Doodle Your Way Out Of Writer's Block When it comes to writer's block, author Lynda Barry believes the key to unblocking your thoughts is right in your hands. In her latest graphic memoir, Picture This, she writes,"The worst thing I can do when I'm stuck is to start thinking and stop moving my hands."
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Doodle Your Way Out Of Writer's Block

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Doodle Your Way Out Of Writer's Block

Doodle Your Way Out Of Writer's Block

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

In Lynda Barry's new book, she presents a cycle many writers may be familiar with: Step one, type something. Step two, hate it. Step three, delete it. Step four, feel hopeless - then repeat for 10 years. Most everybody who's ever stared at a blank screen gets writer's block at some point, which is exactly Lynda Barry's point.

As an author, cartoonist and teacher, she believes the key to unblocking your thoughts is right in your hands: stop typing, pick up a brush, put it to paper, and the words and images will start to flow. And she shows us how to do it in "Picture This," part coloring book, part memoir, part art instruction, part art therapy.

If you draw or write by hand, what difference does that make? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Lynda Barry's a cartoonist, teacher and author. Her new book is called "Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book." She joins us from Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison.

Nice to have you back in the program.

Ms. LYNDA BARRY (Author, "Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book"): Oh, I'm really happy to be back.

CONAN: And last time you were on the show, back in, what, a couple of years ago, when "What it Is" came out, you said you were doodling during the interview. Do you have a sketchpad there with you today?

Ms. BARRY: Oh, I surely do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: I just drew a turkey smoking a cigarette. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: A lot of your characters smoke, including the near-sighted monkey.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah, everybody smokes. I mean, in the imaginary world, it's okay to do it. In the real world, it's not so good. It's not so good for you. But in the imaginary world - and also, in a funny way, when people tell me they can't draw or they don't want to draw, all I tell them is try drawing a cigarette on anybody in a magazine, and they always start laughing. And I can tell they always feel better. So I just think, okay, if that's what a cigarette can do, let's just draw a bunch of them, everywhere.

CONAN: Yeah. In fact, you've come up with your own brand of cigarette.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah, called Don't. Smoke Don't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: The imaginary cigarette for the - for imaginary shapes. Yeah. I wanted to kind of piggyback on the idea - you know, in the book, the book is kind of - looks sort of like an activity book for kids.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BARRY: And I wanted to piggyback on the idea of cigarettes being bad for you, this idea of not drawing or not writing or not using the image world that we're kind of - we have with us as being just as bad for you.

CONAN: The image world - there's a section of the book where your two characters are staring at the ceiling. It's a wet spot on the ceiling that the rain is coming through. And seeing images, different characters, different shapes as they emerge and saying, oh, wait. You'll see it when the next car drives past.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: Yeah, I - when I was a little kid, we lived on a street that had cars driving by. And it was amazing watching just that light that would just, like, flood the room and then flood out.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BARRY: You know, you always felt like - I always kind of took it personally - in a nice way. You know, it's like there's the genie coming through or something, which I think is exactly the same thing as when you're staring and looking at a stain.

The fact of the matter is, it is just a stain on the ceiling. But if you shift your mind, or if for - or something happens and your mind is shifted, it turns into this other thing entirely. And what's happening in the brain when that takes place is the stuff that I'm getting more and more interested in, and the value of it.

CONAN: The stuff that happens when you tap in to that ability to see shapes and let the line flow.

Ms. BARRY: Right. Or - it actually happens to us all day long. It's so ordinary that people don't even notice it. But the quickest way I can show it is, it's that same thing when you're walking down the street and suddenly, you know, down through - past the bakery, you smell the smell and there's your Aunt Carol's kitchen...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BARRY: ...and it just comes flooding back. That is an, I think, an extraordinary event, because what happens is the time that you're in, the real time where you're walking down the street is somehow taken over by this flood of this other time in your past that you didn't ask for. And it comes and if -when I say to people, particularly when I'm teaching writing. Because in my feeling now, writing and drawing aren't that different than any - they're not different from each other.

