grown ups are like that....

Friday, May 29, 2009

What It Is Part 2

"Is a dream autobiography or fiction?" (page 21)

This question starts the second part of Lynda Barry's What It Is. The questions come hard and fast after this. . .

"What is an experience?" (page 22)

"Where do we keep bad memories?" (page 23)

"Do memories have mass? Do they have motion?" (page 36)

In between these questions about image and memory she discusses her childhood which was a lonely place illuminated first only by the glowing television and later by fairy tales and books, and, of course, her blinking cat.

It is images like that of the cat, images of what never-was, that I want to explore further in this post along with "What is an imaginary friend? Are there imaginary enemies?" (page 29)


When I was a little girl I had both an imaginary enemy as well as imaginary friends. My innocent, loving imaginary friends came into my life first. I cannot recall at what age I first started to play with Larry and the Two Kids, but I was very, very small, perhaps about three.

I can see him clearly. Larry wore a yellow shirt and at his sides were two small children--one boy, one girl. On there faces there was just a skein of flesh colored blankness, like a Little People doll with the features rubbed off. The picture seems disconcerting, but it really wasn't. As I picture them in my head the feeling that washes over me is that of peace, protection, love.

They traveled with me everywhere--in the car, to the store, to restaurants. They were my constant companions. My friends that never-were.

I do not remember when Larry and the Two Kids left my life, but their exit was painless, easy, natural. Not like the entrance of my imaginary enemy.

This man, this never-was dream phantom, was not faceless. Indeed his scarred, terrifying face loomed large in my childhood dreams. I was older, perhaps about ten, when he first came to me. Unlike Larry, he only visited in the night, in my dreams. He was a spiffy dresser, this haunting character. He usually wore light color clothes--tan, beige, cream colored, old fashioned suits with high collars and bow ties. He wore small, round spectacles and had gleaming, perfect white teeth. The skin on his face was a shiny, tight red as if he had been burned or slashed across the face and gruesome scars replaced true flesh.

I can see him now in a long ago dream (one of many): He is walking into an old fashioned school house. Alone in the countryside, the little school stands white among green meadows. The sky is steel gray and crowds of children push by him to enter the building. Books in hand and freshly washed, they are eager to start the school day. He stands tall and ominous above them. I know, just know that he will enter that school and hurt every child in there. No one will escape whatever evil he is about to do. He turns toward me and flashes a toothy grin as he shuts the door behind him.


Come back next week for more light hearted fun and frolic with the Blog of Seriousness and Doom when I'll be talking about the next section of What It Is. ( I promise not to scare you further with creepy nightmare men :-)

Check out Rachel's place, too, for her discussion of the second section of the book.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What It Is

What is an image? When is the past? What is memory?

These are all questions Lynda Barry asks the reader to explore in her book What It Is. The book is designed as a creative tool or workbook for anyone interested in writing or exploring their past. The text is a mix of handwriting and typeface on legal paper and is illustrated with collages, sketches, and photos. The pages are literally saturated with color and texture.

They are, it seems, alive; alive with pictures and words that grab you, haunt you, humor you, and push you to dive into your own mind and thoughts.

The first part of the book has to do with, as noted above, notions of memory, the past, and image. Right off the bat she delves into the connection between imagery and memory. She begins by telling us of a game she played with her dolls as a child. In the game she pretended to be as still and as silent as the toys and pictures in her room so as to be privy to their secret world. In this world they could move, talk, breathe. . . live. She clearly remembers seeing a picture of a kitten on her wall blinking its eyes as she watched.

"Why," she asks "would an image of something, which never happened, travel with me for all these years?" (page 12).

This leads into bigger questions about the nature of images themselves and how the images we live with in our minds are products of a past that may or may not have ever happened.

For me, dream and imagination have always worked together to create memory both real and exaggerated:

I remember driving though Napa valley one spring night chasing a brilliant moon.
Was the moon really full?

There was a face on my wall as a child. The face looked at me with a crooked, ragged smile and winked at me every night.
But wasn't that only a pattern of cracks in the plaster?

I held my father's hand as we walked to a carnival in downtown San Jose. I can see his white shirt and feel his hand in mine.
But wasn't that actually a dream I had once?

Was any of it real? Or, more importantly, does it matter?

To me these images are alive. They are as real to me as the keyboard I am typing on right now or the glasses perched on my nose. Only that crazy enemy of creativity, logic, makes me question their true, living nature as images that speak of and to my life.

They are "Alive in the way thinking is NOT, but EXPERIENCING IS, made of BOTH memory and IMAGINATION. . ." (page 14)


Come back next week for further discussion of What It Is. And go over to Rachel's place and read her take on the first section of the book.