Wani-gra

Opinion | Exercise, and Accept Your ‘Inevitable Demise’

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archived recording

(SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway?

kara swisher

I’m Kara Swisher, and you’re listening to “Sway.” My guest today is Alison Bechdel. She’s an author and cartoonist, but her name perhaps is most recognizable because of the Bechdel Test. It’s become the litmus test for gender representation in Hollywood, asking whether a film features two female characters that, one, have names of their own and, two, discuss a topic other than a man.

The idea was born out of one of Bechdel’s early comic strips, “Dykes to Watch Out For.” It’s the kind of thought provoking observational comedy that has come to define her work since, like her 2006 memoir, “Fun Home,” which was transformed into a Tony Award-winning musical. The tragic comedy documents Bechdel’s upbringing in a funeral home and her coming out to her gay, but closeted father.

Now Bechdel has given us a new graphic memoir fitting for the year 2021. The book, titled, “The Secret to Superhuman Strength,” documents Bechdel’s obsession with fitness — weightlifting, skiing, biking, yoga — all of which might sound like a fun and breezy read. But it’s also a deep introspection on self-care, our $100 billion fitness industry, and, yes, our mortality. Alison, welcome.

alison bechdel

Thank you, Kara. Happy to be here.

kara swisher

So the first question I want to ask you is kind of an odd one. But I want to know what took you so long to figure out the secret to superhuman strength. I think it’s death. I think that’s the —

alison bechdel

Yes, yes, you put your finger on it, accepting one’s inevitable demise.

kara swisher

Yeah.

alison bechdel

That’s kind of the key. You know, I grew up in a funeral home, so I was around dead people as a matter of course growing up, which I think was a really good thing. People would protect children from funerals and stuff, but not my family. We were right there.

kara swisher

I thought this forever. I don’t know if you know this. My dad died when I was really little, so I’ve had a long-term relationship with death and sudden death especially.

alison bechdel

No, I didn’t know that.

kara swisher

Yeah, of a cerebral hemorrhage when I was five.

alison bechdel

Oh, man.

kara swisher

I have apps that give me quotes about death all day and stuff like that. And I’m actually a pretty happy person because of it, I think.

alison bechdel

Yeah, I think it’s really important. I mean, I was starting to write this book as my mother was dying. And she was reading a wonderful book by Helen Vendler at the time about poets’ last works and how their final works had something revelatory to say about death. And there was this great poem that it quoted, which I now can’t remember at all. It was some metaphysical poet, but he talked about how as you grow weaker, you grow stronger. I got to memorize that quote, man. That was kind of my motto going into this book.

kara swisher

So talk about the initial idea for your book to do a, quote, “light, fun memoir about my athletic life that I could bang out quickly.” But it isn’t a light, fun memoir, is it?

alison bechdel

No, no. I mean, really, I was kind of burnt out from writing these intense family stories. And I wanted to write something that would be fun and that would, more importantly, not take very long, because these other books had taken many years. But that didn’t happen. This book took longer than either of those. And it was rough sledding. It was hard figuring out how to tell this story or what the story even was.

kara swisher

But what made it so difficult?

alison bechdel

Well, in part because I sort of got stuck. I sort of lost my way with it. When I go into these memoirs, I don’t know what’s going to happen. They’re very much voyages of discovery. If I had an outline and a thesis statement, there would be no real point to writing the book. I would already know what I needed to know. So I was going to figure something out. And the more I got into it, the more I realized this was a really vast topic.

