Lynda Barry, Omega Institute workshop (scratching the surface)

(words by someone else, drawing by me)

I can’t yet write deeply/fully about my experience at Lynda Barry’s WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE Omega Institute workshop last week, because it’s all still coalescing, and it’s summertime, and I just don’t have the mind space word space right now.  But I wrote a message to my former students and couple colleagues, because the message does scratch the surface (cliche, I know) in telling about how it was to be in the room with LB. More, more deeply, when I can.


Hi, all,

I’m just back from an amazing workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, where I spent the week along with 70 others working with Lynda Barry.  Some of you know her work, maybe some of you don’t…but I wanted to pass these links along in case they are of interest to you.
If you like her vibe and work, I recommend the workshop very highly. It got me moving in the creative flow, writing and drawing and working really hard, and also unlocked a lot of stuck ideas I had about making art and what it’s all about.

(Or, in shorthand: Lynda Barry rocks! And so can you!)

She’s very generous about her teaching.  She considers her work open-sourced, and wants anyone and everyone to have access to it.  Her book that contains the most teaching stuff in it is Syllabus, but it has as much for the maker of art as the teacher.  (Okay, by now you know how I feel about Lynda Barry’s work.)
Here’s her TED talk, a good, longish introduction to her work:
And here’s a link about her work as it pertains to ACADEMIC WRITING as well…


Love, Rebecca

The Year of the Tiny Frog

I took this photo (years ago) near Sanity Creek.

I am proclaiming 2011 The Year of the Tiny Frog.   In honor of the Tiny Frog, I intend to:

1) Read more of more interesting books;

2) Write more;

3) Sleep more;

4) Enjoy more of the real stuff and banish the fake stuff from my home, and life;

5) Spend more time with people, books, art, and music that give (rather than sap) energy.

The Tiny Frog would have it so.

The river of lost words

Trying to recreate words lost in the recent death of my hard drive (and overly old backup files).  Writers beware: back up your data.  (Or risk having to recreate.  I think the following might be better than what I had, but there was too much angst in the process of loss.)

Years before, opportunity had stolen most of the trees.  Bend, snap, cut went the rhythm of thieves.  Wood mill.  Trees sometimes fall naturally into water, storms come and leave their messes behind, but these logs were felled too fast, unnatural, and shipped down the river, money to be made.  They’d grow back, some said, but forgot to plant seedlings, no thought beyond the next greed-meal.  Just along the river, a few bushes remained in the thin trickle of lush.

I was right!

As long as I can remember observing the phenomenon, the “act” of listening to someone talk on a cell phone has annoyed me.  On the other hand, unless the participant voices are overly loud or grating, listening to two people talking in a cafe rarely bugs me–in fact, it’s often good ambience for writing.  (Especially at a place like The Underdog Cafe, where it has been scientifically proven that 99.23% of all conversations are exceedingly intelligent.)  But I find overhearing half a conversation irritating.

As far as back as when cell phones first became the fashion, my theory has been that the act of hearing one side of a conversation forces my brain to fill in the other side of the conversation.  I can’t not guess at what the other person is saying.  I don’t think it’s exclusive to writers, but maybe writers (thinking about dialogue in a very intentional way) are more susceptible to this irritation.  I’ve told friends about my theory over the years; they can back me up here.

Turns out I was right, that’s just the reason it’s maddening!  Cornell University researchers found this to be true.

I love being right, even if it confirms a reason for something that I’ve always hated.  Yes, I said hated.  However, being that I am human, and therefor a hypocrite, I own a cell phone.  And have talked upon it.  I try not to have conversations where there is a captive audience–usually I go to a hallway or go outside, away from other people.  Partially because I value privacy (so why do I blog?  Hmmm…) but also because I know how irritating it is to hear others’ conversations.

Just trying to do my part to be a good, community-minded citizen.

But I do love being right.

The importance of manuscript formatting/I admit to being a nerd!

As a new faculty person, I am learning about a thing I refer to as “Thesis Season.”

It’s fascinating and exhausting.  I’ve read a bunch of creative writing manuscripts in the last few months, sitting right next to to sentences, words, and images.  (Luckily, the writing is often beautiful, lyrical, strong, clean, titillating, and compelling.  I do love my job.)

One thing, though, that has got me all het up, is the importance of following instructions.  Some writers are more comfortable with computers and word processing than others: writers are like other humans in that way.  If I could, I would take all these writers into a room and together, we’d go through each step to achieve proper formatting.  Margins, line spacing, consistent typeface, point size, page numbering.  I know that these details can be really hard to face if you’re not adept at digital technology.  I’m lucky that my previous job was all about showing students and faculty how to navigate the word processing jungle.  I’m a nerd about this stuff.  According to Microsoft, I am a “Word Expert.”  (This always amuses me, especially when I’m writing, because the last thing I feel like is a word expert!)  For this reason, however, I harp on formatting.  My students might be tired of hearing it, but I am trying to help them as they approach the larger world where their work will be judged by someone who doesn’t care about them nearly as much as I do.

