Lynda Barry is really getting under my skin with her book Syllabus. I can only read a few pages at a time because of the extent to which it hurts my brain. Academics are fairly rational, linear thinkers, and so are writers. We deal in words, after all, and words come one after another, left to right, on the page. LyndaBarryBut here’s a writer and academic teaching a college course whose syllabi are. . .cartoons. Scribbles. Thought bubbles. Doodles.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard of Lynda Barry, actually. A decade ago now, two of my dear writer friends had taken a workshop with her here in Toronto and were singing her praises, and–as per her advice–had taken to keeping a doodle pad beside them as they wrote. Whenever you lift the pen from the writing notebook, she’d taught them, you lower it to the doodle pad and draw.

The careful, tight spiral, in particular, is a doodle that aids the free flow of inspiration. Drawing spirals helps hush the griping Inner Critic (the one who chants, “your story is stupid, you should be answering email right now” whenever you sit down to write) and reintegrates the left brain with the right.

Syllabus is making me think about the rules I follow as a professor, too, and the rules I set for my students. I wonder, what might constitute “colouring outside the lines,” in an English classroom? And what might happen if I encouraged it?

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