And it had a lot to do with my own aging. I had just gone through menopause and was starting to really reckon with the fact that I was not going to ever get stronger or faster again. This is like, I’m on the downhill slope. So it’s just, that was a very sobering realization. And I got led into all these other writers’ work, people who also were seeking some kind of transcendence through physical activity or being in nature, the romantics, the transcendentalists, the Beats. I started reading all these people’s biographies and getting caught up in their lives. And what was a life anyhow? How do we know what our lives mean or if they mean anything? So it started becoming kind of a sprawling project, and as I was living my own life and trying to figure out what was happening, I had to figure out how to tell the story of it.

kara swisher

So, you’re one of those people who exercise is critically important to. I have a lot of friends like that, where exercise is sort of their drug of choice, in a lot of ways.

alison bechdel

You know, I actually don’t a lot of people like that. I kind of wish I did. It was exciting when I found out you were a runner. Is that your main thing?

kara swisher

No, I try everything. I’m polyamorous around the exercise situation. Right now, for example, I’m going to show you I’m wearing a continuous glucose monitor.

alison bechdel

Oh. Yeah, you were talking about this.

kara swisher

Yeah, the Silicon Valley guys are doing it all the time. So I just do whatever they do and hope it doesn’t kill me, because they can’t bear the idea of dying.

alison bechdel

I know. What is that about? Why are they so hell-bent on not dying? Who wants to be on this planet in 70 more years?

kara swisher

Well, I’m asking you that because this is something you were doing. You thought it was critically important to your mental health, to your physical state, to staving off dying. But one of the things you said is, on yoga, you write, “We’re a nation of giant toddlers, dragging our blankets and bottles everywhere we go.”

alison bechdel

Yeah, the yoga boom has been really interesting to see. I started doing yoga in the late ‘80s, when it was just starting to take off in that kind of streetcorner way. It wasn’t focused on spirituality, but it felt like somehow a spiritual practice, more than just fitness. But all of these activities that I write about have been ways in which I have attained at least some feeling of myself subsiding, quieting down and allowing me to just be part of everything. And that’s such a great feeling.

kara swisher

So you went through a lot. You went through karate. You went through yoga. You went through meditation, which I think is kind of an exercise, a mind exercise at least. You bought all the different gear. You fell in love with a Patagonia fleece. Each chapter in your book covers a decade. And in it, you actually chronicle the development of the fitness industry, and now it’s worth about $100 billion. And so, as a longtime workout buff, what’s it been like to watch everyone else move into it?

alison bechdel

Well, people need to move. So that’s great. People are finding ways to move. It makes me sad that it’s been so commodified, but that’s how the world works. I mean, anyone can figure out how to get exercise without shilling out for a Peloton.

kara swisher

Do you not have a Peloton?

alison bechdel

I don’t.

kara swisher

Because?

alison bechdel

It’s expensive. I would rather do something outside.

kara swisher

Have you done things like Barry’s or Orangetheory?

alison bechdel

I don’t know. I’m getting too old for a lot of these new things. What even is Orangetheory? They put your numbers up on the wall?

kara swisher

Yeah, and then you get into an orange zone. And you have a heart monitor on you — I’ve done all these, obviously — and you get to the zone. And then in that zone, you get fit, I guess. That’s the theory, the Orangetheory.

alison bechdel

Well, that’s a good idea.

kara swisher

Oh, CrossFit? That’s a big thing among tech people.

alison bechdel

I have always wanted to do CrossFit. I have not done it.

kara swisher

It seems like you would be a good CrossFit candidate.

alison bechdel

Well, I have a sad weakness, Kara. I have a weird heart thing that makes me have to frequently stop what I’m doing. I get rapid heartbeat. So I never wanted to go take a CrossFit class because I knew it would happen during the class. And then I’d have to stand aside and feel like a big weakling.

kara swisher

How about Mirror? Have you tried that?

alison bechdel

I’ve seen the ads for it. I saw a very funny “Saturday Night Live” skit about it. That just seems too creepy to me.

kara swisher

Yeah, that they’re in your house? You wouldn’t do that?

alison bechdel

Yeah, yeah.

kara swisher

All right, so you have fitness. I have gadgets. I think I’m a gadget person. And I do them —

alison bechdel

I like gadgets. I —

kara swisher

Do you use them? What are your favorite ones?

alison bechdel

I don’t use them. That’s the problem. I like my yoga sling that I can hang upside down in. I bought some TRX straps when the pandemic hit, thinking, oh, I can’t go to the gym. I’m going to use these straps. That didn’t happen.

