Category: Lynda Barry

The creative life, blooming

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I post a lot about the solitary writing life, but when surveying the overall trajectory of my hours and days, I see far more connection and overlap with the lives of others, doing and seeking out and creating and organizing activities that are meant to be shared collectively. I need alone time, surely. It’s also practical to avoid interruption when working deeply, whether it’s writing scenes in a novel, reading a book, or organizing a library space. But mostly, I’m actually with people. Not alone. (It helps to have 4 children, 4 siblings, a close set of families, to work in an elementary school where 250 kids troop through my library each week, a church community, an open-door/open-kitchen policy for our kids’ friends, and etc.)

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A goal I often consider, when organizing group projects, is how to keep the experience / activities sustainable. It takes energy to make things happen. Pouring out creative energy to serve others’ creativity can be equal parts exhilarating and exhausting —I  love it, I absolutely love it, and I need more sleep when in the midst of it. So I savour it when it’s happening, and know how special the moment is.

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I try to be thoughtful when committing to projects; I’m willing to test the waters and step back or rejig if it isn’t working (especially if it doesn’t feel sustainable). Projects with endurance are most often structurally cohesive, clear in their goals, and invitational to community-building. Sometimes, I can even think about my novel projects like this—or at least the structures I’ve built around my writing in order to make it sustainable and enduring. Looked at in this way, it’s not just about what I’m writing or about practicing the craft of writing—it’s about the relationships developed and strengthened and linked by writing; but made deeper by other experiences together too.

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The X Page workshop is rolling, now in its fifth season: what a gift. I would describe the structure as highly collaborative, creative, spacious. During a recent workshop session, I felt transported to a more generous vision of relationships, and brought into intimacy with people who, though not strangers, were not known to me or to each other (many of them) just a few weeks ago. Magic. Human-made, transformative energized magic. Under the expert direction of our performance coach (who works with MT Space Theatre company), we watched and took part in the “sculpting” of a story. It came to life before our eyes. Or—it was already alive, but with each telling, each gesture played with, the story deepened before our eyes, layered with emotional weight, but also lightness. I felt transformed by the beautiful gift of the collective. Collective experience, collective effort, collective appreciation. And individual bravery, risk-taking. 

Arriving at this moment was not an easy or instant process. It has taken time, preparation, flexibility, expertise and creativity, trial and error, the generosity of many many leaders and participants and peers and mentors, over many years. Impossible to calculate the effort, and as impossible to measure the reward in terms useful for things like grant proposals. In those moments, watching this story form and deepen and bloom this week, I felt so gratified. I felt like this was the point of everything I’ve ever done. It was the very opposite of being alone. Or solitary.

It was special.

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I also see that a moment like this is ephemeral. Art, experienced. Community, experienced. The creative life: blooming, brief, precious. I savoured it. I savour it.

xo, Carrie

Is that what an image is?

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I’m sitting at my desk listening to the voices of my sons behind me, as they play a game together—spontaneously, after supper. It is a Saturday night in mid-October, and I am sick (literally, not figuratively) with something most likely picked up in the germ-swirl that is an elementary school’s main office.

In my dream last night, I was laughing/lamenting that my talent is for making these rectangular objects filled with words, but another part of me said, no, your talent is for taking real life and converting it into something tangible that others can understand and feel too—an image. In the dream, I could see that it wasn’t the book-shaped piles of words that were important, but the images themselves, the core pieces of representation that shine on in the imagination, that last or spark or make meaning inside the consciousness—who knows why?

Images that I’m carrying right now—too many to count, stuck to me like burrs, alive and imagined, some from my own experience, some utterly invented. 

Have you watched Reservation Dogs? It’s in its final season (of three), and I can’t bear to think of it coming to an end. Each episode is a jewel. I end each one weeping (but it’s oh so full of laughter too). An image I’m carrying comes from season two, when an elder, a grandmother, is dying in her home, and the house fills up with relatives and neighbours, food, stories, silence, words. Nothing is rushed, and there is time to let this singular passage unfold.

