Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Week 13--"My mind has a mind of its own"

Anne Dalke's picture

So: in this penultimate week of the course, we will be conducting two Lynda Barry-ish-like workshops, both aimed @ brainstorming, freeing us to get "going" on our final projects by doing something that is "more like listening than formulating..." Write a little here about how this process is working for you. What do you make of Barry's graphic novel, What It Is? Do you find that the procedures Barry describes there, for writing memoirs, are adaptable to critical essay writing? Or to finding intriguing and useful alternatives to them?

w0m_n's picture

Academia rediscoverd...

At first, when doing the exercise I was a little apprehensive, but in retrospect, I think this alluded to how I'd been socialized as a student to answer questions. As we did more them more often I grew to love it. Responding in questions, rather declaratively, is a useful  tool because I find that it leaves my mind more open to the answers. It's interesting to do these exercises in an academic setting; it's become an interesting foil. In my academic career, both before and during my time at Bryn Mawr, I find that I'm always asked for answers and to prove that I know I'm right. Recently, I've been thinking alot of academia in a meta sense. To me it seems in it's inception, academia sought to ask questions to solve the problems of the world. However, I feel that I've been asked questions in that way that doesn't ask me to think outside the box, but merely to know what answers others have come up with and prove my answers encompass those. However, this practice I feel is a little dated. I think the methods Barry introduces in her book are really innovative to creating critical essays in that they approach it in a new, comprehensive way. They answer questions in a way that account for the human experience, a part of academia that at times is lacking.

LizJ's picture

something from nothing

 at first, i was apprehensive in doing some of the writing exercises from "what it is" myself. in class, i was skeptical that it would help me get to a project idea, plus the whole writing in questions from kate bornstein was especially daunting. i generally don't think in terms of questions, i like to get to the answers write away, which naturally has been a challenge for me in college as a whole. i am learning that college is helping me use questions to get to answers and that the process of getting the answers is just as important as the answer itself. so, when we went into class on thursday, i was determined to go through the process of getting my answer. i think that the continued writing for 10 min straight intervals ended up helping me more than i thought. i'm not the most creative person, especially under pressure, but i think that lynda barry is on to something. she can basically make anyone come up with at least something and i really respect that.

cantaloupe's picture

what it is

I really liked What It Is.  I read it mostly on the train ride back from New Hampshire after Thanksgiving, which gave me funny looks from various people that ended up sitting next to me.  I swear people look down upon anything that isn't a thick novel with small type.  This girl next to me at one point was reading a novel the size of my head.  I'm not knocking it, I like novels too, but geez I wanted to invite her to read a little of my illustrated-identity-questioning book.  Anyhow, I liked the parts that were philosophical, like "to follow a wandering mind means having to get lost. can you stand being lost?" or "what makes something meaningful?"  I like her questions approach, and it's something I've done before when I'm confused.  When I was 13 or so I wrote a whole page of questions about love (ha, how corny).  But I like that approach because one question leads to another, which does get you somewhere.  But you don't have to answer any of the questions, so you can ask impossible ones.  The exercises that we did in class did lead to the final project Laryssa and I eventually came up with.  As for the last question in the prompt above, I think Lynda Barry's procedure can be used for critical essay writing.  I think every piece of writing should start with a question.  I mean really, every writing does.  Even a critical essay comes from something that you wanted to explore.  And writing more questions off the original question probably would lead to a better critical essay.  
Terrible2s's picture


So i tired quickly of the writing excercises we were doing because I guess my questions were of one theme. Why are we doing this? Are we taking this too far? Does this class/ do these studies have a point?

Then I got my two pictures. One was a picture of two hands interlocked and a (ambiguously gendered) body behind it. My second picture was highways intersecting in the shape of a multiple-leafed clover. At first I was struggling to connect the two ideas. Then it dawned on me (even thought we have been saying this theme in class for a while now): identity is based more on others than ourselves. If we lived alone or had no comparitive capabilities, we would probably just be with not much thought to it or our identities. It is others who push us to identify ourselves and off of whom we base most of our opinions. 

SO my two pictures represented this. We are nothing without each other. We all end up being connected in this crazy complicated way, and it is human connections which change us and ourselves and ultimately make us worth anything in this world. Gender and sexuality is all about human connections. and these connections make us who we are. Just like the roads in my picture had intersections which made a whole so do we.

Owl's picture

blah blah blah blah blah

so i decided that i'm just going to post my own  Lynda Barry creation.

question that generated this passage:

How can i think about this when i'll be going back home in just 3 weeks?


i thought leaving home would be a wonderful experience: to leave my parents and live freely. but its so hard not to miss it so. i find myself lost yet bound to the life and way of being i lived with my parents and my neighborhood at that. Gen/sex class helped me see the ways that i was still limiting myself, even though i thought i was open to anything. i guess it's not true what they say when they say "only you know yourself." but then what does this mean. i know it must sound philosophical, but even i don't know what the hell it means. Hell i don't think anyone in this class knows what they're writing about right about thats beside the point. wait i just lost my train of and i was doing so well. omg i lost it. well i guess this leads to Lynda Barry's words "Can you stand being lost?" i think i would have to honestly say, no! i don't know whether it's my Mexican culture, Western culture, or my culture as a women, but i just have this burning sensation to know. know who i am, what i am, and why and not be lost. i don't know if this makes any sense at this point, but...hey that reminds me of dreams; they are so unreliable, because they simply don't make sense. actually until recently i hadn't had a dream for a long while. 

