9 things I saw while walking in the park

I am usually an introspective walker. While I walk, I’m often more alive to my thoughts, feelings and daydreams than to the things that are going on around me. 

When I went for a walk in the park today, I had the idea to notice a few things and make a comic about what I saw when I got home. 

This totally transformed my walk! I noticed so many things – things too numerous to make it into the comic in the end. Life was running towards me, laughing and playing and kicking the ball across the field. 

Inspired by the quick timed drawings we did on Writing the Unthinkable with Lynda Barry, I spent a minute on each scene. The result is less ‘clean’ but more alive. I also had way more fun with it. There’s nothing like the seconds counting down to put some juice into your pen.

I was also inspired by the list comics we made in Summer Pierre’s Writing and Drawing Comics e-course earlier this year. (If you have ever wanted to take a comics class, I can’t recommend this class heartily enough. Summer Pierre is an awesome, enthusiastic and inspiring teacher. And there’s a new class starting on September 12th!)

I got to enjoy my walk twice today. Once while I was walking and again while I was making this comic. 

Fancy having two walks for the price of one? 

  • Next time you go for a walk, notice a few things. See what catches your attention. Nothing is too ordinary, nothing is too weird! 
  • When you get home, list a few of the things you remember. 
  • Spend a minute drawing each one. 
  • Enjoy your walk all over again!

The self-portraits of ‘Igor Stravinsky’

Self portrait July 25Self portrait July 26

It’s been two weeks since ‘Writing the Unthinkable’ with Lynda Barry. And what an incredible experience it was: 5 days in a room with the rockstar hero of my creative world! Writing, drawing, looking, listening, laughing, crying, and doing it all over again.

Self portrait July 27On the train ride back down the Hudson the day the workshop ended, I felt I was returning home with a sack full of treasure I would be enjoying for a long time to come. Since then, I’ve been wondering how to begin unpacking this treasure.

Like all good stories, why not start at the beginning…

One of the first things we did each day was to ‘take attendance’. We took a blank index card and drew a frame. At the top of the card we wrote our camp name (more on this in a moment!) and the date. We then had 2 minutes to draw a self-portrait, making sure to include the whole body.

Self portrait July 28This was a wonderful start to the day. Before we knew it, our hands were in motion and we were already making contact with ‘the back of the mind’ where all the good stuff is!

The first morning, Lynda invited us to choose a camp name for the duration of the workshop. During lunch I considered all sorts of names, but none of them seemed to fit.

Then I remembered a movie I had seen the week before about Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky and I started to laugh out loud in the dining hall. Yes! Igor Stravinsky! That was it! The name was alive. And I felt alive just thinking about it.

At the center of everything we call ‘the arts,’ and children call ‘play,’ is something which seems somehow alive.
― Lynda Barry, What It Is

Self portrait July 29This was one of many such moments during the week when a drawing or a story or a character made me want to laugh or dance or cry with recognition.

Having a camp name was very freeing. It gave me the feeling I could step outside what I normally think I can and can’t do, can and can’t be.

To add to this sense of expanding possibilities, we drew ourselves as fruits and vegetables, royalty, and monsters. We drew ourselves deep beneath the sea, up in outer space, and dancing our asses off at a disco.

We hung our attendance cards on the walls of the workshop room. Pretty soon, the wall was covered with hundreds and hundreds of drawings. The space felt rich and alive and full of energy. Did we really produce all this work? Walking around the space, looking at our gallery of self-portraits, it was incredible to see how the drawings grew even more alive as the week progressed.


Lynda dared us to find a ‘bad drawing’ among the lot. It wasn’t possible! And during the week we got to see that there’s no such thing as a bad drawing. Here’s a page from Lynda Barry’s Syllabus that asks, ‘What is a bad drawing?’:

what is a bad drawing?

Syllabus is an incredible resource, filled with course notes from years of Lynda Barry’s classes and workshops. Many of the exercises we did during ‘Writing the Unthinkable’ are in there!

Drawing a self-portrait on an index card is a great thing to do before starting any creative work. In fact, its probably a great thing to do before starting anything at all. Why not give it a go?

A Rainbow of Fire

Your Bobba embroidered that tablecloth with a rainbow of fire, showed the world she was more than just a simple country girl.

Years ago you gave it to your sister, thinking her the collector of heirlooms, thinking you – Lady of Zen – could live without a past.

Now, whether you like it or not, the ancestors have come to sit at your table, to bless the golden loaves, the goblets of wine.


Lost in the forest

Lost in the forest

I’ve been thinking lately about the huge benefits to wellbeing that come from making art. Sure enough, by making a comic about feeling lost, I no longer feel quite so lost. I reckon, this is pretty close to magic.


IMG_1020* * *

We took hurried turns on the payphone in the communal hallway, our chit-chat punctuated with drips from the leaky bath upstairs.

I don’t remember who it was that pestered me to get off the damn phone or what it was I muttered under my breath as I hung up and walked away.

But I can still hear the sound behind me, loud as an explosion, and the chair smashed under the weight of all that plaster, all those drops of water, all that time.

* * *

A little goes a long way

4 daily diary pics

The day has been filled with moments far more interesting than I first imagined…

With a house move and renovation on the go, it has seemed lately like there is little time for creativity. Then I remembered the magic that is Lynda Barry’s 4-minute diary. I spent some time over the winter practicing this every day and it has felt so good to return to it.

