When cartoonist/illustrator/comedienne Lynda Barry is not drawing her loopy characters or teaching her celebrated "Writing the Unthinkable" classes to unblock expression-challenged children or adults somewhere, she is talking about the creative process—how it changes us and how new digital tools are challenging it. Creative self-expression, she says, is as critical and natural to humans as breathing. "Everybody does it—it's like salivating," she told Cause Global during this past week's CUSP conference in Chicago. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation:
CG: In your latest book, What It Is, you write:
If creativity is transportation, how is the digital world changing the ride?
Is movement in jeopardy? I feel movement is being lost as we trend to a digital orientation. Another thing that’s lost is the happy accident. There’s no delete button on a piece of paper and pen. Even in scratching something out, what’s beautiful is when you look back over it, you still know what the words were. It It creates evidence. But once you hit delete on a computer, it’s gone. And the thing looks finished before it’s finished. The thing also just exists in a little window. I have lots of friends who are writers and I’m interested in people who just write on their computer, because to me it would be like drawing through a diver’s mask. You can only see a certain part of it. I also like books, physical books, the knowledge that when you think, Oh, where’s the part where he shoots his wife? With a physical book, you can see it, and almost remember that it’s on the left side of the page maybe a quarter of an inch earlier. Maybe people who grew up with computers can do this on a computer but my feeling is that it’s harder. And the other thing about a computer is you can start editing before the thing is done.
Is there any part of you that wants to say, 'You know, we could tighten the narrative?' No. You’re satisfied, right? And it was completely spontaneous.
What is your next project? 'The Near-Sighted Monkey,' another book. It’s a book about drawing–not about teaching people to draw, but about encouraging people to be in a state of play. I got really curious about why is it that people are so terrified of drawing; if we had a four-year-old here and paper and crayons and saw that this girl was too terrified to draw, we’d be worried for her a bit, right? It wouldn’t be normal, right? But if she’s 40 and scared to draw, we go, okay—but there’s something not right about that.
You're also working on a graphic novel, about the problems with windfarms? Yeah, it’s probably going to be in the form of a strip, a graphic novel, and non-fiction. It sounds crazy, but if you live downwind from one of these windfarms, it can sound sometimes like a train coming through your house. Other times, it can be quiet. These wind turbines—they call them 'turbans' in Wisconsin—are huge. Frequently, when that blade passes the tower, you can get a low-frequency thump that you can feel in your body—exactly what happens when a car goes by that is playing loud music but all you hear is the bass because the walls of the car stops the high frequency sounds. Another problem is shadow flicker. These things are 40 stories tall, and the blades are 13 stories each, so when the sun is behind it, it throws a shadow a half-mile long and it can cover your entire home in every window of your house if you’re living next to one of these turbines. The flashing shadows can be so violent, it’s like a strobe light, and for some people it makes them very sick. There’s one woman I interviewed who is a cardiac nurse and she says when shadow flicker starts, she either has to leave her house or she goes into the bathroom, the only room in her house to escape without windows. I’ve interviewed people from 20 households now, and I’m following what scientists studying the problem are finding out about the affects of sleep deprivation. It’s becoming a problem all over the country and there is incredible pressure being put on people not to talk about it. I’ve been called everything from a wind-hater to a 'wind jihadist.' Wind power definitely has a place if it is sited correctly but people need to understand it’s kind of the SUV of renewable energy. It’s big industrial, and it impacts wildlife and alters mountaintop terrains and requires back-up energy, such as coal power, to operate. All sorts of progress is being made in solar and biomass and I think we should have a mix.
—by Marcia Stepanek