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ISSUE 119 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/14/2006

Lynda Barry exorcises her 'Demons'

By Tim Rehborg
Opinion Editor

Friday, April 14, 2006

Frizzy hair pulled back by a maroon handkerchief, renowned cartoonist and writer Lynda Barry peered through her thickly rimmed glasses at the 30 students and adults assembled in Rolvaag 525 Monday. In front of each attendee were 50 sheets of notebook paper, waiting for the writing session to begin.

Known for her writing and cartoon work, Barry led a writing workshop, question and answer session and a book signing, both at St. Olaf and Carleton this week. Her technique for getting students to write is a unique, image-based system.

The session began with each participant making a list of 10 cars in their life.

"What if you were to write about your life, only instead of organizing it chronologically, organize it by cars?" Barry challenged the group.

Participants were instructed to pick one car, and spatially organize the physical situation of the memory that brought the car most vividly to mind. After brainstorming, the students wrote about the memory of car for five minutes. The only stipulations were that the free write had to be in present tense, and start with the phrase "I am."

Next came the sharing process, which Barry had clear rules for as well. Her reasoning was twofold.

"I don't believe in feedback, because it can constrict the writing too much," Barry said. "Don't talk about what a person wrote - we are free of judgment or approval. Feedback constrains the writer."

While one student read his or her piece aloud, the others were to draw a spiral on another piece of paper, to keep them from looking at the reader. Barry said it helped the others "become part of the writing process through the motion of [their] hand."

Barry's process is heavily imaged-based, and she carried this reliance on memory through memories of kitchens and childhood enemies.

"Pick the most vivid memory. If you can't determine that, pick kitchen number four," Barry said. "It really doesn't matter which you pick; they all will work."

Barry is interested in the connection between children's play and the adult creative process.

"Studies have shown that the same area of the brain is least active during a child's play and when an adult has a creative idea," she said.

Likewise, Barry stressed the importance of creative inspiration while writing with pen in hand.

"If you can't think of anything to write, start writing the abc's," she exclaimed. "The connection between the physical movement of the hand and the creative process is intrinsic to creative writing."

This process has been Barry's fail-safe method since she learned it at age 19. It has been integral to the creation of her books, which include "One Hundred Demons" and "Cruddy: An Illustrated Novel."

"I have never run out of material about which to write, thanks to this method," Barry said.

For Barry, writing is more than just producing a poem, comic strip or short story.

"The creative process is threatened by today's entertainment structure," she said. "Adults claim that they have nothing to write about, that their lives aren't interesting enough to create a story."

Barry strongly resists this notion. "I believe that, rather than having experiences to write about, we write in order to have experiences," she said. "Writing is in itself a joyful experience, the creation and rehabilitation of memory."

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