So when I'm teaching writing, what I tell people when they say they wish they could write is, I always say, okay, you know, we were going to freeze frame that moment of Aunt Carol's kitchen, it seems like it's just a picture, but I could ask you to turn around in it and tell me what's to your left and what's to your right, what's behind you. I could ask you to tell me what time of day it was, what season, and you would know the answer to this. And so, this happens all, all day long. I feel like the back of the mind comes forward constantly, even with songs that get stuck in our head.

CONAN: Sure.

Ms. BARRY: And that there's this whole other world that's there with us, the monkey who's driving the car.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: The - our conscious mind doesn't - really doesn't know much else about anything but bananas, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: If it looks like bananas, there - it looks like it might be able to be a banana, then okay. But other than that, we need to roll on.

CONAN: Which brings us to monkeys, who also play a very large part in the book - two of them, in particular. There is the title character, the near-sighted monkey.

Ms. BARRY: Mm-hmm. That's, I'd say, was my alter ego, or maybe I'm its alter ego. The near-sighted monkey is a really bad house guest. That's the first thing that you need to know about her. And she's somebody who hogs the remote, and when you get up to answer the phone, she'll finish your drink. She is...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: She leaves banana peels - she's just a bad health guest. She loves to smoke. But for some reason, whenever I think of her, whenever I was drawing her, I always felt really happy and I always felt like I wanted to keep working. And that's kind of the - whenever I do a book, I'm usually guided by a question or something that I'm trying to tease out. And I was trying to figure out why drawing this dang monkey made me feel so good. And then the other monkey you mentioned is the meditating monkey...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BARRY: ...which was a monkey that I - you know, after - remember there was that series of catastrophic - that catastrophic time of 9/11, and then going to war and then Katrina, and these things that kept happening. And at that same time, I started to lose - I have several friends that died all at once. And I found myself compelled, like this weird, shameful compulsion to draw cute animals. That was all I could stand to draw. You know, just cry and draw cute animals. And...

CONAN: So, the world is going to hell in a hand basket, you're drawing Bambi.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah. And I'm drawing dancing dogs with crowns on, you know? And, like, really friendly ducks. But I found this monkey, this meditating monkey, and I found that once - when I drew that monkey, it's not that it fixed the problem. But it did shift it a little bit, or provide me some kind of relief. And that's when I started to think, maybe that's what images do, because I believe in all my - with all my heart they have an absolute biological function, that they're not decoration. They are not an elective, that they have a function.

And when I saw that just making these lines for this monkey over and over again, it reminded me very much of being 12 - about 12 and falling in love with the song that you couldn't stop playing over and over and over again because it fixed something or it made the difficult time more bearable. So I am starting to look for places in the ways that people do that. And one of the ways people do that is in doodling. You'll see people do it all the time. And I think what they're doing is making a very boring meeting, for example, more bearable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: Even just by - just by - it's just a micro shift, but it's enough so that it can make it so they - you know, you don't - you can stand to stay there and you won't lose your job.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Linda Barry is our guest. Her new book is "Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book." We want to hear from those of you who do things by hand. If you draw your words or if you draw your pictures, what difference does that make? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

Jeff's on the line from Portland.

JEFF (Caller): Neal, good afternoon, and thank you. And Linda Barry, what a great pleasure.

Ms. BARRY: Oh, I'm delighted.

JEFF: I'm a cartoonist. I live in Portland, Oregon. And I draw political cartoons for a local newspaper once a month. But it was much more busy years ago, when newspapers were so much more profitable. But I also do personal drawings, and I know - I just wanted to say thank you, Ms. Barry, because this is exactly the stuff, that words and pictures come from that same source, the brain science is absolutely fascinating. And as I draw, sometimes the words come first, sometimes the picture comes first, but they all flow together in such a way that the bottom line, in my experience, in what I'm doing, my life's major, as a friend once put it, is communication and I'm hoping that it continues to work. I'm so thrilled to be able to visit with you, Ms. Barry.

