'What It Is' Plumbs the Depths of Creativity Illustrator Lynda Barry has questions: What is an image? Where is your imagination? What is an imaginary friend, and are there imaginary enemies? Can you have thoughts without language? Barry grapples with these ideas and more in her new book of collages, What It Is.
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'What It Is' Plumbs the Depths of Creativity

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Lynda Barry has questions. What is an image? Where is your imagination? What is an imaginary friend and are there imaginary enemies? Can we remember something we can't imagine? Is reminded the same as remembered? Can you have thoughts without language? When did you first notice you were bad at something and then what happened? And here's a question for listeners today. How come so few of us tell stories with words and pictures when almost all of us did that when we were kids? Tell us your story. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org, and you can join the conversation on our blog npr.org/blogofthenation.

Later in the program, answers to some very old questions about Stonehenge. But first, Lynda Barry, who by her own description has worked as a painter, cartoonist, writer, illustrator, playwright, editor, commentator and teacher, and found that they are very much alike. Her new book is called "What It Is," and she joins us today from the studios of Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison. Hey, Lynda.

Ms. BARRY: Hi. It's nice to be here.

CONAN: When was the first time you noticed that you were bad at something?

Ms. BARRY: It was a hula-hoop contest and I got third place but there were only three people in the contest. But I was - I mean, I thought, I should be able to do this. You know, everybody else can do it. And I think that was the hula-hoop contest that let me know. And I'm still pretty bad at the hula-hoop.

CONAN: Nevertheless, you'd been taking hula lessons for many years. You should have been a natural.

Ms. BARRY: Well, that's what I thought, too. I took Hawaiian dancing lessons twice a week for six years and partially it was because nobody around bothered to tell me there was no job waiting for me as a hula dancer when I got older, because I looked sort of like Alfred E. Newman - well, a female. Alfreda E. Newman. But I really loved doing the hula and we had a really cool Hawaiian dancing teacher. And I just thought everybody took hula lessons all over the country, but apparently not.

CONAN: It turns out with a hula-hoop, those hand motions aren't so important.

Ms. BARRY: The hula-hoop and the hula have nothing to do with each other.

CONAN: In your book though, you write about an incident that happened in class. I guess you were in fifth grade or so. And they were putting up kids' artwork on the wall, and the first time they picked one, one of yours was one of the ones that was picked.

Ms. BARRY: Right. It was the one about the lady diving in the volcano.

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. BARRY: Which was something that I thought I was prepared to do when I was younger. Because I had heard, you know, I had seen this movie, "Kalua." I think that's what it was called. And it was about how the gods got really angry and they were going to blow up the whole mountain and they had to have a girl who was going to do something brave to save the whole island. And there weren't that many jobs for girls to do something brave to save a whole island. So this lady had to jump in the lava, you know, while her boyfriend watched, while everybody was trying to hold him back. And I thought, I'm prepared to do that. I am prepared to do that for I didn't know what, but for my school, I didn't know what, my neighborhood. I was prepared to jump into the lava. So I drew a picture of it.

CONAN: And that got put up on the bulletin board...

Ms. BARRY: That got put up on the bulletin board.

CONAN: The next one though, didn't.

Ms. BARRY: No. No, and that was sort of the beginning of starting to - you know, there's this thing when kids draw, the experience of actually drawing or making a picture is one thing. Then what happens with the picture afterwards is a whole other thing. And I remember my brother, Michael, he used to love to draw war pictures. He used to love to do that thing where he would take a piece of notebook paper and draw a line down one side and all these stick men on the other side. And then a bunch of stick men on the other.

And then he'd do that thing, which every kid knows about, which is that you eat a bowl of cereal and you go into that weird cereal trance while you're just staring at something you did. Have you noticed, do you remember going into a cereal trance? Like you just look at the side of a box of cereal and every word on it looked like poetry, like "dextrose." I'm going to name my first baby dextrose. You know what I mean, it's just like that cereal trance.

So he'd do that and then afterwards he'd start the war with like a red crayon and he'd blow stuff up and he'd do all the sound effects. And when he was done, that piece of paper covered with his drawings didn't mean anything to him. The experience had already happened.

But something happens to us as we get a little older. We would never - adults would never consider doing all of those things on a piece of paper and then just throwing it away afterwards. In fact, unless it's valuable afterwards, most adults don't think the experience was worth it. So that's kind of what the book is about. It's about what happens. What happens to that creative urge.

