About a year before she died, my mom went through the boxes and boxes of photos we had collected over the years and began organizing them into photo albums. She made one album in particular for me. It collects photos from throughout my childhood—though now and again you’ll find a random photo of her alone as well. She captioned each one—names, dates, locations, etc. (though what information she chose to include is not consistent—and some of the years listed, I think, are incorrect).
These photos and handwritten captions are the basis of the section I’m working on right now. At the good suggestion of Paula Knight, I’ve decided to slow down my process. I’ve been struggling with completing pages and then not being quite happy with what the “finished” page looks like (a panel will seem to be missing—or an image will read differently than it did in my head). Although I do take notes and have sketched the images before beginning “construction” of a page, these templates aren’t as elaborate as they could be. Paula suggested that before moving to the art (which is time-consuming and so a little heartbreaking when a page doesn’t hold together right), it might be a good idea to storyboard big “chunks” of the narrative. I agree. Too, I think I’m at the stage where I need to see what the “big picture” will look like.
And so today I worked on some of the transition pages—pages that will connect the tree girl narrative to the “conversations with my mother” narrative—that are based upon the photos and captions included in the album my mom had made for me. I’m not mimicking her handwriting as well as I’d like to—reminds me a little bit of how I not-so-successfully attempted to write notes in her handwriting in order to get out of P.E. class when I was in the sixth grade (I was totally busted!!!). But these are just storyboards and I may go through at a later stage and scan the actual captions and add her writing to the images digitally. There is something haunting about seeing the words that she wrote (a couple weeks before her death, she sat with me and, with pen in shaky hand, relabeled all of her pill bottles). Her handwriting is very curvy and swoopy—kind of like the line that I’m using to represent her.
Here are a few of the sketches. Still working on the lines and the writing—and I’m planning on cutting the frames out of craft paper to create a layered effect.
Based on a dream I had Thursday night.
This memory (based on an experience that happened just a few days before my mom died) is a very tender one for me—tender in terms of endearing, yes, but more in terms of very very soft … painful to the touch . I still tear up when I see people, strangers, especially strangers, taking small steps.
My mom was a force—incredibly strong-willed, independent, stubborn—and depicting her this vulnerable became a challenge. Initially, the images looked very different from the way they look now (I completely scrapped the initial set). Even after I became comfortable with the direction in which I was taking them, I revised several of the words and images (some over and over again). I’m still not sure if it’s clear; maybe it needs a little more context?
Too, I remain uncomfortable with the limited perspective I’m giving. I was not my mother’s only (or primary) caregiver, for instance, and do no want to give any false impressions (or piss people off). But I also do believe that this story is not about comfort—not for me and not for what it has to say about death. So …
Okay. I am going outside now to enjoy this rare sunny day in Seattle. :-)
I’ve been working on a few more memories over the last couple weeks. I kinda like how this one turned out (though I’m not sure how it “reads” and, too, I need to be careful of taking the meta aspects of the story too far). Thanks for visiting. :-)
These pages feel a little unkind. What I want to make sure of in creating this story, though, is not to idealize my mom as a patient-victim. We had a complicated relationship—and she was often unkind to me. I, in turn, often rebelled against her. Her illness brought us together in ways that confirmed our mutual love despite all that; it brought out the best in us. It also, though, concentrated the years of tension that existed between us. I want to capture a series of memories that will tap into these complications as well as address the difficulties involved in confronting them.
This whole creative process can be so isolating and self-indulgent … so I want to give special thanks to MK and Ian for an amazing visit to Chicago last week. Hearing them speak a couple times on Graphic Medicine, being around them as they collaborated, and just spending good time with good friends helped remind me of the bigger picture at play in what I’m working on here. Hearts.