Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cruddy by Lynda Barry, also What It Is

Cruddy by Lynda Barry

Just so you know, published in 1999 and I'm pretty sure never classified as YA, despite the fact that the protagonist is 16 in present time and 11 in the back story. Not the book for everyone. In fact most of my bookclub could not palate it. But it is a book for me. Murders, blood, stench, alcohol, smoking, drugs and a little sex. But really, if you can get past all that, what I liked was the character of Roberta. All of the horrible action was interpreted through her eyes and Lynda Barry stayed there with her. Roberta was smart and interesting, sometimes surprising and mostly tough and distant.

Lynda Barry has a writing book that I really love called What It Is. Essentially it chronicles her writing life through cartoons and examines what an image is at the same time and experiments with how to find one for yourself. It culminates in a grand writing exercise. For me, it has been really useful, a beautiful resource for writing and teaching. And because Ms. Barry refers to her own childhood in it, it provides some insight into her fiction. Which is perhaps necessary to appreciate Cruddy when everyone around you doesn't like it much. (I myself don't bother to finish reading things when I am not getting much out of them, so I can hardly fault my fellow bookclubbers for not getting past the shock value in this book. But I did respond defensively to their inability to see through it. I have to examine this judgment of mine....)

As a teacher I am interested in writing as a therapeutic exercise particularly where mindfulness is concerned. And as a writer I think mindfulness and creativity go hand in hand. I have uses Lynda Barry's writing exercises with a teen writing group I lead, where we write Natalie Goldberg style (practicing mindfulness) and take turns reading. This is always extremely fun and everyone comes back for more. Listening to each other and resonating with something from their piece is also a practice in mindfulness, an exercise in responding to others' work and I believe it breeds creativity and voice. And perhaps speaks to how Roberta from Cruddy was made.

In Cruddy I felt the dream-state Ms. Barry had entered, a over-the-top world that Roberta responded to with aplomb, humor, and we get a sense of her pain despite her hard exterior. I hope to someday make a character that is so interesting.

As Always(not doing justice to my feelings),