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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.