Ms. BARRY: Oh, I'm very happy to talk to you, too. And you know, when you think about our hands, they are the original digital devices, right? Wi-Fi, biofueled. We've always used our bodies to communicate with each other, whether it's a scent, song or a dance or a drawing. I mean, these little hands - it drives me crazy. There are two characters in the book called Mr. Beak and Mr. Trunk who just feel that fingers are completely redundant. We don't need them anymore. All we need are thumbs. And when I watch people

JEFF: Thumbs up, yeah.

Ms. BARRY: texting on their BlackBerrys, yeah, I watch people working on their BlackBerrys and doing all this stuff and I just think, you're just moving your thumbs. Which, you know, right on, but there is a whole part of your brain that is just sitting there, that would be activated if you'd move your whole hand.

JEFF: And that is such a profound statement, Ms. Barry, because I'm often asked where from comes this stuff and how does it happen? And I say, like the wood carver often says it emerges from the wood. It is my hand in action. Of course, naturally, there's a brain and a heart behind it but my hand, in curious action with the pencil and with the pen that...

Ms. BARRY: Right.

JEFF: ...draws from, draws forward, pulls from the flat blank slate in front of me. And it's not that I'm not in control of it. I sometimes feel I am. But meaning emerges as the drawing appears.

Ms. BARRY: Exactly.

CONAN: There's a story - Linda

Ms. BARRY: Exactly right.

CONAN: ...there's a story in your book. There's a five-year-old boy...

JEFF: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Jeff - who tells you a story one word at a time.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah, yeah. That's when I was trying to write a novel. The first novel I wrote, I did it in ten days, writing by hand. It was a really short novel. You know, it sounds braggy to say, but it's tiny. And I remember after I wrote it, I thought, I shouldn't do this too often or I'll have novels all over the house. It will be terrible. But this, technically, took ten years 'cause I was trying to write it on the computer which had a delete button, which means you can delete anything you feel unsure about. Which I always say, if I could do that with my life, I'd only have maybe 27 minutes. My reel would be 27 minutes long.

Anyhow, I was babysitting this kid and he couldn't write yet and so I said, I'll write down a story. And he would only tell me the story one word at a time and he wouldn't tell me what it was until I finished writing. And that story had - it had classic story structure and it was a really good story. And I remember just looking at him and thinking, well, if that joker can do it, you know. Went back to my studio and I was thinking, okay, maybe slow is the way. What's the slowest way to write a novel? And you know, it's obvious, the slowest way is with frosting. That would be a very slow way to write a novel, with frosting.

But the second slowest, I think, is with a paint brush. And so I started to use that and I immediately became very interested in how, just like Jeff was talking, move your hand with an object in it and a story starts to come.

CONAN: We're talking with Lynda Barry, cartoonist, also novelist, painter and teacher, among the other hats she wears. Her new book is called "Picture This." More of your calls in a moment. If you draw, write by hand, what difference does that make? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email is 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" from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Lynda Barry's our guest, a cartoonist and writer. She has a new book out. It's part activity book for grownups, part how-to guide and part memoir. We can't show you her pictures on the radio, though she describes them pretty well, but you can see them on our website. Learn how to turn doodles into dollars, millions of dollars, with Marlys and Arna in pages from "Picture This" at npr.org. Click on "Talk Of The Nation."

If you draw or write by hand, what difference does that make? 800-989-8255, email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at that aforementioned website, npr.org, click on "Talk Of The Nation." And Lynda Barry, there is several points early in the book and I realized that you had written out the alphabet and I didn't quite understand why. Written out the alphabet and the first ten numbers. And then I come to understand later in the book, that you were making an argument that these are very specialized lines. And in part, your book is a meditation on lines.

Ms. BARRY: Well, they're specialized motion and if you take -- like, I've always been somebody who wanted to do tai chi. I mean, didn't you want to do tai chi?

CONAN: Sure...

Ms. BARRY: I just wanted to do, you know, like streaming horse tail in the clouds, you know, that move. But I never could do it. And my husband had this great idea where he kind of pointed out that the alphabet is already this -it's already a memorized series of motions. You know, you can write the tiniest alphabet in the world or I could give you a big old mop and you could write it on a wall. And he said, why not just do type chi? Why are you doing -- you're doing the alphabet, but you're making it - and it works. It's really interesting.