kara swisher

Where are they now? Where are your straps? They’re just —

alison bechdel

They’re hanging right outside my office door. I brush pass them every time I go in and out of the room. They’re not as satisfying as weights. I really miss being able to go to the gym and just lift weights.

kara swisher

Are you planning to get back to the gym?

alison bechdel

I’m not sure what to do about that. I mean, people were all saying, gyms aren’t going to exist anymore. This is the end of the gym. But I don’t think that’s true.

kara swisher

Why is that? I do.

alison bechdel

Do you?

kara swisher

It’s like the end of movie theaters. Not completely, but it’s done. Streaming and big screens and in-home stuff, Peloton.

alison bechdel

I mean, I know — I’m just thinking of that communal experience of the gym. Not that I’m a hugely communal person, but there is something about just being around the energy of other people doing a workout. But I guess you could say the same thing about a movie theater, and no one seems to miss that too much.

kara swisher

Mm-hmm. So I want to talk a little bit — explore your creativity work and mental health. You also use exercise to explore how you approach creativity in your work. Were you aware of this problem when you started the memoir? Is it something you only figured out through writing?

alison bechdel

I had a glimmer of it, but it didn’t seem to fit. Is this a book about exercise, or is this a book about creativity? And so I spent a lot of time just beating myself up for having too much to write about. The structure of the book is it tells the story of my life from when I was born, up to the moment of finishing the book. So it goes through six decades.

And as I look at the different physical activities I was doing at these various points in my life, I was also starting to see what was happening in my creative life and learning. Who knows what cause and effect actually is, but I was certainly seeing these coincidences. I feel like doing karate as a young woman living in New York City was a really such an important thing. Karate was so hard. Really learning how to be disciplined with a tough teacher was an amazing experience.

And I feel like it translated very much into being able to get my act together enough to focus on my cartoons and take them out into the world. And I don’t know if I would have done that without that model of just discipline. Yeah, doing something over and over and over until you get it right.

kara swisher

So both the previous books were mostly monochrome, and this one has a lot of beautiful colors. Were you cranking up the resistance knob on your art? How did you think about that?

alison bechdel

I was definitely cranking up that knob. I knew I wanted to do something not just different from the other books, but really, it had to be up a notch, you know? And full color is just something I needed to do. But then I actually didn’t really have time to do it. Finally, my deadline was really coming down hard on me. And I knew I wasn’t going to have time to both write — I mean, the book was written at that point, and I knew I wasn’t going to have time to do all the drawing and the coloring. So my partner pitched in to help me. My partner, Holly, is a painter. And I showed her what I needed her to do. And she was like, yeah, I can do that. So we worked together. We collaborated, which was a very unusual experience for me. And we are still together. So it went pretty well.

kara swisher

[LAUGHS] I never work with people I go out with. But the color was in order to what? What was the message you were trying to get by using that?

alison bechdel

Well, I felt like this story was so much about the outdoors, about nature, about vitality, about a certain kind of exuberant attitude. It just had to be in color, you know? That just was a no-brainer.

kara swisher

The memoirs, when you’re writing these, you’re giving enormous amounts of not just information, but intimacy with your readers for sure.

alison bechdel

Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. I go deeply inside myself in order to tell these stories, in order to come back to the world and say, here’s my story. I hope you can use this. And I love that people seem to find them useful or relate to them in some way. But yeah, it’s always been hard for me to separate that work life from my own private personal life. I obviously have a very blurry line between them as a memoirist. And I’m getting a little better at understanding that my work is not my life. My work is like a part of my life. My work is not me. It’s part of me. But it’s still a bit of a struggle.

kara swisher

But you also mine a lot of your life, and you write about your father. Obviously, that got so much attention, “Fun Home.” And you wrote about your mother. And in this, you’re writing a lot about yourself.

alison bechdel

I am, but I’m also controlling it. And it’s just me talking. I’m not having to really listen to anyone else respond to it in the moment. And that’s the trick of being in a relationship. You’ve really got to let your partner be a full separate subject. And I feel like that’s something many, many people struggle with. We all are projecting things onto our partners. We want them to be a certain way. We want them to be almost a version of ourselves. And I’ve had to do a lot of work. I just terminated therapy after 30 years.

kara swisher

Oh, wow. Tell me about that.

alison bechdel

I think I’m done. I think I’m as fixed as I’m going to get.

