I read the fascinating and brilliant graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, Are You My Mother? in which she weaves her story of coming to understand, through her own reading, her own writing and art, and her own therapy, the particularity of her relationship with her own mother and all the deep ways in which she has been formed and continued to be affected by it. [Note: this is not a book for children. Mature content.]
Her therapist tells Bechdel–offering, by this observation, a ladder out of the despair Bechdel experiences because of her mother’s inability to see and validate her–that she is “adorable.” Every child, is, at birth, but, sadly, many of us may never have felt or believed that we are.
Bechdel’s courage, honesty, intelligence, and generosity help her on her painful and painstaking journey to understand the ways in which she was wounded, and in which her mother, too, had been wounded. And Bechdel reclaims her own life by recognizing there are other ways to be and to experience; by seeing new choices for herself.
Bechdel is a lucid writer, and, in addition, an artist with an eye for details. A cartoonist, she shows us the beauty of the ordinary (her cat, her dog, her fuzzy socks, her mother’s desk) and uses handwriting, actual diary entries, drawings of old photographs, pages from books by others — which, along with her words, create for us the kaleidoscope of inner life and the juxtaposition of past and present.
Of most relevance, perhaps, to visitors to this website, are the ways in which the book illuminates what I have called our emotional legacies, in particular our legacies from our mothers. I have written about this at the Mother-Daughter Book Club site,
All of us are deeply affected by our mothers’ pasts, and by their own emotional habits, but those of us who become mothers have an additional challenge because we need to decide what we want to pass on to our children and what we want to do differently.
One of Bechdel’s therapists suggests that she ask herself, and answer with the very first words that come, without pausing to think, “What did I learn from my mother?” And, if possible, to ask our mothers what they would answer, too, about their mothers.
Bechdel writes with keen intelligence about Virginia Woolf, the Britiish child therapist Donald Winnicott, and Alice Miller–Miller’s’s Drama of the Gifted Child is a crucial book to read for any of us who wish to understand our legacy from our parents (not just mother but father too.)
Future Through My Eyes will continue to meditate on these themes…..