This Blog is My Composition Book.

Syllabus by Lynda Berry

Confession: I hate composition books.  I find them hard to keep open unless you lean your elbow on them just the right way which seems incredibly awkward. The lines are almost never college rule, but wide, and it makes me feel like my handwriting is some behemoth come to mammoth the page with its dense, dark script. RAWR!  In high school, my Mom bought me the “special” comp books that had a more rad design, but the still hard cardboard front with the scientific table in the beginning.  I always wanted to be “unique,” which really just meant against everything else that was boxed.  If she did buy the marble cover, because it was ten cents at Target, and “what a deal,” I would color weird designs into the marble until they all just blended to black together.  Hey, maybe I do like a composition book.  Maybe what ruined it was that Target started carrying Green Room notebooks and I was hooked by the subtle dotted lines.

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Breakfast with Lynda Berry

Now, everyone keeps a bullet journal.

Or a planner.

Enters a challenge on Instagram.

Takes up calligraphy.

Never doodles in the margins.

Only around the top of the page or just enough next to the amount of water you drank that day.

Copies doodles from pages of Pinterest flower doodles.

Fro, Age four, sleeping on my (note)book.

Fro, Age four, sleeping on my (note)book.

I’m not making fun of these people because I am one.  I totally google font alphabets and try to write like those talented enough to create them.  I practice fonts and get disappointed when the pen smudges, or I mess up the a in the second word, three letters in and I have to turn the page and start over.

My small human heart is full of unfinished notebooks.

And then I read Lynda Berry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor.

Image from Open Culture (on Lynda Berry’s book)

In the way that I’m constantly trying to get my students to view the world in a thousand different ways, letting go of their bias (and mine) and being thoughtful global citizens, so is Lynda Berry in syllabus.  It is kind of a working syllabus for her art class that blends memory, drawing, and writing as one immovable force and that we use all three when dealing with any creative juncture.  She teaches students to to go back to childhood before our inner egos took over the page.  She draws robots, Star Wars characters, monkeys with bandanas, smoking skulls, miniatures who talk, shouting angels, all over the pages of these notes in a composition book that she then leads and leaves with her students.  She taught me that we draw the best, and the most clear, and we write the best, and the most clear, when we are forgetting completely that we are drawing or writing.  She has students draw spirals while they think about something the need to remember or watch a film.

Image from chapmancommunityoutreach.wordpress.com

Truly, she is my bow-down queen of doodling. Doodle without thinking about it.  If it ends up as a toucan in a dress with flower petal hands, let her grow.  She says we don’t know what’s there until it appears fully on the page. And that the art doesn’t care whether we’ve assigned it a title like “ugly” because it doesn’t know, it just keeps on flexing. (I wish humans could take a notion from art, brush it off, literally and figuratively).

I love how she seamlessly blends the mind with the art. She has students memorize Emily Dickinson poems, watch films on the sides of the brain, draw people using only simple shapes.  I think this is a great book on philosophy, on art, and it’s a fabulous book to use in the Language Arts classroom.  That is the debate though, isn’t it, what part of English (study) is language and what part art? Are they equal? What would that pie chart look like?

My favorite image because I feel like Lynda Berry and I are two of a kind.

My favorite image because I feel like Lynda Berry and I are two of a kind.

Lynda Berry also has a quirky little Tumblr for this class (that she currently still teachers) called The Near Sighted Monkey.  I love all the exercises for writing and drawing on here.  I plan to doodle my syllabus this year for my class.  Anyone truly interested in their own art should read this book.  It’s a book on quieting that inner critic, and returning to childhood where everything you drew, that mass of green circles, turned magically into a spinning bird before the eyes of the beholder.

Ps. the pages are chaotic and the might make you near-sighted, but it’s worth reading every little smidgen of the page.

5 thoughts on “This Blog is My Composition Book.

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    I love composition notebooks! I love them a lot, and I always buy them college-ruled. This looks amazing, but I could never be an amazing doodler like Lynda Barry. I can’t draw for shit. I can barely draw a stick table in proper perspective. :p

    • Cassie says:

      That’s the best part of this book. You can TOTALLY suck and it’s okay. Lynda Berry says she “loves” bad drawings because they’re so hard to trace which makes them very unique and one of a kind. It was super encouraging for a sad artist like myself too :)

  2. james b chester says:

    You should make your own composition books. I’ve been making my own for years. There’s several good ways to make one that will lie flat. Try taping six or seven manilla file folders together at the edges to make one long strip, then fold them up accordion style (back and forth) into a book. You can write/draw on both sides for quite a while before you run out of room. I’ve did this with my students several time with success.

    I have not read this one, but I have enjoyed Lynda Barry’s other books. I think she’s a bit disingenuous about how spontaneous (doodle-like) her artwork is. I find her pages to be very carefully planned, at least in the published state. Still, she does have many useful ideas for making art and for writing.

    I think your students will enjoy having doodles on their syllabus next year.

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