Another image I’m carrying is happening in a room I’ve never seen, where a person very dear to me is lying in a bed with the lights turned down, beside a beeping bright hallway, dozing on and on, sick and frail and afraid. She is not alone, but she feels alone. I can’t reach her, I am not able to reach her right now. There’s more that I could see, or imagine, but for now, I hover merely in the conjured room. It’s where I am, it’s where things are. Liminal space.

Unfinished stories. Fragments. Is that what images are?

To write a whole book—it’s within my capacity, I can do it, I have done it, and almost to my own satisfaction. But it does cost me—it costs me living in the real world, living my whole life. My whole life is too full right now—full of experiences I’m living through and in and among, experiences that may never be translated into words placed inside a rectangular object, to try to keep. I want to keep the things I love. (Wasn’t that my calling—to fight to observe and preserve the things I’ve loved and love?) But not everything can be kept, or contained, or held. Not even the most precious, the most wondered-at and cherished. (It has to be changed to be kept, in any case. It has to be turned into something else—an image, alive but only in the mind.) 

And most things are carried away, let go. Here and felt, but not kept. Ephemeral. 

xo, Carrie

Roots, old and new

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On April 1st, I started a 30-day journaling project (inspired by Suleika Jaouad’s Isolation Journals). What I’ve noticed so far is that prompts really help. On days when I try to jot down random thoughts, not much comes squeezing out. I’m preoccupied by surface tasks and must-dos, and a feeling of emptiness prevails. This is a most unpleasant feeling. So, today I said to myself, what advice would you give your students, if they were feeling stuck? You’d say, Stop trying to “journal” and do a daily diary (a la Lynda Barry), or an X Page prompt (ditto). Get out of your own head. Come alive by entering the world.

Other prompts have worked well too. My word-of-the-year group is spending April responding to each other’s words (we were each assigned someone else’s word to reflect on). My assignment was to reflect on the word ROOT. One of the associations that jumped out was “long-standing friendship.” A long-standing friendship, like a long-standing tree, has deep roots, has weathered many storms, and has had good fortune.

Reflecting on this imagery, related to ROOTS, and separate from the word-of-the year assignment, I landed on a journaling prompt: What roots in your own life are long-standing? And also, what roots are tender and new? It’s spring, after all! People are planting seedlings, tiny buds are opening. Feel free to use this prompt if it sparks something in you, too.

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Long-standing roots

Words unfurling across a page, a screen, scrawled in the margins and end pages, marking time, holding ambition, bright with rage, lyrical, lyrical, lyrical

Born family, brothers and sister, all of us rooted in time, in blood and DNA

Music, song, rhythm, pulse

My feet walking, running, my body in motion, powerful, strong

Friendships that hold, light in the window, light at the door, and bread, and wine, and laughter and forgive me

Performance, putting on a show

Reading, imagination’s flow

The trees themselves, and water, mud, grass under bare feet

A big appetite, hoarding, cheapness, knowing best

A quietness amidst chaotic flow

The impulse to make places home

Loneliness, fear of not belonging

Thrift against decadence, earnestness

Wanting to make people laugh, to entertain, to put at ease, and yet aloof, sharp edges

Horses, dogs, children

Memory, curiosity, mystery, questions without answers

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Tender new roots

Medication to lift the load

Healing estrangements, more trust, talking about tough stuff, tender stuff too

Kids moving home and away, vegetarian meals

Big job interview, looking for work that satisfies my need to earn a living and to feel/be purposeful

Transitioning X Page workshop to a sustainable long-term project

Parenting teenagers and young adults

Spending time with little kids again, delighting in their presence

Library skills

Getting reacquainted with teaching

Practicing social skills and conflict resolution

Expanding my skill set, seeing my skills as having other applications, exploring outlets for my desire to connect, create, be fruitful, self-sufficient, purposeful, to serve

Doing “the work” to counter harmful patterns and habits

Yoga and meditation—soaking it up!

Body awareness, body love, healing

Caring for elders, patience, tenderness, listening to the wisdom of elders

Honouring needs, resting, relaxing, spontaneity

xo, Carrie

The pancake in question

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Need to pack up for class and head to campus, but also wanted to write about … well … a list of things too long for one post, so to boil it down, I’ve landed on an image that’s making me grin.