CONAN: What happens. Well, the difference, as you put in the book, the difference between play and fun.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah. That's one of the things I feel like as adults we get confused about, where we confuse the words play and fun. And if you look at a kid when they're really engaged in play, they don't look like they're having fun. They don't look like they're having a bad time. But they don't look like they're having fun. But one of the things, there have been these - you know how they can hook all kinds of stuff onto our brains and like they can chart blood flow in the brains?

CONAN: Sure. CAT scans and that sort of stuff.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah. Although they say that the part of the brain lights up, which I really wish it did because it would be really cool if it did light up, but it doesn't. But anyway, I've read some studies where they have kids who are involved in deep play and adults involved in creative concentration, that the blood flow in the brain is really similar. And I started to get interested in that because I think that creative work, which becomes an elective after seventh grade, I think it has a lot to do with mental health.

And the way that I explain that is one thing that seems to be universally understood, all around the world, is that if you had a kid, you had this baby - I had a baby, little Timmy. And I say, Timmy, I'm going to give you everything that you could ever want in your whole life except you will not be allowed to play until you are eighteen years old. What do you know about that kid? I mean, almost everyone around the world can tell you that kid would be crazy.

CONAN: Yeah. All his neighbors would say he was such a quiet young man.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah. That's the one that tells you you can smell clams through the dirt and is up on the tower with the gun. I mean, that's - you go crazy.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Ms. BARRY: And what if I said, Timmy, you can't play but I'm going to show you a video of a kid playing, or I'm going to take you to watch this Lego master. You can watch him live, you can be right up front and watch him. That doesn't help either. And I feel like as adults, that's kind of where we are. Where we just don't - we all wish we could sing or we wish we could draw or we wish we could do this stuff. But mainly, we feel like it's something that's best left to professionals like Jessica Simpson or something. We'll just watch and that the only singing that's left to us is "Happy Birthday," which we sing like the Volga Boatman. You know, happy birthday to...You know what I mean.

CONAN: Yeah. Old line after three or four glasses.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah, or "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," and then that's it. And dancing, there's hardly any dancing left, and the only movement that's allowed for adults is exercise, which is the saddest movement of all time. And you have to wear an outfit so people can tell what you're doing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Yeah, because if you just start doing movements in the streets, people will think you're nuts, but if you have on some cool Nike outfit then they'll say, is that the new Pilates? And so I started to get interested in why is it that we all wish we could do these things and why don't we? Because there's nobody stopping us, you know. So I started to teach a writing class and that's how this book came about, from teaching that class.

CONAN: The book is called "What It Is." We're talking with author Lynda Barry. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. Email, talk@npr.org. Why is it that when so many of us as kids were able to tell stories with words and pictures, so few of us do it now? Let's start with William. William is with us from Nashville in Tennessee.

WILLIAM (Caller): Oh. Hi, Lynda.

Ms. BARRY: Hi, William.

WILLIAM: Geez, this is so great. I'm very happy to talk to you.

Ms. BARRY: All right.

WILLIAM: I'm a songwriter and it occurred to me a while back that the biggest enemy that I have is censoring myself. You know, I write something and I go, geez, I don't want somebody to hear that. You know? And the idea of getting over that is really very hard.

Ms. BARRY: It is.

WILLIAM: If you want to please people.

Ms. BARRY: It's true, but I'd sure love to hear an album of just songs that you think no one should ever hear. I think that would be a really good album. And songwriting...

WILLIAM: I could, I could put it together.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAM: I've had a few cuts, you know, I have. I really have. And those have been the uncensored ones. Those have been the ones that I didn't censor myself because I couldn't. It was just too strong and it was coming out.

Ms. BARRY: That's the - yeah, that's the part about it is I don't think it comes from thinking. I mean, it comes from - wouldn't you feel it comes from the back of the mind? Particularly with songwriting because it's a whole other thing. Because it's words and tune and rhythm. I mean, that's like - that has it all.

WILLIAM: Well, theoretically, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAM: But yeah, that's right. If you can disconnect your brain, then you're actually doing it. But you have to do a lot of work to get to that point.

Ms. BARRY: Or you have to just - I mean, well, as a teacher, I feel all you have to do is make a specific amount of time and make it a little shorter than you would like to write something. I mean, it seems counter-intuitive but if you limit the amount of time that you work, it seems like that actually provides structure. And song writing, too, I find, is interesting because you - you know how you misinterpret lyrics sometimes?

