Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's How You See It

I’ve been reading these big Graphic Memoir-slash-Meditations on the creative process by artist-slash-writer, Lynda Barry. She’s a cartoonist of the non-mainstream variety, a novelist, a workshop instructor, and advocate of naming and releasing the monsters that keep people from accessing their singular creative authority. Her books What It Is (2008) and Picture This (2010) are wild collage and Zen ink painting explorations of her own evolving understanding of herself as a creative person.

So when I read a book, any book, I look for myself in it somewhere. We do that, right? The characters in Barry’s books come from a world I don’t intimately know. I didn’t grow up on the “wrong side of the tracks” as Barry’s heroine does. I didn’t fall asleep under a threadbare blanket in a trailer in the flicker of the blue TV screen. But I commune intently with the inner world of her searching characters. I was definitely a girl whose first break with her childhood innocence came when she discovered the smelly wheat-colored gum eraser; when the nose on the face of the princess she drew on the newsprint drawing pad was all wrong, and the page ripped and the whole thing had to be crumpled up and started over. And over. When the question: “Is this any good?” came up, and the answer “No, it’s terrible” came back. When this happens, our connection to our first trust of our artistic instinct has been severed. At least this was 100% true for me.

So much of my own life’s journey has been a trip back to the time before I cared whether whatever I was making was good or not. The time of pure play, of living in experience, living inside the pictures that came in to my head as real as any I saw in a picture book. This was the time before erasers and expectations of perfection, if not grandeur. For me those times existed on a woven rug in a tiny naptime room where hours were lost to the unfolding story in the stick figures trekking across vast white landscape of a page in search of the lost village, the small white dog, the magical sea shell.

It took me a long time to realize the true value of a creative life was not the end result, but what was illuminated along the way in the squiggles and merging images and words that showed HOW I was seeing as I went along. There's a kind of presence to the present moment, the image as it presents itself and a willingness to go with it unselfconsciously that we all knew once and I'm convinced, can be reclaimed again if we want to. This doesn't diminish my reverence for aspiration, the masterpieces of art, literature, theater, and song or my respect for those who aim to do fine work.

I’ve been lucky because in spite of the big gum eraser in the sky, I managed to claim enough permission to scribble my way forward and reach out to others, each of us working with our own god-given abilities to draw the princess faces, the landscapes, the, blue-lit rooms, we remember and know. The aliveness and interchange of this work brings me more happiness than I can articulate. And you know what? Sometimes something both artful and informative emerges through the process of giving oneself this permission.

The smoke and mirrors of a world out there that falls on its knees in reverence to “recognition” –whether deserved or not from the standpoint of pure artfulness, is so less interesting to me than the divine creative spirit in each of us ordinary people finding our way back to our source. I believe all people deserve the chance to re-connect with this part of them selves.

This won’t put me on any magazine covers, but it puts me where I really want to live for the moment. And that’s how I see it today.

BLR -Poplar Grove Muse


  1. Chris and I loved Ernie Pook's Comeek SO much in the '80's, and I had kind of lost track of LB. I just looked her up in Wikipedia and was not surprised, at some deep level, to learn she went to Evergreen State and dated both Matt Groening and Ira Glass! I'm going to look up these latest works. Thanks for sharing their impact on you. MKP

  2. Thanks so much for expanding on this topic. It helps me understand why I keep saying I want to be a fierce writer; to me that means writing from an uncensored place and not worrying about the judgement of others who may read what I write. That childhood of free creative spirit is taken away from us so soon. I guess that's why I always felt so restricted when instructed to color inside the lines.