Tag Archives: Lynda Barry

“Go away, you rainsnout…” NOVEMBER! (30 days with the inner critic)

photo of Gaunt park at sunset

Dear people,

I am issuing a gift/challenge/invitation for the month of November (a month I love to abhor, by way of Tom Waits’ “November,” which you can see him perform here and read lyrics below.).

(If you read this after November, it’s never too late. Start anytime! And this does not have to be elaborate. You can simply do a 2 minute power pose, then write “Dear Inner Critic” across the top of a page, and write a letter. Or skip the power pose—though if you’ve never tried a power pose, it can help you feel stronger as you approach the letter.)

*

Every day, for 30 days, communicate with the inner critic. (If you miss a day, okay. But do as many days as you can.) (If you don’t know what the inner critic is, good for you! You don’t need this practice. If you do need it, read on.)

This work involves free-writing without stopping, without editing. The general rules are to keep writing for a set amount of time (or one page), and if you don’t know what to write, just write the words “tick tick tick” until you get back to what you are writing. If you only have 5 minutes, that’s fine! It can still be very useful. (The “tick tick tick” is courtesy of Lynda Barry, whom I’ve blogged about here.)

OPTIONAL PREPARATION (Not mandatory, but helpful):

DAY ONE: Get paper and pen.

Imagine, describe, SEE the inner critic. (If you watch Lynda Barry’s video, you might think of the inner critic as the mom with the bacon, interrupting the kid in the middle of his playing to say, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”) It’s fun to start by drawing the Inner Critic—use the Lynda Barry method using a random shape, then making it into a monster or character. Whatever works! But don’t think it in your head. Instead, move pen on paper to make the thing come to life (and to get it out of your body). Set a timer for 2 or 3 minutes if it helps. You can describe the inner critic with words if you want to. The point is to somehow embody (on paper) the inner critic. When you’re done drawing or writing the character, take a moment to name this thing.

Then on a new page, write Dear Inner Critic… and write a letter, as long as you want. Sign your name when you’re done. (I’ve done this with young people who have asked “Can I use bad words?” Yes. You can use bad words.) 

DAY TWO (& BEYOND)

Write a letter to the inner critic/monster/thingy every day for 30 days. You can also try any of the activities below if you get bored with letters. But remember, boredom is often good and necessary! I’ve done a letter every day for 30 days. One page at the beginning of my morning pages. (If you don’t know what the morning pages are, go here.) When I wrote a one page letter to my inner critic for 30 days, I arrived at some plateaux where I thought I was saying the same thing day after day (and thought, This isn’t getting me anywhere!). It got a little boring. But I kept doing it day after day, and noticed that things began to shift. I gained some pretty nuanced understanding of the dynamic between “me” and the inner critic (which is part of me, of course, which is part of the point). Among other things.

Alternatives to the daily letter (use any or all, combine, okay!):

  • Write the GIFT that you would give your inner critic. (It’s my suspicion that there is something the inner critic is lacking.) Describe the gift in great detail, how you would wrap the gift, etc. Really give time to What’s missing? What do they need? You might try: Dear Inner Critic, if I could give you a gift, it would be… (What is his/her/their/its deepest unmet need?) (You can also give them something you want to give them, but which they would not necessarily want!)
  • Write a dialogue between you and critic—you get the first line and the last line!
  • Write a physical fight scene!
  • Draw a one-page comic! Color it in! Good, good good!

If you know some friends who want to do this together (every day, or at some point in the month) maybe after you write, someone will want to read back what they wrote. If so, while the person reads, everyone else must draw a slow, careful spiral a la Lynda Barry’s practice, and listen quietly–MOST IMPORTANTLY, GIVE NO FEEDBACK!

Take care of yourself. This inner critic practice can be hard and upsetting, so please do figure out what support you need. It can bring up stuff that might need more time and attention than you can easily give it. Have a cup of tea or some sitting and breathing (or whatever nourishes you) as needed, and be extra generous with yourself now.

Please let me know how it goes! I’m going to do it, too. (Eeek!)

Love, Rebecca

p.s. I’ve written about self-doubt here: https://rebeccakuder.com/?s=self-doubt

p.p.s. If this practice is useful to you, remember: YOU CAN DO THIS ANYTIME! You don’t have to do it for a whole month. Have a job interview? Put the inner critic in its place before you brush your teeth that day! Find the inner critic something else to DO while you do what you need & want to do (without static from the inner critic).

*

No shadow
No stars
No moon
No cars
NovemberIt only believes
In a pile of dead leaves
And a moon
That’s the color of boneNo prayers for November
To linger longer
Stick your spoon in the wall
We’ll slaughter them all

November has tied me
To an old dead tree
Get word to April
To rescue me
November’s cold chain

Made of wet boots and rain
And shiny black ravens
On chimney smoke lanes
November seems odd
You’re my firing squad
November

With my hair slicked back
With carrion shellac
With the blood from a pheasant
And the bone from a hare

Tied to the branches
Of a roebuck stag
Left to wave in the timber
Like a buck shot flag

Go away you rainsnout
Go away blow your brains out
November

 

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Register NOW for Writer’s Play Time!