So the thing about handwriting, what's so different in handwriting and writing on a computer, is that it is a memorized series of motions that our hands have that can respond to anything, you know, our brain wants it to do. But it's very different than just typing an A with your index finger. It's a very different thing. We have spatial relationships to consider. I mean, there's all kinds of stuff going on in handwriting that - I think the saddest part to me now is that it's really being kind of discounted. And at least in the state of Wisconsin, longhand or cursive isn't being taught, really, anymore.

So I think that there's - it's an unsuspected loss and I think it's a huge loss, because for a lot of people that's the last place where drawing stays with them, that and doodles, is in their handwriting.

CONAN: It's interesting. We did an interview a couple of weeks ago with a guy who ran a prison library. "Running The Books," I think, was the name of the book, and I forget the guy's name. I'm sorry about that. But he describes a scene. There's some women in prison up on, like, the 12th floor of this prison and there's men down in the courtyard and they skywrite to each other. And you have to be able to read the letters backwards.

Ms. BARRY: That's awesome. That's amazing.

CONAN: I - you know, they're spelling out with their fingers and, you know, well, I thought that was pretty awesome.

Ms. BARRY: It is awesome. I mean, if you think about it, it's, you know, well, it's the same kind of thing - I mean, there's something about moving hands and thinking and talking, that has a very old relation. In fact, I was reading about - you know how when you see kids drawing, their tongue is whipping out of their mouth?

CONAN: Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ms. BARRY: You know what I'm talking about? Apparently, while we're developing in the womb and for a few years after we pop out, there is a real strong connection between our thumbs and our tongues. So this thing that is used for speech and this other thing that is used for making marks have a real strong neural connection, which I found really interesting.

CONAN: Huh.

Ms. BARRY: I just have to say one thing. Remember early on you talked about turning doodles to dollars?

CONAN: Yes.

Ms. BARRY: 'Cause Marlys, my character, sees a thing that she thinks beatniks are getting a million dollars for doing really hairy paintings, like, terrible paintings?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BARRY: But one of the things that I run into with adults is, they are very frightened to make a picture, not just 'cause they think it'll be bad, but they also have no idea what it's for. And I always say that one of the things that's really interesting to me, is if we had a 40-year-old person next to me and I had paper and markers and I said, let's make a picture, and that person was too scared to do it, we'd understand. If I had a four-year-old sitting next to me and she was too scared to do it, we'd be worried about her emotionally, right?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BARRY: A little bit, we would. And I think that's because there's a tacit understanding between doing what we call creative work or the arts - because that's what that is - and mental health. And when I talk about a biological function, that's the function I'm talking about. And you would never imagine a kid - you'd sit down with a four-year-old and say, you want to draw? And she looks at all this stuff and goes, yeah, what's our budget?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: But that's how people look at it and it's really interesting to me, because as soon as that happens, I feel like we really lose a fantastic natural capacity for emotional healing and dealing with the thousands of horrible things that are thrown toward everyone during the course of their lives.

CONAN: By the way, the name of that book was "Running The Books: The Adventures Of An Accidental Prison Librarian," by Avi Steinberg. So that - Carline Watson, our producer, got that up for me. Thank you for that.

Here's a Tweet. Mathpunk, All my writing starts on index cards. They get sorted, re-sorted, re-written, torn up until the work is close enough to done to type.

Ms. BARRY: I think that's perfect. I think that's perfect. In my writing class that I teach, there's something - it's not exactly that, but I think that's perfect. I think there's something about having the objects themselves, and the paper, and being able to move it around. I think it was Malcolm Gladwell wrote a while back about air traffic controllers and how they had this system that looked really arcane, which is like each slip of paper to represent a plane. I guess it's not in the shape of the plane - and if I ran things, it would be. And so out of the corner of the air traffic controller's eye, people are moving these pieces of paper toward him, like here are the planes coming in and there are the planes leaving. When they tried to computerize it, it didn't work as well. It's that people really needed to see an object - to correspond with that object that was in the air.

CONAN: An actual object, not a virtual...

