The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts April 21, 2006

Not at all Cruddy, Some Good Times With Lynda Barry
Barry’s Riotous Lecture Elicits Audience Laughter
Bursts from Barry: Artist, novelist and playwright Barry gave an animated, vigorous lecture on Monday.

Dear anyone who finds this: Lynda Barry came! She came and gave a lecture on Monday at exactly 7:34 p.m. The lecture was supposed to start at 7:30 p.m., and like tons of people were waiting and thinking “Where is Lynda, Where is Lynda?” because she was nowhere to be found. Was she even going to show up at all? But she was doing that special thing that gives you creepy chills when you’re watching a scary movie, that super cool thing all good writers can pull off without a hitch: suspense.

And suddenly, without further adieu, poof! There she was, Lynda Barry, the author/cartoonist of a million great works like The Good Times Are Killing Me, One! Hundred! Demons! and Cruddy — not to mention the long-time friend of Matt Groening and totally groovy chick! Yesss, yesss, yesss! She rose up from behind the podium to surprise us all like a rabbit from a magician’s hat and everyone burst like fireworks into jubilant applause.

The attention must have been pretty surprising to Barry, because she got kind of red in the face and for a moment it looked like she was going to turtle-up on us, but she didn’t. In the blink of an eye, she transformed from a shy, middle-aged woman to stand-up comedian with boundless energy.

“I always sweat enormous amounts when I get nervous,” she said, fanning herself with her shirt. “And I always think the best thing to do when I am nervous is sing,” she explained, and began a most elegant tune, “I was born a meat-cutter’s daughter.”

The song was like much of Barry’s work, which tends to have an autobiographical bent. It also had her trademark sense of humor, so often wielded to cut to the center of many a dark and difficult subject with such grace that the reader is left open-mouthed.

But anyway, this hard-nosed reporter desperately wants to get to the heart of things, to the meat of Ms. Funk-Lord’s imparted wisdom. And that was: Writing! Play! Images! Jokes ’n Jokes ’n Jokes!

“Writing is like flying, time traveling, turning invisible.... Kids do these things all the time, but adults aren’t allowed to play. Dancing, singing and drawing are all things adults think are best left to professionals... like Jessica Simpson,” she said.

It was at this point that I realized Barry was not wearing any shoes. She shifted back and forth on her tiny white feet, lamenting the adult condition where fun stops at exercising in green spandex.

“Oh, it’s too late for me, man,” she said, impersonating the jaded coming-of-ager who believes the well of creativity has dried up. “I’m already 18.”

Barry suggested that a person’s first artwork is their favorite stuffed animal or imaginary friend.

“By age six, most kids know their stuffed animals aren’t alive. But if you ask the kid if his bunny is dead, the kid would say (if kids could say this), ‘Fuck no, bunny’s not dead!’”

Instead of writing stories that are “imaginary friends” like those children create, Barry said that “we” — those who make up the misguided realm of adulthood — write stories that “will get the most people to make out with you.”

In saying so, Barry called out you, me and your mother on all the sick, twisted games we are willing to play for a little poon-tang — it was simultaneously embarrassing, endearing and dizzyingly hilarious. The kind of joke we’re all in on, and it feels gooood.

As an aside, I would like to add that this article is this reporter’s first, last and best strategy, so (pleasepleaseplease) bow down before my sexual prowess (pleasepleaseplease — I’m on Facebook!)

Clearly, this lady does not mince words. In her lecture and in her work, she presents social situations with the kind of stark honesty that is surprisingly therapeutic and makes this reporter howl like a hyena.

So, if you are not concentrating on all the booty you’re going to be getting from your various love interests when you are in the midst of the creative process, what on earth should you be thinking about? Images, baby, yeah.

To support her very sexy, I mean, very perceptive point, Barry spoke of a friend who was very excited to find his old journals from high school, but was disappointed to find that they contained nothing but feelings, feelings, feelings.

“He said it was like watching the battle of Waterloo, only it was shot by a monkey,” she said, then pretending to be that monkey, “there’s something about being specific.”

With a most attractive, ahem, example, she had everyone in the room imagine their life through specific objects. First it was a car, then it was other people’s moms.

“We all have it in us,” she said, radiating magical positive feeling, good vibes and her most adorable, trademark hairdo.

As for editing, we do that all the time. Barry likened editing to the “I should have said that” feeling we get when we freeze with embarrassment or when someone pisses us off. Barry followed this up by telling an unfortunate tale involving, her, a hot dog and a “skin regiment.”

Long story short, while standing at the makeup counter waiting for her beauty products, she happened to lean over, causing a huge glob of dill relish from the hot dog she ate for lunch earlier that day to fall out of her pocket onto the table. Pretty embarrassing, right? But here is where the magic of editing comes into play — instead of walking away shame-faced, she looks up like the relish fell from the sky or (my personal favorite) gets in a defensive stance and shouts, “How do you like me now!”

Editing is once again a kind of therapy, using one’s imagination to feel better — a perfect kind of message from a perfect kind of woman.

Toward the end of her lecture, Barry spoke about the dangers of falling under the control of your own self-doubt. She pretended to be that “asshole” voice in her head, personifying it as a big dude leaning over her shoulder in a bar who keeps saying, “It sucks. That’s so stoo-pid.”

“I wouldn’t listen to that kind of person in real life, so why do I listen to him when he’s in my head?” Everyone laughed in recognition.

By the time she started reading from her novel Cruddy, Lynda Will-You-Marry-Me Barry had the room gushing, and one reporter nearly swooning from all the good vibes.

It was better than a good lecture; Barry let us in on all her little secrets on how to really groove on life. She is full of important messages, like “Truth Plus Magical Love Equals Freedom,” and if you didn’t already know this, you gotta tune in. She’ll totally freak you in a far out kind of way, man.


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