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kara swisher

I like that. So one of the things you also write about in the book is your dependency on sleeping pills. You talked about alcohol a lot. You called them “small red soporific capsules.” And on alcohol, this dependency had an inverse relationship to how much you were exercising. How did you think about that dynamic?

alison bechdel

Man, I realize now that I was just kind of self-medicating my anxiety. These sleeping pills that this doctor gave me were, in fact, something called Oxazepam, a benzodiazepine, which was an anti-anxiety pill. Very addictive. Fortunately, I didn’t keep taking more and more of them to get the same effect because they wouldn’t give me enough, but I did keep taking them and having a smaller and smaller reaction to it. But I took them for years.

And I feel like they really started to messed me up. I think it affected my memory. And certainly, I was also drinking more and more during this period. It was a time when I was just very anxious. It all started when I was trying to write “Fun Home,” trying to write this book about my father that felt like a real leap, both creatively and just in terms of my family, negotiating how to air these family secrets in public. It was an intense thing to go through, and I started drinking as a way to just manage my anxiety.

And it was only recently that I was able to wind that all down, and it was when I started running again. I hurt my knee and stopped running for almost 20 years. But recently, I started running again, and it was amazing to me to get that feeling back, that feeling of calm and focus and even euphoria that I had forgotten all about. There’s something about running that does that in a way that all the other things I’ve done don’t do. And I think it has to do with the impact with just slamming your body into the earth.

kara swisher

Yeah, there’s a whole movement among Silicon Valley people about walking around without your shoes on.

alison bechdel

Oh, that’s sounds good.

kara swisher

Look it up. I know them all. But when you think about running, what made you go back to it? Because I think you were looking for transcendence through exercise, but you come to an acceptance, rather than a transcendence, I think.

alison bechdel

Well, as I was writing this book and sort of struggling with it and how I was going to tell the story, I tried a lot of new things. I tried qigong classes and Alexander technique and rock climbing and mountain biking and a bunch of stuff, thinking that one of these activities was going to give me a handle on the book, some kind of metaphor. But all along, I was starting to run again. And that actually happened because as I was beginning this project, I realized I needed to get a Fitbit because everyone was talking about Fitbits back then, and I needed to get on that bandwagon. And I loved the whole walking thing. And one day, in order to get my steps in, I was running out of time. So I did it on a treadmill, and I ran. And my knee injury didn’t hurt. And I felt great. My mind was suddenly clear. And so that’s when I started running again. I was, like, 54 at that point. And very slowly, over the next couple of years, I just started running more and more and feeling better and better.

kara swisher

So how often do you run?

alison bechdel

I don’t run enough. When I was running as much as I would like to run, it was, like, 25 miles a week maybe. Three or four — I like to run every other day four to six miles. That would be great. But I don’t always have time for that.

kara swisher

What are you doing that you can’t run? Working — I’m kidding.

alison bechdel

Promoting my book.

kara swisher

Promoting your book. That’s a fair point. OK, so one of the things you also address in the memoir, but one of the things you don’t really touch on, is body image at the same time. You never talk about —

alison bechdel

I know. I very studiously avoided any mention of body image in this book.

kara swisher

Which is a big part of fitness culture. Why did you leave that out?

alison bechdel

I thought for a woman to write a book about fitness and not talk about body image was probably the strongest statement I could make, more than any little diatribe I could write. It was better to just leave it out. And honestly, I just don’t think about it that much. I mean, I would be lying if I said I had zero concern about how I looked. But it’s certainly not what motivates me to exercise. And I feel like people who exercise for some extrinsic reason like that and not for just the joy of moving and doing stuff, it’s not going to be fun, and it’s not going to be successful, you know? And certainly, exercise, I think it’s been proven, is not really a great way to lose weight. The more you exercise, the more you want to eat.

kara swisher

Right, and you don’t write about eating at all either in this book. That’s also not a part of it — diet and nutrition.

alison bechdel

No, I mean, I love eating and food. And maybe I’ll write a whole other book about that.

kara swisher

OK, that sounds good.

