A Capricorn like me, Lynda Barry grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood in Seattle. She herself was a blend of Irish, Norwegian and Filipino. Unfortunately, diversity only created conflict. Looking for distractions from her unhappy family life, Lynda started drawing cartoons, inspired by the idealized The Family Circus, a syndicated comic strip consisting of a single captioned panel set inside a circle.
Lynda finally escaped her yucky ducky home life when she enrolled in college. Here, at Evergreen State, she met two people who were to have a major influence on her life: her painting teacher, Marilyn Frasca, and fellow student, Matt Groening, who would later become famous for The Simpsons. When Groening became editor of the college newspaper, he published Lynda’s outlandish cartoons often based on her own childhood. Lynda not only found a way to smooth the edges of her abrasive childhood by transforming it into comic relief, she also initiated a cartooning career. Her comic strip, Ernie Pook’s Comeek, (1979-2008) brought her recognition and several invitations to the Late Night Show with David Letterman.
Today Lynda is not only an award winning author, she also teaches. Her highly popular workshop, “Writing the Unthinkable”, focuses on memory and mind excavations using the diary as format. The method underlines the relationship between the brain and the hand, between the written and the visual.
The diary, says Lynda, is not about recording what you’ve done in the past 24 hours. What goes in the diary is all you notice once you get off the hamster wheel and become aware of the present like a Be Here Now experience inviting you to become aware of the world around you. Her Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor is basically the lesson plan book for her workshop.
One popular workshop assignment is taken from Ivan Brunett’s cartooning book: draw a cat, a car, a castle first in three minutes, then in one minute then in 15 seconds then in 5 seconds. This exercise reminds me of Matisse’s swans. Matisse often spent the day sitting in a boat drawing swans. He drew their every detail only to later carve them down into contour lines. Going from Baroque to Minimalism, Matisse was a master at turning excess into essence.
Lynda stresses the importance of the image. She sites V. S. Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain experiment. A patient who’d lost his hand had the feeling that the hand was still there clenched in a fist. It caused him much pain but he didn’t know how to release the tension. So Ramachandran built a box with two holes on the same side and a mirror dividing the box in half. When the patient put his hands, real and phantom, into the box, the real hand was reflected in the mirror. When he clenched then unclenched his real hand while looking in the mirror, the phantom hand unclenched, too. The reflection of the real was able to liberate the ghost.
For those who complain they have no time to write every day, Lynda suggests the Six Minute Diary: in just six minutes, reflect on your day then write a list of what happened, what you saw, what you heard and then an image related to these observations. Because drawing is a form of observation.
Wittgenstein said that the aim of his philosophy was to show the fly how to get out of the bottle. Just as the role of the diary is to open ourselves up and experience another level of awareness.
(from The Diary of Luz Corazzini, Cynthia Korzekwa ©)