WILLIAM: Yeah.

Ms. BARRY: Like there was this one song by the Young Rascals that was "Groovin." And it went, that would be ecstasy, you and me and Leslie. Groovin.

WILLIAM: Right. Yeah.

Ms. BARRY: Right? So I thought, you know, I didn't know who Leslie was but that sounded really good to me. And when I got older, I realized it wasn't you and me and Leslie, it was you and me endlessly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: So, but which is the better lyric? It's Leslie, right?

CONAN: Well, I..

WILLIAM: I know which one was better for you though, and that's really cool.

CONAN: I always wondered why sweet dreams were made of cheese.

Ms. BARRY: Yes, but when you look at something like that would be ecstasy, you and me and Leslie, or that would be ecstasy, you and me endlessly groovin. One's an image and one isn't. And an editor, which is the one they'd take out? They'd take out Leslie. They'd say Leslie wasn't properly introduced in the song and doesn't reappear.

So it's funny. It's that back of the mind stuff. Like that Bo Didley song that you played Where he talks about how it's a love song, and he's singing to this lady and he sang, I got a new house made of rattlesnake hide, and he has a chimney made of a human skull. Tell me, who do you love? I mean, it's like - that's an image.

CONAN: That's an image.

Ms. BARRY: You know, it doesn't necessarily make logical sense but there's something about it that makes us feel better. And I think that that's what this stuff is all about. I think it's connected to mental health. Not entertainment. I think it's mental health.

WILLIAM: Right. I think you're right. I'm so happy to hear you on the radio. I'm really glad to hear this. And I think there's something in all of us, that is, you know, yearning to express something that we're not sure what it is. And you can't really come to it beforehand.

Ms. BARRY: That's right.

CONAN: And we're going to enter that moment of sublime creativity known as the station break. William, thanks very much for the call.

WILLIAM: Yeah, thanks, Neal.

CONAN: We're talking with cartoonist and author Lynda Barry. Her new book is called "What It Is." If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Listen up, grownups. Lynda Barry has written a picture book just for you, and she's with us today to talk about it. The artist, author and teacher's new book is called "What It Is," and you can see some of those images at a photo gallery at our web site at npr.org/talk.

And we have a question for all of you today. How come so few of us tell stories with words and pictures when almost all of us did that when we were kids? 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And you can check out our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Now let's get another caller on the line. This is Walt, Walt with us from Barrion Springs in Michigan.

WALT (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

WALT: Yeah. I think some of the creativity we have as children is stifled by the way we were educated, or at least in my case. I've just recently retired so I'm one of these baby boomers you were talking about in the previous segment. And you tend to - we tend to have been educated into go get a job, earn some money, buy a house, so forth and so on, so you go to the job everyday to earn the money, and you don't have a channel for creation. Some people try to write poetry, some people try to write music on the side, but most of the time you just don't have time and you get side-tracked, is the best way I can put it.

Ms. BARRY: I agree with that. And I think that there's more and more emphasis on not actually using our hands and fingers. And when I teach writing, I always try to get people to do it by hand because I think that just in terms of evolution, I think that our hands and our brains and the back of our minds all developed at the same time, and so I feel like there's something about making something or putting something together that just makes us feel better. And at the same time, there's this big push to do away with moving our hands or making things by hand, or doing stuff by hand. But I feel just doing something by hand, that alone can make you feel better.

CONAN: And Walt, now that you're retired, are you finding that creative vent again?

WALT: Well, I'm just finding it. I found that there was a big vacuum when I did retire because I wasn't going to work everyday. I got up and I went, well, what do I? What's what's to do? You know? What can I do? And there were tons of projects that I probably should be doing, but none of them interested me creatively. But you can get - it's amazing that you can get creative joy out of something as simple as mowing the lawn. Ms. BARRY: Exactly.

WALT: Or as simple creating a pattern in the grass.

Ms. BARRY: Exactly.

WALT: You let your mind wander, you do a neat job of it. And you look at it after you're done and you say, boy, that really looks nice. And something as simple as that can stimulate the creative urges as well as painting a picture or doing something else.