Ms. BARRY: And actual - exactly, that moved into their line of sight, passed through it and then passed out. And that's the part that, I guess, if I'm worried at all about what's going on with the big electronic world, that's the one worry that I have is that we're skipping over - it's sort of like thinking, you know, gummy bears are the same color as vegetables, right? But they are not the same thing.

CONAN: No, they're not. They taste better.

Ms. BARRY: Way better.

CONAN: Let's get Michael on the line, calling from Newberry Park in California.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Michael. Go ahead, please.

MICHAEL: Oh, yeah. I just wanted to comment because I was listening to the discussion and I was thinking to myself - I'm a math teacher. I teach mostly algebra classes. And for a while there I was using a lot of PowerPoints. I'm a technology guy and I thought, oh, you know, if I make a PowerPoint, then I'll have all the labor done and then I'll be a very efficient teacher. And what I found was it just didn't feel good and I've gone back to writing on the whiteboard and it just feels so much better.

It allows me to interact with the class and it really allows me to sort of get into a rhythm with the class. And so I see exactly what the author is talking about here, about sometimes once you just start writing it sort of takes you down a path maybe you didn't expect to go.

Ms. BARRY: Well, and particularly with algebra, which is all about relationships, right? This idea that you would be up there with your hand moving, making these relationships appear on that whiteboard, seems to me that I would pay a lot more attention to that than just seeing a slide about those relationships. Like, you're actually showing them in action.

MICHAEL: I think you're right. There's another thing, too, though, is that when, you know, a lot of times people think of solving problems as there's always one solution. While it may be true that sometimes there's always one answer, but that doesn't mean that there's only one path to get that answer. And sometimes it's nice just to sort of follow your stream of consciousness towards the answer. You know, allow the students to help guide you towards an alternative path to the solution. You know, to plan the solution in advance is sort of to rob the students of the creative process.

Ms. BARRY: That's right. And also to rob that living experience that happens when a teacher and - well, living experience that happens in a good conversation, the same thing. And I think what you're talking about is reciprocity, is an action that is responded to and an action that's responded to instead of, unfortunately, like I am after a couple drinks, where I just wait for you to stop talking so I can get in there with another one of my great ideas. And unfortunately, that's not a good conversation, in that that memorable thing that happens can't happen if somebody's just hogging the, you know, the parade.

CONAN: Michael, thanks very much.

MICHAEL: Oh, thanks for your time.

CONAN: Let's go next to Andrew. Andrew with us from Nashville.

ANDREW (Caller): Yeah, I'm a science fiction writer and about, I don't know, 15 years ago, the poet Jeff Skinner convinced me after about two months' bout with writer's block, that I should get off of my laptop and try writing by hand in notebooks. And I did that for, you know, 12, 13 years. And then about two years ago, switched back to the laptop just because of the ease of, you know, electronic submissions - it's so easy that way.

And you know, you can just attach a file and you've submitted a story. But I've noticed I've lost some things in that process. I pay attention to the grammar check and the spellcheck, and it changes the way I write. And in some ways I think it makes me less creative. You know, when - I use the word palamate, which is like web-footed and it had that red bar underneath it, I'm just - it drives me nuts. And I change things. It makes my grammar more Queen's English, I guess you would say.

And I look back through the notebooks and I'm finding - I swear the sentences are not grammatically correct, perhaps, but they're original. They're interesting. And there's...

Ms. BARRY: They're alive.

ANDREW: Yeah, exactly. They are alive.

Ms. BARRY: Yeah.

ANDREW: And I don't think creativity is - it's in some ways a very irrational process. And when you're writing in a program which is telling you the forms you should write in, when you add those forms, they're derived from the most rational process, which is, you know, using algorithms. And these people, they're sort of boxing us in and it's really, I think, deadening, at least for me, the writing.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. BARRY: I think you're absolutely right there. One thing that writing does give you is it takes longer. So I always say to my students, it's like -because the computer, what happens is when the story is going and then it stops, it always stops. That's the thing no one ever told me, is it always stops. Just like when you're dancing on the dance floor, and you're dancing and suddenly, you have to fake dance because you're out of the groove. But, you know, if I only knew that everyone was fake dancing at a certain point.

