Woman Without a Voice

It was my mom who said it best, greeting me at her door with wide eyes one morning during a visit to my hometown.  "Lynda Barry is a genius."  That was when I was carrying Lynda Barry books around with me, so I always had one in the car to share.  There was a time when I'd never heard of Lynda Barry. It was my mother-in-law who first advised me to check her out, so the next time she came to town, I went to the library to see her.

There, in the first row of a packed room was a woman wearing a bandana and round glasses talking to a man about how she never used to be able to visit her friends' art studios because she got too jealous.  But now that she had her own lovely studio, she could visit her friends' studios without wanting to scratch their eyes out.  This was Lynda Barry.

She asked to borrow the chair next to me and then said I looked familiar and asked if we'd met before.  I told her no, that she'd met my mother-in-law, but that my mother-in-law and I don't look anything alike.  Even though it was a mediocre joke, she laughed and I liked that.  She stood and announced that she always sings a song to start because singing is the scariest thing she can think of doing in front of a crowd, so everything after that will seem like a cinch.

Lynda Barry told us many wonderful things, like how she struggled to write a novel for nine years but then decided she had to slow down and the slowest way she could think of to write was with a brush and ink.  And how with brush and ink, she rewrote her novel in nine months and thought she had discovered this amazing new thing until she remembered that the Chinese have been writing with brush and ink for 5,000 years.  Her novel is called Cruddy.  She told us many funny things too, like how this old woman from Brooklyn harangued her about how awful Cruddy is, how she had never read anything so depressing and would she please sign her copy "For my dear friend Sylvia."

Afterwards, I had a thousand things I wanted to talk to Lynda about.  But the room was crowded and the line was long and the library was closing soon.  A young girl standing behind me asked what books I bought.  "All three," I told her and then felt bad because they were expensive books and she only had one so I explained how I used my birthday money to buy them.  She didn't seem to think this was strange, that a 40 year old was still getting birthday money.

"Why did you come to see Lynda Barry?" I asked.

"Because her life is like mine," she said.  She had straight black hair and large mischievous eyes.  From the sounds of it, Lynda didn't have an easy childhood.

"Do you like to draw?" I asked.

The girl nodded.

"Me too," I said.  I pulled a little notebook from my purse.  I opened it and there was an incomplete drawing, a nose, an eye, a mouth.  "I usually finish them," I said.

The girl knew it was a lie.  She was that kind of girl.  "Why do you carry that notebook around?" she asked.

"To write ideas, and draw pictures when I feel like it."

"Oh," said the girl.  I wanted her to be amazed, but she wasn't.

Lynda was taking her own sweet time signing books.  The girl collapsed into a chair.  It was almost 9 o'clock. I wondered if I should let the girl go first.  But I didn't because I was afraid I wouldn't get to tell Lynda the thousand things I needed to tell her before the library closed.

The bald man must have been her best friend.  They talked and laughed and talked some more. Lynda was drawing a radio and musical notes all over a program the man gave her to sign.  When Lynda handed it back to him she asked, "Where did you get those terrific glasses?"  They looked just like the ones she was wearing.

Finally it was my turn.  I talked fast, trying to get it all in.  "I was cursed at a party a few years ago by a guy I didn't even know.  He was asking me about my writing and I was stumbling around trying to say something coherent when he said, 'So you haven't found your voice yet.'"  I wanted Lynda to tell me how to find my voice.

Lynda Barry leaned in, took my hands in hers and said, "You tell him you found your voice in two words:  Fuck You."


  1. I am so happy to have your voice back in my life. Missed it terribly.

  2. if this was facebook I would click 'like'

  3. Thank you for liking me on my hypothetical FB page.

  4. N.D.L.,

    Missing you and the alley society. Thanks for keeping us posted.


  5. I found your blog through Slate--this is a great post. I went to one of Lynda Barry's workshops two weeks ago, and I haven't stopped thinking about the magic she conjured up there.


  6. Diana, Thanks for reading. Glad to hear that you got to attend a Lynda Barry workshop. I have only heard her talk but hope to attend a workshop someday soon!

  7. I just came to your post and reading above thing it is very impressive me and it is very nice blog. Thanks a lot for sharing this.
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    1. Dear Vabna,Thank you for visiting! You definitely should check out Lynda Barry's work. And she's even better in person, laughing and crying her way through dozens of hilarious and mind turning stories.

  8. Okay, I'm sold. Looking up Lynda Barry now.