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We’ll be back in a minute.

If you like this interview and want to hear others, follow us on your favorite podcast app. You’ll be able to catch up on Sway episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with Glennon Doyle. And you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Alison Bechdel after the break.

Let’s talk about some of your earlier work. You published a comic strip, “Dykes to Watch Out For,” which I love, for 25 years. Now you’re in the early stages of a TV adaptation of it. I’m thrilled about this. What’s it like to revive those characters?

alison bechdel

Oh, it’s really interesting. At first, my plan with this show was to update it, to bring the characters up into the present moment, but I was having a really hard time getting my mind around that. Because I feel like they were so much creatures of their era. It was this tight-knit community because the whole world was against them in a way that’s not happening in the same way. So now I’ve gone back to doing it as a period piece and setting it in the early ‘90s, which is really exciting to me, to go back and revisit that period. It’s funny to go back to that pre-digital moment before we had everything constantly recording itself as we did it. And just to think of that political moment, too, it was in the middle of AIDS. There was just a very different attitude, so much casual homophobia thrown around in the culture. And this L.G.B.T.Q. movement was really starting to take off and cohere. It was exciting.

kara swisher

Yeah, pre-gay marriage.

alison bechdel

No one had marriage even on the horizon.

kara swisher

Right, it’s kind of interesting because when you go back to that, you think of even before that the Reagan administration said trees cause pollution — I don’t know if you remember that — and you go to that, and you sort of think, fast forwarding to the Trump administration, it all seems quaint. You’re like, oh, those are easy villains to deal with.

alison bechdel

I know. One set of villains becomes quaint when the next one comes along. Reagan seemed quaint when Bush II came along. And Bush II is a paragon of a statesman compared to Trump. So who knows what’s going to happen next?

kara swisher

Yeah, you’re sort of like, nice paintings. I like you better. Come back. What do you think of him as a cartoonist?

alison bechdel

Maybe he should call them cartoons.

kara swisher

Yeah, maybe so. So are you writing new stories for these characters for “Dykes to Watch Out For?” Or are they going to just stay in that period for people to remember? You’re not bringing them into the present?

alison bechdel

No, it’ll remain in the period. And I’m also centering it around a different character. When I was writing it, Mo was the main character because I sort of felt like she was my avatar. Over the 25 years that I wrote that comic strip, I kind of morphed from Mo into Sydney, the evil women’s studies professor. And so now she’s going to be the central character.

kara swisher

Why is that?

alison bechdel

Because I just have more of a feeling for her. I feel like I can access her character and her family story. It’s just exciting to me in a way that Mo’s story isn’t, for whatever reason.

kara swisher

But you aren’t going to update, you’re not going to do new characters —

alison bechdel

No.

kara swisher

—at all to create a script? So it’s like you’re not going to do the L word and suddenly we’re in the 2000s kind of —

alison bechdel

No, no, no, no. No, this will be going back to the original characters.

kara swisher

One of the other things that never changes is issues around women. And the Bechdel test came out in one of your “Dykes to Watch Out For” strips, by the way. Basically, a character jokes that she only sees a movie if it satisfies three rules. It has two women talking to each other about something other than a man. The test was elevated along with the #MeToo movement after Harvey Weinstein. It’s been kind of a shorthand for representation. There’s even a website that rates movies against these rules. Are you surprised that it still is so relevant?

alison bechdel

Well, it’s funny. Yeah, I mean, I wrote that in 1985. That was the kind of stuff me and my lesbian feminist friends would joke about because there were no movies then. But I do think it has changed. I think there’s a lot more movies that pass that test now. And the fact that it has become this mainstream phenomenon that people talk about is a huge sign of progress. I feel like the mainstream has caught up to where lesbians were back in the ‘80s.

