Processing, 10 November

as long as you can stand it, stay out of the way

[on drawing cartoon characters] I don’t have to do very much except draw them again and try not to push things in any particular directions for as long as I can stand to stay out of things, but eventually that open way changes and I start wanting from them. I want them to be really good right away and this stops the natural pace of discovery and replaces it with an objective. This can’t be helped.

Lynda Barry

When is it time to stop the open way? When should you start having an objective? What happens to the discovery process? How does this work for me?

Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Analysis

Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor



This is a book of notes, drawings, and syllabi I kept during my first three years of teaching in the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This chronology is rough and mixed up in places but all kept by hand on pages of either legal pads or in standard black and white marbled composition notebooks.

Barry, 3


  • A composition notebook
  • Mixture of typed, hand-written text; images; photographs
  • Looks like actual composition book, with doodles and notes


  • Course Flyers
  • A “formal” introduction/about this book, typed (most other text is hand-written)
  • Fragments from Barry’s personal notebook/journal
  • Discussion of Influences
  • Drawings by Barry and by her students
  • Questions posed throughout, usually hand-written
  • Class Announcements
  • Brief bits of “formal” narrative scattered throughout book, typed-up and involving descriptions of the underlying principles of Barry’s methods and her courses
  • Images + minimal text about principles/methodologies of course: what is bad drawing?, on liking and not liking
  • Pages of “informal”/”less formal” narrative, hand-written in cursive with doodles/images, about her class: what she had students do, the students’ experiences completing assignments
  • Drawings, text (typed and hand-written), doodles/images about picking students for the class (she had prospective students complete a questionnaire)
  • Assignments, including the composition notebook
  • Classroom Rules
  • Excerpts from students’ assignments, including quick diary exercises
  • Letters to students about class, including announcements and assignments
  • Reflections on failures in class and what she/students learned (I hate crayons)
  • Reflections on the challenges and rewards of the drawing/thinking process that Barry is teaching


  • Share her method
  • Inspire others with her passion
  • Share and reflect on her experiences becoming a professor
  • Reflect on big questions like, What is art? What is an image?

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was inspiring, both in terms of my own book project and my approaches to thinking, writing, and creating.

Useful for my Project?

Yes. I’m particularly interested in how she incorporates syllabi and assignments into the text. I want to do this too, but my project is not exclusively focused on my time in the classroom. In fact, it’s more focused on the time outside/beside/after the classroom. I also like her tone. She exudes passion for her topic, which is infectious. Finally, I appreciate the format. It’s an actual composition book. The second book I’m looking at is Kate Bornstein’s My New Gender Workbook, which also uses the format of a composition notebook, but only looks like one, it isn’t actually a comp book. I don’t want to use Barry’s format, but I like the idea of using an unusual format (and not just mimicking one).

Processing, 9 November

On Not Being Efficient and Going Slow

About midway through her book Syllabus, Barry describes how students in one of her classes hated her crayon assignments. While crayons had been very successful in the past, this one class despised them. Why? Because, she realized, she gave them too much guidance in her efforts to make the process easier and faster for them.

I told them to color hard in order to do it right. And go straight to using force–thinking I was showing them a short-cut. This took away the way of coloring they would have found on their their own. By telling them just how to do it, I took the playing around away, the gradual figuring out that brings something alive to the activity, makes it worthwhile…

Lynda Barry

She concluded that we should forget shortcuts and that the most efficient way to do things because, “The fastest way is the slowest way” (94).

I’ve often read/wrote/thought about how taking your time increases your ability to think critically and to resist. I like how Barry links going slow and avoiding shortcuts with the creative process too. When I taught at the university, I frequently chose new assignments and readings because I was always trying to fight against the urge to shortcut/streamline the process for the students or for me. I felt that if I become too comfortable and used to assignments or classes (when I taught them multiple times), I would lose the creative/critical energy and passion for what I was doing and how I was doing it. I found that focusing on the “right” way to do things (which is like becoming the Expert) can prevent you from playing around and enjoying the process.

This idea of efficiency reminds me of something that I recently read about inconvenience. In his keynote for the 2015 Personal Digital Archive Conference, Rick Howard reflects on the potential value of personal digital records as inconvenient to collect and preserve. He writes:

But I think that inconvenience has its virtues. Wrangling with inconvenience is like choosing to write by hand instead of typing or dictating. You learn more about the words you are processing….Archives are a means to an end, not an end in themselves, and wrestling with the inconvenience of certain kinds of records causes a kind of reprocessing to commence, in which records can serve completely new purposes and often new interests.

Rick Howard

Processing, 6 November

Note: This is the fourth processing blog post for my new book project. I’ve decided to do daily posts on all of my ideas instead of separate posts on each thought. Still not sure if this is the best approach.

On Not Being an Expert

Lately, I’ve developed the habit of listening to podcasts while I run. This morning I listened to an interview with Miranda July on Michael Ian Black’s totally awesome podcast, How to be Amazing. In the opening soundbite, July says:

Being a beginner, again and again, that’s a good feeling to me….And the feeling of being a pro and a master of this particular thing, that whole thing sounds nice, like I’d love the respect part of it, but it doesn’t sound fun creatively.

Miranda July

This idea of not wanting to be a Pro resonates for me. I always like experimenting with new methods and ideas. It helps keep me curious and excited. When I was a teacher, many of the readings I assigned were new to me.  I liked discovering them with my students. Now, as a storyteller who experiments with a lot of online tools, I’m always trying to craft and tell stories in new ways. Once I’ve used some tool for too long, the creative process isn’t as enjoyable.

My resistance to being a pro (or expert) is about more than losing my creative flow, however. As an ex-academic, and a child of an academic, I’ve witnessed firsthand the effects of too much expertise. People often become arrogant assholes. I’ve written a lot about not liking experts/pros, including this mini-essay for my first book and these haikus:

The shift from student
to expert is the end of
new ways of thinking

I don’t like experts,
They claim, “I have THE answer!”
when I want questions.

I dropped out when the
demand to be an expert
was forced upon me.

Watch out for people
who claim to be experts.
They are often jerks.

Why am I writing about this in my processing blog post? I envision this book project to be partly (mostly?) about my pedagogy and my work/stories as a teacher/guide/role model. I don’t want this book to be a how-to guide or the pontifications of an Expert. How can I do that? As I write these lines I’m questioning myself and my dislike of expertise. What’s wrong with acquiring skills and being proud of your knowledge? How is my creative/critical work harmed when I always only want to be a beginner/non-expert?