Ms. BARRY: I agree with you completely, and I think it has to do with moving our bodies. And you know, you can - like you said, just what you've said, you can mow the lawn, you can mow it one way, or you can do it where you start to notice the pattern. But I think it's that back of the mind, letting the back of the mind come forward while we're moving our bodies. And that's the thing that seems to really be missing from adult life.

WALT: Well, it's missing from our high school teenagers. Everybody from I would say fifth or sixth grade on up, we're concentrating on taking tests, passing tests, trying to learn information instead of how to think about information.

CONAN: Well, I'm sorry, that's the wrong answer, Walt. So we're going to have to let you go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

WALT: Yeah.

Ms. BARRY: Thank you, Walt. Keep mowing the lawn in your very creative way.

CONAN: Let's go to Rock. And Rock is with us from Paisin, in Arizona.

ROCK (Caller): Good afternoon, Lynda and Neal.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

Ms. BARRY: Hi, Rock.

ROCK: Hi. I'm calling in. I have a similar background to yours. I taught Art and English for 27 years. Fortunately was able to quit about eleven years ago.

Ms. BARRY: In public school?

ROCK: And now I do art full time. In fact, as we're talking, I'm sitting here painting a picture for a gallery in Jackson Hole.

Ms. BARRY: I'm drawing, too, while we're talking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROCK: It's a commonality, I believe.

CONAN: Lynda, what are you drawing?

Ms. BARRY: I wrote Rock's name, and now I'm drawing these kind of prairie plants. My husband has a - we do prairie restoration where we live, so I'm drawing prairie plants. And it helps me listen.

ROCK: Well, yeah, it helps you concentrate. It really does, helps you focus. I started drawing at age six and I think that in answer to the question for the program today, I know I started doing it primarily because of praise. And you know, little kids will do anything for praise.

Ms. BARRY: Mm hmm.

ROCK: But about age 16 to 18, all of the sudden everything was money-oriented, and it seemed as if it wasn't involved with money, nobody took you serious.

Ms. BARRY: That's right.

ROCK: And you know, even with my parents who were old, old, very, very conservative farmers up in the state of Idaho, they wouldn't even admit their son was an artist until finally I started making money at it.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah, that's true. It seems like as adults, unless what we're doing has value to someone else, we really get the feeling that we shouldn't be doing it.

ROCK: Oh, yes.

Ms. BARRY: Except - unless it's watching television.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROCK: I haven't had a TV - my daughter's forty-two and we haven't had a TV since she was 18 years old, because...

Ms. BARRY: Wow.

ROCK: Because I spent most of my time on the art. But as I tell my clients and the galleries now, I'm one of those very fortunate people, one of very rare people because I, like you, I get paid to play.

Ms. BARRY: You know, in the time of your parents, one of the things that people - the advantage they had is that people did play instruments, that it was very common for people to play musical instruments, and I feel that that is something that's disappeared as well. In my lifetime that's disappeared.

ROCK: Oh, I remember in Nebraska, as a really young kid, sitting around the Player piano and watching my dad put the scrolls in and, you know, my family and the neighbors singing.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah. And those things, I feel - I don't feel like that stuff's decoration. I really feel like it is absolutely attached to mental health and it's a natural antidepressant. And all these things that human beings have done forever, we're a singing and dancing and art-making species. And to have this all now gone and all we are is observers, I think that's one of the reasons we're as crazy as we are.

ROCK: Well, that's one of the reasons why we put off getting a computer. I've seen too many screen zombies in my life.

Ms. BARRY: Well, there's all the difference in the world between drawing the letter A and tapping your finger to make an A.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And for most people, they don't realize they still have the ability to draw. Whenever you're writing by hand, that's drawing. And I feel that there are these little vestigial places where a - well, the arts stay. For example, if you watch somebody trying to remember something, they don't sit very still. They'll move their hands and they'll often make a noise like this, they'll go, umm, uhh, umm.

And I know that when they study the brain, they show that singing is a whole different part of the brain, and there's something about movement and making a noise that isn't speech, that allows you to remember stuff. And so it seems like these things still are there. And also, you can certainly feel them whenever anybody talks to me and finds out that I'm a writer, they always say, oh, I wish I could write, I wish I could write. And I always say, you can. You know, you can.

The trick is to write about something that's unexpected, like an unexpected memory. Like if I was going to ask you to tell the story of your life, if you think of the first ten cars that come to you, and then I say that you're only going to have six minutes. You're going to pick one of those cards and you're only going to have six minutes to write about it. I can ask you specific questions like, say, so think of a car. And I can say, when you're picturing it, are you inside of the car or are you outside of the car? Most people can tell you.