kara swisher

Right.

alison bechdel

But who knows where it’s all going to go?

kara swisher

Where do you imagine the Bechdel test would be now?

alison bechdel

I’m not sure. I mean, it’s still a viable question, and I know there’s many variations on it. Like, do two African-American characters talk to each other about something besides a white person? There’s lots of versions of it. It’s just all about subjectivity and whose stories are told, just always worth analyzing.

kara swisher

So one of the things that it seems like, though, is your work has gotten actually less political over the decades. There’s little things on the edges of your cartoons, but they were very squarely political. And it comes up here and in your new book, mostly as markers of time. The stress from the 2016 election spurred you to run more, for example. What’s it like being an artist now?

alison bechdel

Well, honestly, that was, I think, part of my struggle with this book, was, especially during the Trump years, just feeling so impotent. Why am I writing a memoir about fitness when the world is in flames? It just felt crazy, and I don’t know how any artist functioned during those years. But eventually I kind of got my shit together. Thanks to the running, you know? That helped me from sinking into a total pit of despair.

But no, my work has gone from the very political commentary world of “Dykes to Watch Out For” into these much more interior internal stories about family and the self, which feel like, in a way, still have some political resonance. Because, to me, it’s like, it’s very much about self-determination. It’s about the way our parents can occupy us and take us over and how we have to resist that and how difficult that is to do, to overthrow them. And I feel like maybe I’m coming back out into the world a bit more through this latest book.

kara swisher

Do you feel pressure to address politics now or responsibility?

alison bechdel

I do. I’m sort of excited about getting back to “Dykes” for that reason. Even though it will be looking back in time, I feel like it’s still going to be a commentary on the present and how we got here, you know? Mainly, I want to be an entertainer. I think of myself as an entertainer. I like to think I’m entertaining the troops, the people fighting the good fight. So I want to give them stuff that feeds them. And so I think it will be good to get back into a little bit of a political sphere.

kara swisher

So now, just speaking of which, the ‘80s, it feels like that again and again. There’s a slew of anti-L.G.B.T.Q. bills now being proposed in state legislatures. I think they number in the hundreds. Some are anti-trans athletes. But it seems to be back. It was marriage bills then. Now it’s bathroom bills or these student athlete bills. What are your thoughts on this wave? Because it feels like a bad feeling that I had way back in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

alison bechdel

It is a bad feeling. I spent a lot of my youth thinking society is really just moving forward. But I really feel much less sure about that. Yeah, all these anti-trans bills are horrifying. And they’re clearly just hoping people aren’t going to stand up for trans people. And so far, it seems like people are standing up. So that’s encouraging.

kara swisher

But what do you imagine this is going towards? What are you scared of?

alison bechdel

Oh, I’m just worried about everything, Kara. I’m just worried about living in a fascist authoritarian state, you know? I don’t know where all this is going. I mean, we’ve had a temporary stay. But these people are out there who believe Trump is still president, you know? That’s really frightening, and I don’t know how we are supposed to cope with that.

kara swisher

Mm, yeah. They never give up. That’s the issue. In our last interview, the action around “Fun Home” musical made you a household name, besides getting a MacArthur “genius” grant. Have you gotten more used to success and fame? At the time, you said you weren’t particularly comfortable with it.

alison bechdel

Yeah, and I’m still struggling with that. I think I formed my identity as a young person completely on the outside. As a cartoonist, as a lesbian, I was just this utterly marginal figure, banging on the door, asking to be let in to the culture. And then I did. I did get let in, to a certain extent. And it’s funny, you just find yourself becoming complicit with things, having a Hollywood agent, having a big publishing company, having all these corporations connected somehow to what you’re doing. It’s just interesting to watch that happen and to try and fight against letting it really change what I’m doing. I don’t know if I’m really successfully doing that, you know?

kara swisher

Meaning how could you be the resistance if you don’t resist?

alison bechdel

Yes, yes. There’s a pressure the more famous, or whatever the word is, that you get to win people over and to connect with people and to tell accessible stories. And I’m trying to do that, but I want to make sure I don’t go over the line and do something that’s not genuine. You have to be very careful.

