Dear Reader, I am here with not-a-roundup, or not quite a roundup.
During these transitional days, I’ve had a hard time finding the stretches of time that encourage deep listening and thinking that are so vital to creative work, and have even found it difficult to read straight narratives.
I was tipped off to this book by a Q&A with my friend and fellow poet, Sarah Pape.
The book is a collection of notes, questions, sketches, and syllabi created by Lynda Barry during her time teaching interdisciplinary classes on creativity at the University of Wisconsin. Amongst many other things, it introduces a way of keeping a notebook that helps its keeper (1). notice things, and (2). enter into her sources of creativity: the subconscious mind, memories, obsessions, etc.
The basic gist is to keep a daily notebook, in which each page looks something like this (except with your own content, of course):
One thing I like about the method is that it’s quick–takes about 5 minutes. Another thing is that it’s easy, by which I think I mean: not emotionally freighted, not in the service of any particular outcome. I’ve been at it only a few days, and already I find myself NOTICING more: the curl of an extension cord on the floor (hello, makeshifting), the sign my mom left on my desk in order to preserve its’ fragile legs: “Do not slide this desk—only lift it.” The practice has helped me not only to notice things, but to notice which things I notice. Why does the wording on the sign keep coming back to me? Why do I keep seeing the curl of the extension cord in my mind’s eye?
Anyway, there’s a lot more to Syllabus than this, but if you’re looking for something to jump start or re-energize your creative practice, you could do worse than to get your hands on a copy and try it.
Here’s a little something from its’ pages, a quote from Rumi, which reminds me (again) of why I write so many poems even if most of them go nowhere:
And here is a Rumi poem that Barry uses throughout her classes. She recites it while her students draw:
THE DIVERS CLOTHES LYING EMPTY ON THE BEACH
by Rumi; Coleman Barks, trans.
You are sitting here with us
but you are also walking in a field at dawn.
You are yourself the animal we hunt
when you come with us on the hunt.
You are in your body
like a plant is solid in the ground,
yet you are wind.
You are the diver’s clothes
lying empty on the beach.
You are the fish.
In the ocean are many bright strands
and many dark strands like veins that are seen
when a wing is lifted up.
Your hidden self is blood in those,
those veins that are lute strings
that make ocean music,
not the sad edge of surf
but the sound of no shore.
I am happy to be alive in a world where someone is a professor of interdisciplinary creativity, and where I can learn from her learning. And where moms leave notes to protect the fragile legs of desks, and extension cords loop on the floors of mostly-bare rooms, looking like the thread of giants or some impossible sea creature forgotten on land.