Making the simple complicated

I found this bit of inspiration today — by cartoonist Lynda Barry:


It appears to be part of her syllabus and you can see more of it here.

“Notice what you notice” is the exact advice I need today as I founder/flounder, try to connect words. All the beautiful nouns and verbs, swirling out of reach. I notice that I notice: my shortcomings, impatience, and flops. l notice myself asking: will a composition notebook help? Is it “the thing” that will make the writing easier? Is it better than a journal, or a blog, or a secret file on the computer? I am always on the lookout for a new practice, the new practice, and, if I am honest, I am forever hoping for the magic shortcut that will make it easier. And by “it,” I think I mean writing.

But “it” is something else, too.

When my father was dying, I read a book about the stages of grief. I don’t know where it came from — maybe I found it on my own, or perhaps it was given to me by a hospice worker. I was eighteen and had never read anything like it. I studied its pages, underlining, nodding my head, crying. A good student, I even took notes. I believed that knowing the names of the stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) meant I did not have to experience them. I wanted knowledge to replace reality, labels to numb me, yellow highlighter to switch off my heart. I hoped a book could make me a zombie until I became someone happy. 

Although I hadn’t experienced grief, I knew it was something to avoid, something that needed a shortcut. 

I look back and wish I had let myself cry. As much as I wanted. 

I don’t read cookbooks and expect dinner to show up on the table. I don’t read reviews and assume I saw the movie. But I enjoy cooking and eating delicious meals and I love sitting in dark theaters, lost in other lives. I don’t want shortcuts when I do these things because they make me happy.

Writing used to make me happy but it doesn’t anymore. I think it can, again, and that is why I’m here. To find out. And I think that’s why Barry’s composition notebook appealed to me — it just looks like fun. Simple, uncomplicated fun. 


3 thoughts on “Making the simple complicated

  1. Ah yes – “simple, uncomplicated fun” – the golden grail! It sounds like a good path back to enjoying writing again.
    I’ve always thought I’d write fiction, and last year attempted my first novel-length piece. It just didn’t work. I mean, I could write some decent passages, but they always took ages and ages – the words didn’t flow freely, or it needed so much editing that … well, it was a long way from simple, uncomplicated fun! I think I’m ‘meant’ to be writing non-fiction at the moment. So, this year, I’m going to tackle a project which has been lurking at the back of my mind since 2009. We’ll see how it goes. I, too, want to feel that simple joy in writing again.

    • Thank you for commenting and visiting! I, too, have been writing non-fiction after writing poetry for many years and I find it more enjoyable, though sometimes it’s daunting. “Fun” seems so simple on the surface, but it takes a little more work once you get past a certain age — at least for me. All the best to you!

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