kara swisher

You do. Or else, you get the power and then use it for the things you want to have happen.

alison bechdel

Yeah.

kara swisher

I don’t mind doing that. I don’t mind pushing people.

alison bechdel

I don’t mind you doing that either. I’m happy for you to have the power.

kara swisher

OK, all right. So what impact do you think the pandemic and lockdowns have had on our relationship to outdoors as a society? It seems like going for a walk was the most popular activity last year. Do you think everyone’s catching up to you? Because this was something that wasn’t happening as much as we rushed through our world.

alison bechdel

I hope that we can hang on to some of the upsides of this pandemic — people just slowing their lives down, mainly. That was an amazing experience for me. I mean, I know, obviously, not everyone had that luxury.

kara swisher

Right.

alison bechdel

I mean, you have people spending more time outside, just learning to stop running around, doing pointless errands. What the hell is everyone doing in their cars all the time? Just stay home and go out and look at a tree. It will really do so much for you.

kara swisher

Is that your new exercise, looking at a tree?

alison bechdel

Yeah. Last night —

kara swisher

Tree-looking?

alison bechdel

—I went outside after dinner when, in the old days, I would have been drinking beer and watching Netflix. I went outside, and the frogs were trilling, and the birds were singing their serenades. It was this crazy symphony that I would never even have heard, and it was amazing. It was this blessing. It just fed my whole spirit.

kara swisher

Yeah, I would have done that, but we have cicadas here and “Mare of Easttown” was on, so I couldn’t resist. I’m sorry. I think I’m literally the polar opposite lesbian to you. So when you think about that, when you are sort of at one with nature, do you feel like you have more to write about as a memoirist?

alison bechdel

In some ways, I feel like less. I feel like my mind just goes quiet and silent. I feel like I’m moving toward just a kind of blank page. I feel like that would be —

kara swisher

I think it’s called the dharma. You’re going into the dharma. Isn’t that right? Is that correct? Did I get that right?

alison bechdel

Yeah, the dharma of the blank page. I’m just going to write — my next book is going to be all empty.

kara swisher

And then say, don’t you see it? What? Well, then you really need to become more a transcendent. So when you think about comic strips and graphic novels, what are you excited about? And are there any artists that you follow or are inspired by?

alison bechdel

I love The Nib, that cartoon website. It’s like a progressive comics website with lots of really great work on it. Some of it’s just funny. Some of it’s deep dive, non-fiction, journalistic comics that are great. I think that stuff is really wonderful at explaining complicated things going on in the world. I live near a place called the Center for Cartoon Studies, which is this wonderful MFA program. And they’re always doing projects. They just came up with a comic book project about healthcare. It’s called “GoFundMe Won’t Fix Healthcare.” Anyhow, there’s all kinds of great ways that comics are explaining the world to people.

kara swisher

Do you have any artists where you look at, and you go, wow, that’s amazing?

alison bechdel

I’ve been reading a lot of Gabrielle Bell lately, who is kind of a diary cartoonist, where she just writes a lot of stuff about her everyday life. I love her work. I love Kate Beaton’s funny history comics. “Hark! A Vagrant” is the name of her strip.

kara swisher

Mm-hmm. Are you ever going to do an NFT?

I’d buy it.

alison bechdel

Well, if you would buy it, I will do one.

kara swisher

But would you imagine doing one?

alison bechdel

I can’t. I’m still struggling to get my mind around this idea. I don’t really get it.

kara swisher

It’s just art sold through the internet, essentially.

alison bechdel

But what do you have? Just have a little certificate.

kara swisher

That it’s genuine, yeah. Why is the Mona Lisa worth anything?

alison bechdel

Yeah, I hate art.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

kara swisher

“Sway” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong, and Daphne Chen; edited by Nayeema Raza and Paula Szuchman; with original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Erick Gomez; and fact-checking by Kate Sinclair. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Kristin Lin, and Liriel Higa.

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