Lynda Barry, in person


I wrote a while back about Lynda Barry, the illustrator / writer. Well, she came to the Rhode Island School of Design on January 14 – my friend Sylvia, who works there, was good enough to let me know – and I went to her presentation.

Kids, Lynda Barry is amazing.

She talked about “images.” What’s an image? It’s the thing that children create when they play. It’s an imaginary friend. It’s a binkie. It’s a stuffed animal that you can’t live without. It’s your first crush (come on, you can remember his / her name without even thinking, can’t you?). It’s your first telephone number, which you can still probably remember, and which gives you a little thrill of warmth when you remember it.


Lynda has been partnering with scientists at the University of Wisconsin about these questions. They have found that adults in a state of “creative concentration” and children in a state of “deep play” have similar fMRIs.

She is very funny, and much of her presentation was in anecdote form. Here’s one of the core anecdotes:

She and her husband live in rural Wisconsin. Most of their friends are serious and humorless. But, if one brings a small child into the group, they begin to play with the child. They draw, and sing, and dance for the child. (“I wish,” Lynda said, “I could remove the child. I just want to see the adults dancing and singing, sometimes.”) If you ask them why they’re so carefree with children, sometimes they say: “Children aren’t judgmental.” To which Lynda says: “Nope. Children are incredibly judgmental.”

This is Lynda Barry’s assessment of the situation (I paraphrase, because I can’t quite remember her actual words): “The adults are speaking to the children in the language of play. It’s the basic language. It’s the language that comes before language.”


And then she recited a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, and then she told us a joke about balls.

This is what higher education is really all about.

About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: