Welcome to Writing the Unthinkable

from Lynda Barry’s What It Is. Why haven’t you gone out and bought this book already? Jeesh. Do I have to say it again??

There are certain children who are told they are too sensitive, and there are certain adults who believe sensitivity is a problem that can be fixed in the way crooked teeth can be fixed and made straight.

And when these two come together you get a fairytale, a kind of story with hopelessness in it.

I believe there is something in these old stories that does what singing does to words. They have transformational capabilities, in the way melody can transform mood.

They can’t transform your actual situation, but they can transform your experience of it. We don’t create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay. I believe we have always done this, used images to stand and understand what otherwise would be intolerable.

It seems that human beings everywhere understand that a child who is never allowed to play will eventually go mad. But how do we know this? And why do we know this? And what happens when we forget?

“I believe we have always done this, used images to stand and understand what otherwise would be intolerable.” I read and re-read Black Beauty as a child, sobbing like the world would end, the description of the torture of the horses almost more than I could bear. But I needed it. It made something real, it told me other people knew about pain.

And I know so many non-Jewish incest victims who, as young teens, were completely fascinated with the Holocaust, all those horrible, awful, brutal details piled up. Some even became obsessed, and developed this weird thing about Jews being the victims we have to all protect (huh, wondering now how much of Christian Zionism this explains???). The ones on the far side of this, the survivors, say plainly that reading the awful stories was a kind of comfort—they made real and physical the level of emotional torment these women faced living in unthinkable circumstances.

Well, not so unthinkable, since the adult perpetrators clearly thought this stuff up and then acted it out in the world. Sometimes I want to know what was so intolerable in their own lives that the scenarios and images they created to make it okay to stay in the world involved hurting children so badly. Guess that is a circular inquiry, though, the question that answers itself forward and backward in time.

If you’ve ever been told you were “too sensitive,” what do you think the motive was behind that particular speech?


Lynda Barry on Why Writing and Typing are Different Things

from Lynda Barry’s What It Is. Go buy this book.

from pages 107-109. Her book is a graphic collage, so the sentences on the page are scattered, not in direct narrative prose. Translating it into only the words typed out loses a lot, but will give you a feel of the power she’s describing and transmitting.

Why write by hand? What is a hand? What is it connected to? What moves it?

A body in motion is moved by……

There is a state of mind which is not accessible by thinking. It seems to require a participation with something. Something physical we move like a pen, like a pencil. Something which is in motion ordinary motion like writing the alphabet. (Or you can tap your fingers 26 times on plastic buttons. This is motion but in the motion there are no variables).

The slowest way is the fastest way.

Being in motion for writing

I have found that writing by hand slowly is faster than a computer-way of doing it, though I know it’s not easy the way a computer is easy. Tapping a finger is not as complicated as making the original line the shape of a S.

Hand writing is an image left by a living being in motion. It cannot be duplicated in time or space. Only by being a being in motion can you know about it.

It’s so hard to do at first. It can make you feel crazy.

Different parts of the brain are used when we make an S by hand and more of the body than a finger tap and images seem to come from this kind of being in motion.

Wow. And yes – handwriting is actually drawing, making shape to represent a thought or image, translated first through spoken language, and through the filter of learned phonemic awareness. Typing is that at yet another distance, another translation, no more forming shapes but only directly recording.

I think that when more of us actually wrote, and we were stuck, we doodled—made shapes that we weren’t investing with recorded language, let our minds wander along the line—and that this served a really important purpose about opening up the mind. How do we do that, if at all, when typing? I know I sometimes start typing “blayh blah blaha blahah b” until more words come. If I stop typing all together, I go check email or facebook then the whole moment is lost.

I do know that are some poems that demand to be written by hand, even though the slow rate of making changes that way is very frustrating to me. I write fewer words by hand, everything is more sparse. Very little of my poetry could be described as “lyric,” but the pieces that are mainly started by hand.

Actually forming letters has a solidity to it, a weight, a process that physically moves through time, that takes time. And energy. And muscles and nerves and ligaments working in unbelievably complex ways.

Which, of course, I am typing to you about.

Lynda Barry on Images and Thoughts

from What It Is, her graphic/illustrated guide to writing. And living. And memoir. And art theory. This is an amazing book. Go buy it.

An image feels different than a thought. It feels somehow alive. If you say your first phone number out loud, you can feel something that is different than saying your phone number now. Thinking your first phone number and writing your first phone number and speaking it out loud are different experiences, but the image is the same. Can you picture where your first telephone was? (p. 34)

What do drawing, singing, dancing, music making, handwriting, playing, story writing, acting, remembering and even dreaming all have in common? They come about when a certain person in a certain place in a certain time arranges certain uncertainties into certain form. (p. 81)

Time + Place are always together. Why? Is imagination a time and a place? Where is your body, where is your mind, when you think? Does it go places? What is movement? Do thoughts move? When people are trying to remember something they often tap their fingers or touch their foreheads. Why does this kind of motion help us remember? Do images have motion? (pp 82-83)

An image is a place. Not a picture of a place, but a place in and of itself. You can move it it. It seems not invented but there for you to find. (p. 88)

What is a story before it becomes words? (p.44)