They can tell you what time of day it is. They can tell you what season it is. And you can start to see that images, especially unexpected ones, contain a bunch of information and that when you work from that and you limit the amount of time you work, you can write! And the work sounds good. At least that's been my experience when I'm teaching. And you can do it with any noun. You can do it - there's cards, you can do it with kitchen tables, you can do it with basements. I mean, any noun will do. And gerunds, too. Those are our verbs with I -N-G endings.

CONAN: Rock, thanks very much for the call. And good luck with the art gallery.

ROCK: You're most welcome. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Ms. BARRY: Thanks, Rock.

CONAN: We'll go to Judy. Judy's with us from Kent, Ohio. Judy? You there?

JUDY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Yes. Go ahead, please.

JUDY: Yes, this is Judy. Hello.

CONAN: You're on the air.

Ms. BARRY: Hi, Judy!

JUDY: I'm a doctoral student. Hi there. And I'm doing work on revision, student revision of writing for ninth graders. And one of the things I did was I asked students to revise their writing to make it better, which is what we expect them to do. And then I asked them to revise their writing to make it worse.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah!

JUDY: When I asked them to make it worse, I stole that idea from a national writing project study that we built off of Robert Bracewell's(ph) work, so I don't want to take credit for the idea. But what I found really interesting, and this wasn't in the research before, was when we asked them to make it worse, they drew pictures.

Ms. BARRY: Wow!

CONAN: That's interesting!

Ms. BARRY: That is really interesting.

JUDY: And one of the things I asked them to do after they did the writing was tell me what you did, you know, meta-cognitive ideas of whether it was knowledge or skill. And some of the kids who drew pictures didn't mention that, but many of them said I drew pictures or I drew like a fourth-grader. Things like that.

Ms. BARRY: That's so interesting. That's so interesting!

CONAN: I would have thought, make it worse they would have written news copy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: Well, I think bad writing is really undervalued. I know that when I'm working on something I always try to have two projects on the desk at the same time, so there's the one I'm doing, that's my real important work. And then I have the thing I always call my decoy, like, you know, like a decoy novel.

JUDY: Sure.

Ms. BARRY: And so I work on that and make it as bad as I can. And often, well, it's hard to write really bad. But often that stuff tends to be a lot more lively.

JUDY: I'm looking at historical features these students are addressing, and what I'm finding so fascinating is the concept of voice, the concept of style. An audience comes through in the make it worse far stronger than in the ones when they try to make it better. It's as if we have trained personality out of their writing.

Ms. BARRY: I'm wondering about that idea of audience, too. Because if it's good, it has to be directed towards somebody who would think that you're also good and approve of you. But if it's horrible, then you're - it's like party in your basement, you know? It doesn't really matter.

CONAN: Or singing in the shower, for that matter.

Ms. BARRY: You know, I saw something one time that really opened my eyes. It was at a Renaissance fair which, I don't - that's its own little subject. But there were these two guys who did a scene from "Romeo and Juliet" with garbage that they found on the ground, a cigarette butt and a bottle cap. And they were really good actors but we watched that cigarette butt and that bottle cap like they were really talking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And I became really interested in how human beings are able to just - I mean, we shouldn't worry so much about the form because the reader or the observer brings the other half, you know. So...

JUDY: Yup. Very much. Well, thank you for letting me share.

CONAN: Well, thanks for the call, Judy.

JUDY: OK.

CONAN: Tell us a little bit about the cat who blinked, Lynda Barry.

Ms. BARRY: Oh, you mean the cat that I used to stare at? I had this - and you know, I really remember it vividly from when I was a kid. It seemed to me that things did move around in the room, you know. It took me a long time before I believed that things weren't alive and moving around in the room. But I found that when I was a kid, it was a cat that was actually part of this. There was this bathroom tissue called Northern Bathroom Tissue and there were the Northern Girls. And they were four girls, each representing a season, and they each had an animal.

And this one that was holding a cat, if I sat really still and I made myself very friendly and very, very calm and like I was just a doll in the room, I had to make my eyes go a certain way, I'd see the cat move. And it would just start to move very slightly.

