questions family values but fortifies the need for love and physical affection. It destroys sexual and gender norms and asserts that as human beings we need to be sensitive and compassionate. Perhaps, we need to rethink the walls that we build, the boundaries we construct, and what is it that we hold so dear that we do not wish to lose at any cost?
The posters made by the teams reflected all these themes. They encapsulated how the words and images in Fun Home work cohesively in order to narrate the story. They are not in binary opposition to each other. Quite like happiness and unhappiness, which are often placed as counterparts but actually work together. Like sides of the same coin. The textual content combines with the graphic content to explore subtle aspects. The drawing of body language in the novel, managed to find definition in exercises posed by the students. Again, pushing our preconceived notions to breaking point.
The creating of posters in order to tell the story of a graphic novel was an effective way to engage the students into the process of making visuals. In this the class had a meta-quality. While the students selected and presented to the High School students they were also participating in visual culture. Their choices, medium, and agency, heightened the experience. Their awareness then moved towards deep learning through activating their minds.
In the end, the winner (democratically selected by the High School students) received a box of chocolates. This process connected the students to what their criteria were in appreciating the visual presentations that they had seen. As we laughed about the movie-quote from Forrest Gump (more visual culture), “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” The class rolled up its posters and moved outside into the world.
There are plenty of boxes that we will land up opening and closing. It is moments of introspection in classes such as this that makes us aware how we label these boxes and what are the pictures that we choose to keep in them.
(The following article appeared in the VU Literature & Society website.)