Saturday morning, woke to a smell of someone cooking something in the kitchen. Went downstairs in my pjs and found three teenage boys, none belonging to me, making pancakes by committee, no lights on but the stove’s fan was going. An avid discussion was underway on when exactly to flip, were there enough bubbles, and was this first pancake cooked all the way through, turning to me to ask, what did I think? The pancake in question was definitely not cooked all the way through.

My son, their host, they told me, was still asleep. We laughed about that.

They didn’t need my help or advice, I could see, so I assured them that the pancake that wasn’t quite done wouldn’t kill anyone if eaten with maple syrup, and I continued on to the living room to do some yoga.

This image might represent the peak of my parenting joy, the pinnacle of any parenting success I dare claim. My children’s friends feel at home in our house! The pandemic temporarily robbed us of this rare and fleeting delight. My youngest is about to turn 15. I know this too shall pass, but I won’t grieve it while it’s happening, I’ll just make a note of its existence — here, and in my mind’s eye.

There are moments when one’s actual happening life feels fully integrated and aligned with one’s intentions and beliefs. This was that. (And other moments this past week, too, but this is the easiest to write about in a compressed snippet of time.)

xo, Carrie

Sharing good news

The X Page workshop’s 2022 performance of “Voices” is now available to view online. And the stories have been published online in The New Quarterly.

This year’s workshop ran from the beginning of May through the end of July. We met in person weekly, adapting to the changing pandemic protocols during those months. Miraculously, everyone was healthy and able to be present for our final performance at the end of July. It was momentous to be together again, and to experience the warmth and support of an in-person audience. The flexibility and generosity of everyone involved in this project made it all possible.

It is hard to say goodbye — there’s an intensity to the experience, collaboration and shared energy building toward a final goal. It’s thrilling and then it’s over.

We are always looking for ways to extend the project. Last year, we launched a monthly online “writing club,” and I’m looking forward to helping host those meetings starting in September. The writing club is open to all past, present (and future!) X Page participants and team members — essentially, those interested in staying connected or getting involved are welcome.

If you’d like to learn more about the workshop, please visit the website.

xo, Carrie

Five good things, right now

20220101_143724Reading The Sentence, by Louise Erdrich

Bookseller is haunted by irritating former customer during pandemic, in Minneapolis-Saint Paul where George Floyd was murdered. It stirred stuff up in me that I wanted stirred. I want to be stirred. Plus Louise puts herself as a character into the book — and I learned that she owns a bookstore in real life, called Birchbark Books + Native Arts.


Watching Reservation Dogs (Disney+ in Canada)

I want this show to go on and on. More stirring, good stirring. Damn, this show is good, the young actors are so so good. Set on a reservation in Oklahoma and shot on the Muskogee nation, this comedy tears my heart out and gives me hope and appreciation for what art and artists and dreamers can pull off, over and over again.


Listening to “Good Times” by The Persuasions

This song popped up on my Lynda Barry playlist on Spotify, when I was cartooning yesterday. It’s actually about times that are not so good, but they’re coming, and we’ve got each other. So, you know, like right now.


2022-01-07_09-02-47Eating two poached eggs on anything

My go-to breakfast. This morning, I put two poached eggs on corn tortillas (which I keep frozen and steam in the microwave to heat up) — I eat eggs on tortillas often, with avocado, spinach, feta, crema, hot pepper rings, leftover black beans if I’m lucky, or whatever else we happen to have around. Yesterday, I put two poached eggs on half of a leftover falafel sandwich (it worked!!). Earlier in the week, I poached two eggs in leftover turkey noodle soup. Yeah, for breakfast. I like a savoury breakfast.


Doing thirty days of yoga with Adriene

Her new series is called “Move.” Kevin and I are moving the couches in the living-room so we can do this together every morning. We are on Day 6. We actually both have a daily yoga practice already, but it’s fun to follow a series, and to do it together.

xo, Carrie