As writers, it’s in our absolute best interest to follow guidelines EXACTLY.  If a publisher desires certain formatting, we better pay attention.  If the goal is to impress the reader with our lovely words, sentences, images, then having the manuscript itself not distract from that seems essential.

Teachers, but more importantly, future editors, are easily distracted by a writer’s inattention to these details.  They are looking for a reason not to read our work.  Let’s not give them the one that is, in some ways, easiest to avoid.

If a writer wants to be taken seriously, is in her best interest to gain control over the “physical” aspects of manuscripts.

The Word Expert has spoken.

The Interweb (a poem)

The Interweb
is like a big, bright store
that I enter to buy just a couple things, like
the pizza delivery number, or
the definition to a word
but I can’t find the right aisle
and other carts keep bumping into my cart
and my cart bumps into other carts
and all the carts are singing arias
in various strange languages

which are very interesting, in a way,

and I keep getting distracted by aisles that are full of things like
an AP headline
or virtual bubble-wrap

and then

I look at my watch:
I don’t even wear a watch but
an hour has passed,
an hour

which I will never regain,
even if I keep the tags on
and don’t lose the receipt.

Could there be a dumber burglar?

I read about this guy who broke into someone’s house and stole a couple of diamond rings. But before he left, he used the victim’s computer to log into Facebook. Unfortunately, he forgot to log out. (D’OH!) Not that you have to be smart to break into a house, but really. This is amazing.

Read more about the burglary here.

Then there are the girls who got trapped in a stormwater drain, and WITH THEIR CELL PHONE updated their Facebook status before it occurred to them to call the Australian equivalent of 911.

I am worried about the world. I sort of want to lobby against computers, but of course, it’s not the computers, it’s the people. I’m starting to think that we’re headed for Idiocracy, as Mike Judge predicts…

To blog or not to blog?

I have always been a fairly private person.

Although I used to work in information technology, I am ambivalent about the virtues of computer technology. Including blogs. But back before Facebook and Twitter and all that noise was born, the buzz was that in order to exist, one must have some sort of “web presence.” So I decided to buy the domain, assuming some day I would need it. I created a website, really like an extended business card for myself as a writer. I also had a blog accessible from that website, and I decided against doing a purely personal weblog, but instead chose a somewhat rigid form: short nonfiction essays, exercises really, each inspired by something I had seen. Each with its accompanying image. I thought I would post something most days, but as a writer who is pretty concerned with well made sentences, my output wasn’t as bloggy as that of so many bloggers. (If you want to peruse those archives, they have been moved to the blog you are currently reading.)

My blogging was too precious, then, because I wanted time to reflect, time to draft and ponder before posting. My goal for each post, at that time, was to have a polished piece, so these little ruminations could accumulate into a published soapbox. As if each post would be something I might theoretically send to a magazine for publication. Or some day, collect into a book.

As part of an online class I’m teaching, we read George Orwell’s excellent essay, “Why I Write.” One of the reasons Orwell lists in the essay about why he writes is political purpose. He talks about how he was motivated to write, often, by something that angered him.

These days, writing out of anger is everywhere. It’s free and simple: just set up a blog and start yelling. And the glut of ME!-ME!-memoirs that continue to be published between portable covers speaks to the fact that there is an audience for certain types of yelling. But I’ve always thought that it’s important (at least to me) to let the anger simmer for a while. Sort it out. Go to therapy if you need to. Gain distance from the irritant. To extend that metaphor, let the pearl develop. While I like the immediacy of the technology, I want to see more pearls out in the blogosphere.

The line between public and private has disappeared. In fact, sometimes it seems like the membrane that existed between public and private has been turned inside out. I don’t want to hear others’ cell phone conversations in the public restroom, but I do, all the time. To paraphrase a friend who was ranting about the inanity of Facebook status updates, while I hope people eat good, interesting food, I don’t really give a rat’s arse what even my closest friends and family had for breakfast. (No offense.) But why do people think that the world cares about what they had for breakfast, unless it was something truly remarkable, like a freshly killed sparrow? I have enough email and things to do in the day, as I’m sure you do, too. Why would I want to wade through all that? I’ve thought about closing my Facebook account, because it’s so annoying (and yet embarrassingly addictive) but I like that I can occasionally find lost people, so I’ll keep it for now.

And if you’re reading this now, I guess my question, to blog or not to blog, has been answered.