A little over four years ago, my mom died of, well, colon cancer is the easy way to describe the cause of death and will suffice for now. I wrote about the months leading up to her death on this blog here, which I’m now making public again (though unless you’re feeling particularly masochistic, no need to read it!). “This Particular Web,” though not initially intended for this purpose, became a place for me to write about what it was like to watch my mom die—both the more steady form of dying that took place over five months and then the more rapid and ridiculous forty-eight hours just before her body decided it was done, ended. I found myself writing almost daily entries that attempted to put into words and share with friends what I was witnessing and feeling. The story it tells is incomplete, of course; it misses many details and, looking back, idealizes quite a bit—particularly in terms of my relationship with my mom. You give shape to words when you tell a story, harnessing a particular truth for a particular moment. Perhaps because of that, as I was writing those entries, a small part of me felt like they were not just fulfilling a present need, but would be the basis of a future (and now a new-present) one.
When the person who brings you into this world leaves this world, you become uprooted. A few months after my mom died, I stopped writing and found myself spending the emptier hours drawing trees. Cutting them out of paper. Making collages out of them. I don’t think there is a single reason for why I chose trees. My green-thumbed mom loved them, sure. They’re also easy to make! ;-) But, too, I felt metaphorically lost in the woods when she died—and happy and comforted, in a weird way, in feeling lost. Working so closely with paper (itself a tree byproduct, I suppose) helped me to live with, if not to process, both the grief associated with my mom’s absence and the trauma of watching her painful death. And then I began to think about translating the blog into a more visual narrative—into comics—with these trees that rooted me again. Pause pause pause to commit myself to teaching, scholarly obligations, tenure application, etc.
Fast-forward to June 2011, Chicago. I attended a conference on Comics and Medicine—an incredible and eye-opening experience for me. My purpose for attending was largely academic, but upon meeting the absurdly talented and forthright and generous and big-hearted artists there and talking with them about their work on comics and medicine, I felt myself ready to return to my mom’s story. I started by translating the blog entries using ink on bristol board and completed a little over thirty pages. After attending another linked conference on Graphic Medicine and re-connecting the those amazing people from before plus more (I’ll get around to linking their blogs/websites on the side over there—they are in all ways wonderful and I heart them), I became inspired to take the story and the medium in a different direction—bringing into play the cut-outs and collages that began this journey. I’m not sure what the end product will look like or how it will all come together yet (some of what I create will be stand-alone pieces—and likely I won’t post everything)—but the general plan is to use paper and ink to explore the trauma, grief, and mourning of having someone and then not having her (and then realizing that you never “had” her). The plan, too, is that it won’t be a total downer (promise!), but will draw on the weirdness, light, love, and plain-old life that always weaves its way into sadness—possibly stories of paper dolls (I made those guys in the banner a while ago and am glad to have found a home for them), unidentified flying objects, and a cat that can move freely through time and space (cats must go somewhere when you’re away from home …). So I will use this blog to post comics and write about the process. Along the way, I’m hoping that a script for a graphic novel will come together.
The stories that come out of our more complicated life experiences (illness, pain, death, etc.) are messy, embarrassing, coarse, even deranged. They need a medium like comics that vexes communication—words at odds with images, images cut off/fragmented, time stopped by blank space, complex emotions made up of simple lines, paper meaning as much as ink. The way that the comics form frames its stories allows for an expression that highlights the hidden—those feelings and effects that we live, but for any number of reasons (personal, social, institutional, political … even semiotic) can’t put into words. In other words, as I see it, these frames are hiding places.
Finally: Feeling a little vulnerable about publicly sharing this material, BUT please let me know if you have advice/suggestions/feedback for me at any point (I will need help and I do have thick skin!). Thank you so much. There are a lot of words on this page; comics coming soon (I mean, now I have no choice!!).