Tea with an old friend

There’s nothing like sharing a cup of tea with an old friend.

Here’s how it goes:

  • Spend 2 minutes listing what you did during the day.
  • Spend 2 minutes listing what you saw during the day.
  • Write down something you overheard. 
  • Do a quick drawing. (The 4-minute version includes a 30 second drawing. This time around, I took a little longer for this part.)

These few minutes have the effect of turning the whole day into a space of creative possibility.

Often, when I sit down to write about the day, it seems as though nothing “special” has happened. By the time I have made my two lists of the things I did and saw, there is always something I feel excited to draw. Making pictures of these moments, I am able to enjoy them in a new way. And I realise that the day has been filled with moments far more interesting than I first imagined.

Here’s a video of Lynda Barry talking through a timed version of the 4-minute diary. Why not give it a go?

Sometimes a little bit of creativity goes a long way!


Targets and teamwork: how to complete a daily writing challenge

NaPoWriMo 2

I am THRILLED to be featured on the Write-Track blog, together with my writing buddy, the fabulous Christine Cochrane! Join us for a conversation about taking part in this year’s NaPoWriMo, including the challenges we faced and how we supported each other along the way. Plus: CARTOONS!

What keeps us going as writers? Staring alone at the blank page doesn’t always work; sometimes it’s about targets and teamwork. Christine Cochrane and Divyam Chaya Bernstein are two writers who recently completed the daily writing challenge NaPoWriMo. They tell us how they supported each other along the way.

Read the full article here: Targets and teamwork: how to complete a daily writing challenge

An Invitation

Will you join
the year long
rose and honey

* * *

This week, I am exploring the 10 word poem. I called the first one A 10 word poem. I figured I better give this one a title!

Reaching Into Boxes

Truth is a small-headed brush

It takes time
to brush the spaces,
months between my teeth.

Truth is a small-headed brush
cleaning silently
through the night.

When I was a student
I could fit everything I owned
into these little indentations.

What happened?
I am not
a proper girl.

The thing I love most,
more than my clothes,
is my decay.

* * *

I wasn’t planning on writing any poems this week. I was on vacation from poem-writing after the month-long poetry party that was April. Also, I am moving house this week and knee deep in boxes. But poems love such moments!

Late at night, having just cleaned my teeth, I felt drawn to the split page technique I used for Dream Macaroni. (One of my favourite poems from this year’s NaPoWriMo.)  I love the strange atmosphere this technique creates – surreal and yet true.

Take an A4 piece of lined paper and fold it down the middle. Write a topic heading at the top of one side of the paper and then write a contrasting topic heading at the top of the other. For each of your headings, free-write as much as you can around the topic. Now unfold your piece of paper and read across from left to right. Can you make any sense? Now write a poem in which you connect two things which might, at first glance, seem very different or not connected at all.

— Helen Mort, from Poetry and the Brain.

Source: The Poetry School

The two subjects for this poem are – not surprisingly – dental hygiene and moving house.

That Question in Your Throat

I am thinking about the future
you invented
at the bottom of your coffee cup.

I am thinking about the dreams
given to you
by the mountain slavs.

I am thinking about the language
you created
to speak your secrets.

I am thinking about the dark stone
on the ocean floor
burrowing towards the light.

Don’t die with that question in your throat.

* * *

Today I used the same technique as I did for The Goose Girl. It was taught to me by Barbara Marsh on Writing Poetry: Experiments in Choice and Chance. The technique: choose a poem that you do not know well, preferably one that you have never read before. After each line of the poem, write your own in response. Then lift out your own lines and use them as the basis for a new poem.

The poem I used as my starting point was Why Are Your Poems so Dark? by Linda Pastan.

The Light Under the Door

They are in light.
I am in darkness.
I see the thin strip
of light
under the door.
It is not enough.
I am new
to this world.
I do not know
there is a tomorrow.
I only know
they have cast me away.
I cry for them to come
but they don’t come.
I rock towards them
in my little boat.
They find me
almost at the door.
They tie my cot
to the radiator.
I rock so hard,
I pull it
from the wall.
I am the will to live.
I am a plant
reaching through dark soil
towards the sun.
I will burst through
the hard shell of myself.
I will even burst
through concrete.
Include me.
Include me.
Include me
in the circle of light.

Dream Macaroni

eating macaroni

It seems as though the recipe is simple.
When you enter it you’ll be surprised;
the macaroni is a part of you
trying to communicate with water.

You were not really listening at cookery school;
to make a smooth sauce
you have to keep stirring time.
You have to dream like a pro.

It’s important to have a crunchy top,
light shining through breadcrumbs,
revealing the things that bubble away
beneath the cold salad of your mind.

Bathe in the atmosphere,
in the incredible cooking
of your own depths —
you can’t go wrong.

* * *

The prompt for today’s poem came from The Poetry School:

Take an A4 piece of lined paper and fold it down the middle. Write a topic heading at the top of one side of the paper and then write a contrasting topic heading at the top of the other. For each of your headings, free-write as much as you can around the topic. Now unfold your piece of paper and read across from left to right. Can you make any sense? Now write a poem in which you connect two things which might, at first glance, seem very different or not connected at all.

— Helen Mort, from Poetry and the Brain.

My two topics were dreamwork and macaroni cheese.