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WRITER’S PLAY TIME

Rediscover and liberate your sense of play! Unleash your creative spark! Demystify and disarm the inner critical voice that’s holding you back! Nourish any creative process. Inspired by the work of Lynda Barry (Artist and author of WHAT IT IS and SYLLABUS) we will write and draw and move. Please wear comfortable clothing. Must be 13 years or older.

WHERE: Yellow Springs Library

WHEN: Sunday, September 10, 2017 from 2-4  PM

Register now!

Use your hands.

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I just found a great piece of advice (with an exercise!) from Lynda Barry on the Omega website.

“I’m worried about our relationship to our hands, and the kind of intuition they make possible. One of the things I love to do is help people find ways to reestablish that relationship. People long for creative activity without realizing it really is right at their fingertips.” –Lynda Barry

 

Visit this link to find more, and do the exercise.

 

Mark your calendars: (Free!) Writer’s Play Time in September

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(Photo: Venice, Italy, June 2017. Activity: anywhere, anytime.)

I’m thrilled to offer WRITER’S PLAY TIME, a FREE (!) WORKSHOP AT YELLOW SPRINGS LIBRARY, Sunday, September 10, 2017. In other words:

Rediscover and liberate your sense of play! Unleash your creative spark! Demystify and disarm the inner critical voice that’s holding you back! Nourish any creative process. Inspired by the work of Lynda Barry (Artist and author of WHAT IT IS and SYLLABUS) we will write and draw and move. Please wear comfortable clothing. 13 yrs and older.

Limited space—Registration opens on August 20. For more information, please visit the library event page.

Everyone gets an A

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Summer 2016, Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, NY

“Everyone gets an A for napping.”

—Lynda Barry, 7/25/16, WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE, Rhinebeck, NY.

Craving Omega (an ode to tahini)

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(Me, Barbi, and Divyam, after our last meal together at Omega)

Last summer, I went to the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, for a workshop with Lynda Barry. (I’ve blogged about her here.) The food at Omega was really good and really healthy. There was a lot of tahini, especially in a delicious salad dressing, as I recall, though it was so good, and there was a lot of dreaming that week, so I might have dreamed it.

When I got home, I realized it had been a couple days since I ate any tahini and my body felt weird, so got out the Moosewood Cookbook, and from it devised/improvised a tahini salad dressing which I shall now unveil for you. Sometimes (often) my body craves this stuff. When I eat it, it sends me back to the magical experience of WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE, and I feel good. Enjoy!

Crush a clove of garlic and put it in a small jar or cup or bowl or something you can easily stir within. Add a few tablespoons of plain (unflavored) yogurt, and about the same amount of tahini, and stir/mash it all around. Add a few squeezes of lemon juice, and about the same amount of tamari. (I never measure any of this, by the way.) Mix it well (with a fork or whatever you have handy). There’s no precise way. I learned to put the yogurt in first so that the tahini goes into the yogurt and doesn’t stick to the walls of the vessel as much. Experiment! You could add any number of herbs, etc. If it’s too thick, add some more lemon juice, or tamari, or a little bit of water, just enough to thin it but not dilute the flavor. Taste as you go, and you’ll see how you like to change things.

It’s especially good on cabbage and blanched broccoli…really any healthy veg will love this dressing, and will remind me of Omega. I have even eaten apples dipped in it! Delicious.

Dreaming of Omega…

 

 

Short story accepted!

I’m thrilled to announce that my short story “Curb Day” was accepted for Shadows and Tall Trees 7, forthcoming from Undertow Publications. It’s particularly exciting to me because, as I blogged here, in writing this piece, I adapted a process from Lynda Barry‘s process…and it was such fun to dig through compost from last spring’s embryonic essay about junk week and turn it into a story. I’m grateful to Michael Kelly at Undertow for accepting the results. Shadows and Tall Trees 7 will be available in March 2017.

writing from typing, typing from writing, etc.

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Day 2 at Omega (how to make faces)

After writing the short story I blogged about here, I tried another Lynda Barry-inspired approach. Looking at a problematic paragraph in my almost-finished novel (a reader had noticed some point of view shifts and was pulled out of the story), rather than my usual method (just working on the paragraph by pruning where I could, or cutting it, or moving it) I thought I’d try handwriting it (double-spacing with extra lines like Lynda Barry had us do) to see what would happen. When I felt like speeding up, I slowed down the making of shapes and focused on the curves of the cursive.  By doing that, I was able to get outside the oppressive overmind that usually does this level of editing in my work, and realized where the shifts happened in the paragraph, what I needed to omit. The white space between lines was crucial. Turns out the second part of the problematic paragraph is maybe a better fit for my “new” novel (which I have barely started) but at any rate, it was a great procedure! I don’t think I would have noticed, had I not used this approach, with the slow handwriting, and the extra spaces in between lines. (In WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE at Omega, Lynda Barry said that sometimes all you need is some white space.) Then I retyped the newly cleaved passages from the handwriting, and pasted the parts I was keeping back into their respective novel files.

Retyping was important: though many of the sentences had not changed much, it felt like changing the linens. It refreshed the writing.

So cool! In this back and forth between handwriting and typing and handwriting, I’ve met a sort of wall of water where there are two separate worlds, but this process is a portal between them. And it goes both ways! Freaking magical.

(Thank you, Professor Andretti!)

A useful process from Lynda Barry

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Writing the Unthinkable, Omega Institute, 2016

Since attending WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE with Lynda Barry at Omega Institute in July, I’ve used a process Lynda (aka Professor Andretti) described for writing her amazing novel, Cruddy. I adapted the steps a bit to write a short story. My process was:

DRAFT 1: Write the first draft by hand—not with ink and brush (as she when drafting Cruddy), but with a black Flair. Using lined paper, I double-spaced lines. (This is important: skip a line in the composition book, as if your hand is double-spacing).

(I started this story from a very messy prompt/embryo I did last spring about taking stuff to the curb for junk day. We have this junk week thing in our town every year, where you can take just about anything to the curb and either another resident will harvest it or the trash collectors will take it. The essay was what I started with, literally writing the words I had typed up onto the paper, longhand, but veered from the essay totally so it ended up as fiction. Really, I’m dealing with some of my (internal) baggage in this essay-turned-story and so using this ‘junk’ was both cathartic and creative.)

DRAFT 2: Re-copy draft 1 by hand without taking anything out (!) but slowing down and adding things where needed. (This is really important: you must copy everything you wrote in the first draft. You can add as much as you like, but you are not removing anything. When I tried it, it began to feel like I was not cutting myself to shards, but instead just acknowledging that some of the junk—every word!—had a reason to be there, at this stage. Doing this worked against the constant self-critique I usually feel when writing. I wasn’t finding flaws and rooting them out, I was just re-copying words in slow, deliberate shapes with a pen. In fact, as Professor Andretti recommended, when my brain started to go faster than my hand, I deliberately

s l   o   w   e   d                        d   o   w   n

and focussed on making the shapes with my pen on the paper.)

DRAFT 3: Type up. On a typewriter. Professor Andretti used an actual typewriter for Cruddy, because you can only go forward (pretty much) on a typewriter whereas on a keyboard and screen you can go both ways (this ‘just keep moving forward’ idea is an extension of steps 1 and 2 above, i.e. not cutting down but building up, keeping momentum going.) I did this step on word processor because my typewriter needs a new ribbon—but before I used the word processor, I turned off the (judgmental!) automatic spell/grammar check as you type feature. If you try nothing else from my post, try this. It’s totally liberating! I knew I’d eventually do a manual spell check, so I just didn’t worry about it at this point. And I am maybe never turning that sucker back on. Like double-spacing my handwriting, excusing The Judge allows more oxygen in the room of my writing, lets me breathe. Ah! Doesn’t that feel better? Yes.)

DRAFT 4: Here is where Professor Andretti would finally type it up on a computer. Once I had the draft on the computer (see step 3), I did a spell check, and then printed it. It still needed work and I took things out and added things, etc., but a lot of what came through in the process was evocative and strong writing. What came through most of all was the character’s voice. I believe that using this technique allowed her enough oxygen to tell her story.

It was a great and illuminating process. It felt good instead of pressured. (It was actually much more fun than usual writing.)

I’m happy to have spent those several weeks using some of the techniques I learned from Professor Andretti…and living in the not knowing/not fiction/not non-fiction/what the hell is an image/”search for underpants, eee*” zone…and I got a story out of it!

* This is a reference to a song Lynda Barry would sing in the morning at our workshop. I much prefer her/our version to the South Park version—we all sang along with her—but if you want to hear the song, go here.

To learn more about Lynda Barry, go to her Tumblr page.

Fragment of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets

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(Found at Omega, on the ground, or in the water.)

At the Omega Institute in July, I read the fabulous Maggie Nelson’s book, Bluets. I marked a passage on p. 81. I wasn’t exactly sure why, except that something resonated. Today as I typed it before returning the book to my friend Melissa, I see its connection to the work of WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE, and oddly, to a short story I’m working on. But when I marked this passage, I wasn’t even working on the story yet.

This is how it works sometimes.

“202. For the fact is that neuroscientists who study memory remain unclear on the question of whether each time we remember something we are accessing a stable ‘memory fragment’—often called a ‘trace’ or an ‘engram’—or whether each time we remember something we are literally creating a new ‘trace’ to house the thought. And since no one has yet been able to discern the material of these traces, nor to locate them in the brain, how one thinks of them remains mostly a matter of metaphor: they could be ‘scribbles,’ ‘holograms,’ or ‘imprints’; they could live in ‘spirals,’ ‘rooms,’ or ‘storage units.’ Personally, when I imagine my mind in the act of remembering, I see Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, roving about in a milky, navy-blue galaxy shot through with twinkling cartoon stars.” —Maggie Nelson, Bluets, p. 81