ebock's picture


i think my only real concern about these exercises was that we were trying to use them for a set, academic purpose. it seems like barry's intent is for us to tap into our restrained creativity for no set purpose. i kept finding myself wanting to write about something largely personal and probably not quite appropriate for what we were trying to achieve (questions to generate our final), but i kept stopping myself and trying to think of something 'practical.' i always felt like barry's exercises were for generating stories. i'm really glad we did it though because i really enjoy lynda barry and i'm glad that everyone got to work with one of her texts.

twig's picture

flowers are red

overall, i liked lynda barry's book. i tuned out a little when the excercises came, but i like the more narrative part. i especially liked how she talked about judgement of art and its place in education and how everything became good or bad. it reminded me of this song, by harry chapin (one of my favourite artists) which i'm pretty sure i reference every time i talk about creativity and education


Oak's picture

I am thinking about looking

I am thinking about looking again. Other people looking at me. Other people looking at each other. This seems to have been happening a bit recently.
I'm not sure I get it, or if I begin to get it it's a slow and painful process and shouldn't I have been born knowing this? Like this:
When I started coming out I wasn't afraid. I suppose if you'd come up and asked me "you know some people don't like gay people?" I would have said "well... yeah" But when I stuck my head out of the closet for the first time I was utterly surprised to get a rotten tomatoe in the face (because all the world's a stage... sorry for mixing metaphors). I closed that closet door again real fast, but I could still hear the tomatoes hitting the door. I was confused then, and now I am confused by the fact that I was confused. What did I think would happen? (don't worry, it got better later, and I'm not trying to whine)
Anywho, I'm going to dinner now.
Song recs:

Karina's picture

on a less relevant note

Ok well while I was writing in class today, this was playing in my head the WHOLE time. A slight (way, way more embarrassing) contrast to the song Christina put up.

I was talking to Jacklyn (I hope I spelled that decently) in the midst of the exercises and realized that one of things in What It Is that absolutely blew my mind is that it managed to convince me that all writing - ALL writing - is not only valuable and meaningful in its own way but it is a legitimate form of artistic expression. Art is in our blood, everyone's blood and saturates us as human beings and makes us human. Art is natural, inherent. There is not "better" or "worse" just as there are no "better" or "worse" apples or flowers or trees except only the context in which they're placed in. What I mean is: some apples may be tastier than others but that in no way detracts from their apple-ness.

Being an English major or having any sort of writing-intensive course-load makes you realize that so much of the learning process (and, inevitably, the teaching process) is brutal critique under the floofy (that may not be a real word...) pretense of "making us better" writers. Better, of course, always always always means "better at approximating the ideal that has already been established by people who we consider to be smarter and more accomplished than you." Fine. That's fine. I signed up for that, right? I will take the necesary beating and learn to do things your way to get a pat on the head and a brand new number to send to my mommy so she can pin it to the surface of the fridge. Because like it or not, with writing it is always personal. I will swear to you on anything, it is is is. Because you are using your language to try to speak theirs. Because you are twisting your thoughts to try to match theirs. Because even when you write the worst paper you've ever written, you are disappointed and somehow personally hurt when it gets the grade you know it totally deserves, because god knows even you didn't like your paper. 

So to have writing exist as a part of you again, to have the encouragement and ability to own your writing is a precious, precious thing.

CCM's picture

Let go

I was thinking about Lynda Barry's unique writing process and how she encourages students to just let go of everything that academia has taught us about writing.  Most importantly, Barry argues that it's important to relax when approaching the daunting task of writing.  Anyhow, while I was thinking over Barry's approach and listening to some "relaxing" music in my iTunes library the following song came up...I think we can relate this song back to Lynda Barry's notion of just enjoying what happens in "the breakdown"

Enjoy =)


Music video:


Lyrics (source:

"Let Go" - Frou Frou

drink up baby doll
Are you in or are you out?
Leave your things behind
'Cause it's all going off without you
Excuse me too busy you're writing your tragedy
These mishaps
You bubble-wrap
When you've no idea what you're like

So, let go, let go
Jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It's all right
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown
So, let go, let go
Just get in
Oh, it's so amazing here
It's all right
'cause there's beauty in the breakdown

It gains the more it gives
And then it rises with the fall
So hand me that remote
Can't you see that all that stuff's a sideshow?
Such boundless pleasure
We've no time for later
Now you can't await
your own arrival
you've twenty seconds to comply

So, let go, so let go
Jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It's alright
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown
So, let go, yeah let go
Just get in
Oh, it's so amazing here
It's all right
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown

[Background sounds]

So, let go,
Jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It's alright
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown
So, let go, yeah let go
Just get in
Oh, it's so amazing here
It's all right
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown

In the breakdown
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown
The breakdown

So amazing here
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown