transportation via image

(Dollhouse dollhouse, kitten, Tiger.)

A week ago, I returned from the Omega Institute where I attended Lynda Barry‘s 5-day workshop called WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE. (I know that I will be writing about the experience for a long time, so I’m not even trying to encapsulate it all here. I do know that the time I spent in that workshop will affect my work and life in ways I can’t yet imagine, and probably for the rest of my life.)

Barry’s work had us considering what is an image but here “considering” is the wrong word: instead of an intellectual brain-ing activity, we considered via specific remembered images…with the moving hand and what she calls the back of the mind, and our friendly Professor Andretti (her workshop code name) guiding, prompting, timing us. We worked like dogs! (It’s a cliche, but also an image, and a puzzling one: aside from working dogs, do dogs work?) On the drive home, almost every song I heard had a mystery in it.

Images are everywhere, and I’m almost 50 years old, and I feel like I am just now noticing this!

Doing this work was the kind of experience that opens the senses. I’m noticing so much, so much more fully, in a more embodied way. I have not yet opened my composition book where the work from the workshop is contained. I’m following Professor Andretti’s advice and waiting, so the images have time to coalesce. It’s a magic process, and I don’t want to disturb it.

But I did open a small box of stuff that’s been sitting in my office for almost a year. The box is full of items from my (long-gone) childhood dollhouse. I still have most of the contents and inhabitants (Steiff and Schuco mohair bears, mostly, and some other species). A couple years ago, I moved the things out of boxes onto a bookshelf in my office, and having it out in the open makes me so happy. But today’s box was undiscovered until my mother found it at her house last year. (When she gave it to me, I opened it and looked through quickly, but didn’t have time to really peruse it, so I put it away. Now I am wondering if I put it off not only because of busyness and inertia, but maybe also something like the composition book from the workshop: maybe in that box there was still something magic happening that needed to be undisturbed.)

Tonight when I looked through the tiny items with my daughter, among the treasures (some pictured below) I found a tiny sample bottle of Estee Lauder Youth Dew. (Lynda Barry writes and talks about how sometimes an image, a song, will transport us back to a forgotten corner of our lives. If you are a child of the 1960s and 70s and you don’t believe me, try smelling some Youth Dew!)

This is one of those times I’m glad I’m a packrat.

Here are some things I found.

“Dear Flipper, I went to Mexico with my family last summer. I saw a burro that…:”
“…looked like this: …Isn’t this a cute burro? Love Kristy”


Tiger and Deer were already in my office dollhouse, but in the new box…
Tiger and Deer found their letters!
“Dear, Deer I love you. Please write soon. Love Tiger Baby p.s. I coming over.”
“Dear Tig, You can come over. Sat + Sun”
more tiny letters and cards (and pencils)
Handmade dollhouse TV. (Antenna=tootpicks)

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

Hoarders (and my recurring dream)

These are not my beautiful bears.
These are not my beautiful bears.

I just read an interesting story about piece of history owned by a psychologist, Dr. Barry Lubetkin, who treats hoarders.  From this New York Times article:

“A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Lubetkin was idly trawling the Internet for information on Homer and Langley Collyer, urban hoarders known in the 1930s and ’40s as the Hermits of Harlem.

Elderly scions of an upper-class Manhattan family, the brothers had barricaded themselves in a sanctuary of clutter at the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 128th Street.”

Turns out that Dr. Lubetkin owns the face of a clock that his father bought from the Collyers’ estate in 1947.  (If you have not heard of the Collyers–and I had not until today–they were Homer and Langley Collyer, who, according to the oracle Wikipedia, “were eventually found dead in the Harlem brownstone where they had lived, surrounded by over 140 tons of collected items that they had amassed over several decades.”)

All this reminds me of a recurring dream.  (There are two kinds of people in the world: people who recount their dreams to others, and people who cannot stand it when others recount dreams.  If you are from the second category, please stop reading now.)  My dream takes place in various settings, but the plot is always the same: I am looking around in a junk shop (or sometimes it’s an antique shop–there is a distinction, in life and in dream logic) and there, for sale, I see the Steiff and Schuco bears and various other toys (most often mohair stuffed animals) from my youth.  I always have to buy them back, and it always seems strangely unfair.  (And in a weird way, this recurring dream is one of the original germs that started me writing my novel, The Watery Girl.)

In real life, I still have those bears.  I used to think I wanted to be buried with them.  (I’m not kidding.)  Interestingly (to me), lately I’ve been thinking about the difference between collector and hoarder.  (There IS a difference, right?)  For years now, my bears have been in boxes with the furniture and clothing I collected (and often made) for them when I was a child.  Soon, I hope to realize the waking dream I have of setting up a dollhouse for them, so that I can look at them.  So that they will haunt my waking as well as my sleep.

(And it’s not a coincidence that I write this post on the day that, at her request, I moved my six-year-old daughter’s dollhouse and all its contents from her room to the attic.  She’s not ready to get rid of it yet, but she never plays with it, and wants more space in her room.  There is something here.  Something about generations, echoes, and ghosts…in finding this article about the clock face, and in my recurring dream plot, and in my writing this post today.  Something that I need to mind.)

The beautiful boxes that some people create, and how we breathe better

According to Chabon, the “Belafonte” could be Wes Anderson’s Cornell box.

Having just read this gorgeous essay by Michael Chabon, I had to share it with my loyal blog followers.  In the New York Review of Books essay, Chabon gets at precisely what itches my artistic soul and compels me toward interdisciplinary aesthetics.  Chabon gets at how artists (in this case, Wes Anderson, Joseph Cornell, and Vladimir Nabokov) can connect and transcend form.  Reading Chabon’s essay, I felt a sense of more oxygen getting into my lungs, filling my spirit.  Hoping it will give you the same creative uplift.

(I’ve blogged here and elsewhere about my fascination with Wes Anderson.  I haven’t seen Moonlight Kingdom, but it’s high on my list.)

Loving a school

Teacher Bev Price and students (including me) at the Antioch School sometime in the 1970s

Back in the 1970s when I attended the Antioch School, the building itself seemed to be alive and breathing.  (Here’s a piece about the school and the building by alum Tucker Viemiester.)  In the Red Room (now Art & Science) we dipped candles, sewed clothing, fired glass, made pottery, and fixed our own lunch.  My love of making things with fiber and words thrived.  One year, teacher Bev Price made each student a stuffed toy monster, each creation somehow fitting the child’s personality.  The Antioch School is a community nourished by the teachers.  The teachers respected and celebrated our humanity.  Being a child who was taken seriously by adults has resonated through my life.  I try to give this back by really listening to children.

Last autumn, my daughter began in Nursery.  Through the kaleidoscope of time and memory, I see the school anew, see what rare magic happens there.  I see what education should be.  In the midst of what looks like chaos, the teachers’ work seems nearly invisible, but with patient intention, they create a school where children are trusted to follow intuition, indulge natural curiosity, and take real risks.  The teachers provide safety and offer gentle, effective leadership, asking children questions rather than giving them answers.  They know children can–and should–find their own solutions.  It is a place that allows children to grow into creators, innovators, problem-solvers, and sometimes, teachers–a place that allows children to grow into themselves.

I look forward to connecting with alumni at the Alumni Reunion in July.  (For more information about the reunion, go here.)

How things need to be said

How do you say "apple"?

This morning, my daughter was talking about how one of her friends says words.  He’s about two, and words are emerging from his little being.  My daughter said, “He says ‘apple’ how it needs to be said!”  Apple, that powerful and delicious word, its expression  with rewarding payoff in fruit.

I love the phrase “how it needs to be said.”  I wish I knew better how things I need to say need to be said.  All I can say is I’m working on it, working toward it, meanwhile watching the delectable round red fruit of finding the right word, often out of reach…

Swashbuckling, parkour, or something else?

