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.