I have been reading Lynda Barry’s new book, Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, very, very slowly. My husband started laughing when he opened the book and began flipping through, and I immediately knew why.
“You’re not going to be able to skim this one, are you?” he said.
I have a reputation for reading very quickly–too quickly, sometimes, to really glean much of anything from what I’m reading.
That’s not a way of reading that remotely works with Lynda Barry’s books on creativity.
Barry is a cartoonist who has also been teaching upper-division interdisciplinary courses in creativity for the past few years at UW Madison. Her books on writing (What It Is), drawing (Picture This), and teaching (Syllabus) invite us to think about when we stopped believing we could draw, paint, dance, create. She invites us to wonder about the role of the unconscious mind in creation and to immerse ourselves in activities that sometimes seem, well, kind of pointless–at least when you’re an adult.
Coloring pictures with crayons.
Sketching a castle in 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds, 5 seconds.
I’ve been doing some of these activities, though, and finding them surprisingly interesting–and often somewhat disorienting. Barry’s exercises push me way outside my comfort zone. I’m not sure what, if anything, they add up to–but I think that’s the point. Perhaps the whole reason we stop being creative is that we start thinking of activities like these as pointless. We forget how to play. We forget how to do anything that doesn’t serve a purpose, that doesn’t lead to some kind of product. We tell ourselves we can’t do certain things–like draw–and so we stop.
That’s not the case for all of us, of course, but it’s certainly the case for me.
I had originally been planning to participate in NaNoWriMo next month. It’s a creativity challenge, but it’s very product-oriented. Write 50K words in 30 days. They don’t have to be good or interesting words. And you don’t have to have fun writing them. In fact, you probably won’t. Sure, there will be moments, maybe even days, of inspiration and artistry. But NaNoWriMo can be a slog. You will write even when you don’t want to. There is a satisfying discipline to that and a real sense of achievement when you reach the end of the month and see your word count.
I already know I can be successful completing NaNoWriMo: I’ve done it for the past seven Novembers. Reading Lynda Barry’s book makes me want to try something altogether different and more challenging for me–to think about the role of creativity in my life (or lack of it) and invite more of it in.
What would I do every day if I were a creative person? Can I become more creative? Is it possible to learn how to play again? How can a highly product-oriented person like me learn to play and create without a specific product in mind?
One of the fun things about doing NaNoWriMo is getting to say NaNoWriMo, so I’ve decided to dub my November experiment DaCreaChaMo.
Daily Creativity Challenge Month.
I have no idea what I’m going to be doing every day of the month, but that’s the point: to clear some space, to invite things to happen (or not), to be open, to dabble, to make a mess, to be silly, to not know.
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