"Peter sometimes came and played his pipes" from J.M. Barrie's Peter and Wendy, illustration by Mabel Lucie Attwell

Several weeks ago, I asked my daughter, who is almost three, if she would like to dress up for Halloween.  She said yes, that she wants to be a pirate.  (I think she was inspired by the Charley character in Lucy Cousins’ Maisy books, because several of the books feature him dressed as a pirate.)  I don’t think we’ll go pillaging for candy anywhere, unless it’s early enough to be before her bedtime, but I do think we’ll dress up and go out walking in our small town.  (Last year, she had a lovely time at pizza dinner with a dear old friend and her daughter–the daughter is a year older than mine, and was dressed as Sleeping Beauty, in gorgeous shiny regalia.  My daughter’s all purple ensemble: eggplant hat, fuzzy purple coat, shirt, pants, and purple Robeeze boots were cute but as a costume, it was a little abstract.  I admit to putting very little thought into it.  She was two!)  But this year, pirate.

How to build a pirate costume for a toddler?  I’m not going to rush out and buy a bunch of junk.  We’ll use stuff from home: bandana, some shirt and pants, boots, jewelry, and a stuffed parrot from the toy box.  I have no idea what a pirate mama should wear, but in my last-minute urge to be creative, I recalled a dream I had earlier this week.

So indulge me writing about a dream again.  (It’s my blog!)

I was at a writing convention, in a big hotel, or maybe it was a cruise liner.  Someone I used to work with at a regional theatre ages ago (who is not a writer) was there, and there was some craziness about him throwing a party that he invited me to but I didn’t have time to see the invitation, being too busy taking care of a sick toddler, but then later I saw him and some other men from his hallway dressed as women.  (If you knew the man I’m talking about, this would be a very amusing sight.  So we have a Halloween theme begun…)  Later in the dream, I was delightedly climbing, scaling really, the outside of what had now become a beautiful, very old, stone building (apparently now not a cruise liner, but still the writing convention).  Climbing the stone was exhilarating and effortless.  I was the opposite of afraid.  It was maybe as good a feeling as dreams of flying.  Someone inside the building asked what I was doing.  “SWASHBUCKLING!” I yelled.  It was how I imagine those parkour people feel when they are doing their amazing yet completely natural movements.

And then (just now) I remembered Peter Pan and the pirates in Neverland, Smee  and Hook and the gang.  I’ve long been obsessed with those characters, so took a nostalgic stroll through the images I used in grad school for a seminar on J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, where I found the image above.  (Not Disney.  No.  No.  Read Peter and Wendy.  Even if you are a grownup with no kids.  It’s beautiful.  If you have the time or money, look at the edition with illustrations by Mabel Lucie Attwell.  They are transcendent.)

So yeah, I am going to be a pirate this year.

On making a mess

I saw this photo of Obama’s speech and was inspired.

The following is from Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day, pages 33-34:

“How does one really begin to write? William G. Perry Jr. has described the process succinctly: ‘First you have to make a mess, then you clean it up.’ If you think about the implications of this statement, you quickly realize that how you write is up for grabs: no more neat outlines with Roman numerals to follow, no elegant topic sentences for each paragraph, maybe not even any clear sense of where you’re going.”

I use that idea when I teach writing courses. I believe it applies any type of writing. Once people accept the premise, it frees the writer to do what is needed. To write something.

Clearly Obama knows this. I’m glad to know that someone still uses a pen. And that the person “running the country” cares about what he says enough to make a mess.

Using fountain pens

hand_penAs a writing nerd who uses my (large) collection of fountain pens, I recommend that others who want to write try using good equipment. I know some people don’t use the the “good” china, but keep it for special occasions. But I ask: What are you saving it for? Enjoy life now. For me, using good pens and notebooks makes the tactile experience of what I do so much more lovely. It’s like a treat, even when it’s drudgery.

A (possibly superficial) parallel might be: practice dressing for the job you WANT, if it’s not the job you have. When I use my great fountain pens, I feel more like a writer.

I know plenty of writers for whom the instruments are not that precious–and some who actively use more pedestrian tools on purpose, so they feel okay making bad first draft. Everyone is different. Good.