Well now, whenever I - you know, try to meditate and I'm sometimes very successful and sometimes I'm like, am I meditating? I realize it's the same state of mind. It's the exact same state of mind when it's working. It's this kind of broad, open, empty state of mind where something else starts to happen. So I think that those things go on a lot for kids, all the time.

CONAN: We're talking with Lynda Barry. Her new book is called "What It Is." You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

And the first part of the book is - well, it's a lot of biography, but it's a lot of also very provocative questions, as we mentioned at the beginning of the broadcast. The last part of the book is a - well, it's not too much to say it's a workbook.

Ms. BARRY: It is a workbook. In fact, I think of the whole book as kind of a textbook or a workbook. I wanted to find a way to do a book version of the class that I teach. It's this class called "Writing the Unthinkable." I wanted to find a book version of it, but I didn't want it to be just a textbook of how to write because I feel like...

CONAN: It's not a textbook, Lynda.

Ms. BARRY: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

No, it's kind of, it's - I don't even know where they'd shelve this thing in a bookstore or a library because it's lots of pictures. But I wanted to make it more like the back of our mind, you know, the way things come forward. Like you really can't plan a revelation, you know, you can't plan to have an idea. But you can create a playfield where it might land. And so that's what I got interested in.

CONAN: And you give us all of these hints on how to write and how to start drawing. Basically, by not thinking about it. And essentially, it's a little bit of that journalism practice, put a gun to your head, do it in less time than you possibly think you could ever get it done in, and you'll do it!

Ms. BARRY: Yeah. And the main thing is, is it's spontaneous and there isn't a lot of planning. That's the trick that I found with teaching, is that when I give somebody a word - the class a word to work with, the stories seem to form spontaneously. And kids do this all the time.

I was on an airplane one time, drawing, and this little kid who was sitting next to me, he was about eight years old. He saw that I was drawing and we started messing around together and he found out I was a cartoonist and he goes, oh, I have a story for you and you can make a comic of it. I could tell he was making it up right there. And this is how the story went. His name was Jack.

Chicken Attack, by Jack. OK? This is first draft. He's making it up. ..TEXT: One morning a chicken was eaten by a man. The man went to work. His stomach started to feel funny. He went to the port-a-let and then he went. The chicken came out. The man was surprised. The chicken was also surprised. The chicken ran from the port-a-let to the construction site. They put the chicken in charge, and from then on the chicken was boss.

I was like looking at him, like, that story makes no sense, and it's oddly satisfying.

(Soundbite of laughter)

It's like a completely satisfying story and if you wanted to do the literary criticism version of it, you could say there's foreshadowing because he begins by one morning a chicken was eaten by a man.

CONAN: Yes.

Ms. BARRY: You know, so we now know - we have this hint that the chicken might be the protagonist. I mean it's like - but why?

CONAN: Why?

Ms. BARRY: From then on the chicken was boss.

CONAN: He's even got a (unintelligible) there.

Ms. BARRY: I know, or that thing about he went to the port-a-let. I mean, it's those specific things that you don't plan out but they're oddly satisfying. And that's the thing that I feel that when we become adults we don't believe we have that capacity any longer. But we do. We totally do.

CONAN: Let's - we got a minute left, let's see if we can squeeze in one last call. Terry, we have very little time, but I'm sorry for squeezing you, but go ahead, please.

TERRY: Yeah. I just wanted to see if Lynda had any comment on the fact that I feel like, you know, I'm you know almost at the ripe old age of 29, but I feel like I've been able to keep my sense of fun and creativity in my life because I've been very in touch with the comics community. Not just reading but also doing, you know, a little amateur comics on my own.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah! Well, I think comics have it all. They're like music, you know, where they have that same thing of having rhythm and writing and drawing. And I feel like that gets the whole part of your mind going, not just one little part but gets the whole part going.

CONAN: And I'm afraid we're going to have to end it there. Terry, thanks very much for the call and again, I apologize for squeezing you in at the end.

TERRY: Thank you.

CONAN: Lynda Barry, thank you so much.

Ms. BARRY: Oh, it's been really delightful. I hope everybody will just give it a shot. Pick up a pen and write a story. Chicken attack by Jack!

CONAN: Lynda Barry is a cartoonist, teacher and author. Her latest book is "What It Is." You'll find it listed in the graphic textbook section of your library. She's joined us from Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison. You can see a photo gallery of pictures from her book at our web site at npr.org/talk. Coming up next, Stonehenge. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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