But when it stops, in a computer, what people tend to do is look over what they've already read and start picking on it, you know, fixing it there before they even know what the whole piece is. So I feel that writing by hand gives just that extra time.

And there's this great Canadian writer named Ryan Knighton. He began to go blind when he was 19. He teaches writing. And he has to hear all his students' submissions. He has to hear them. He has the speech-to-text thing. And since I've known him and started reading his work, now I use speech-to-text to hear his work. And it's a completely different experience hearing it than reading it with my eyes. There's just something - and I think it might have to do with the physical touch, which was what hearing is. You actually are touched by something. I don't mean internally. I mean, your ears literally are.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Andrew. Good luck to you.

ANDREW: Thanks.

CONAN: And here's an email from Halley. As a jewelry designer, most people assume I work with beads and behind a bench, but I actually draw the concepts out by hand. The company I work for then sends the images and details to our factory for the sample to be produced. It is really a great way to make a living since I can draw at work. Sometimes frustrating due to all the parameters the industry has to deal with, but I get to see my concepts come to life. I also work with computers to create jewelry designs, but all of the original concepts are first done by hand, which I did not understand.

And this from Richard in Kansas. I'm a realtor. I started my drawing my listings so that I had something interesting and cheap to reproduce for promotional pieces. I now learn...

Ms. BARRY: Yay.

CONAN: ...more about houses by drawing them than I do by just looking at them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: Exactly. When I was teaching drawing right about - it's about age nine, 10 and 11 when people start to become very worried about their drawing. And when I was teaching a drawing class to people who are that age, I taught them - we drew our hands, but instead of drawing our hands, I said, we've got to make a map of our hands. So that we made a map and all the lines were like streets. And, of course, I let them name the streets because they were hilarious.

And so there was something different about drawing something like it's a map, than like a picture that's supposed to be good or bad. And, again, I think all of it comes from - it's that motion of the hand that does - that makes a shift in the brain. That tamps down the executive function and allows this ocean to kind of push something forward toward us, which is really interesting, I think.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. BARRY: People who know me really well and have heard me talk about this forever aren't as interested.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Can't imagine why.

We're talking with Lynda Barry about her new book, "Picture This." If you'd like to see some of her drawings for yourself, we've posted several of them at our website at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And this is TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

And let's talk with Danielle. Danielle with us from New York, New York.

DANIELLE (Caller): Yes, hi. I just wanted to comment on what we were talking about a little bit earlier, how using handwriting or doodling is able to improve someone's mental health. I personally use handwriting, doodling, drawing, painting, creative outlets like that to manage anxiety without medication. And I really find it...

Ms. BARRY: Yeah.

DANIELLE: ...to be a very soothing thing to do, very meditative.

Ms. BARRY: Yep.

DANIELLE: Your mind is kind of cleared when you're doing that. And it kind of allows your entire body to calm down, and I find that to be really effective.

Ms. BARRY: You're - I think you're absolutely right. The biological function I'm talking about is exactly that. My suspicion is that the stuff we call the arts - well, I know they came before the executive function, or this part of our brain that thinks it's driving.

If you watch these - people who don't think they can draw or write or anything, if you - if they're around a little kid and they like little kids, you'll see them do all of that. You'll see them draw, sing, dance, do sculpture with them, you know, even if it's blocks that you knock over. And I think it's because they understand, not that - it's not that kids are less intimidating to be around, but this is a language that you can speak with each other.

DANIELLE: Yeah.

Ms. BARRY: And this language is very, very old. It's as old as our opposable thumbs. So I love hearing what you're saying, that just moving that pen in a certain way, it does take care of anxiety.

DANIELLE: It absolutely does. I've actually shared it. I work - I used to work in the mental health field and shared it with a rehab facility with women who are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. And we found that doing that type of creative outlet not only helped them deal with the issues they were dealing with but when they had family members come visit them, it was an opportunity for them to connect by doing those types of creative drawing, doodling, painting together. And it really helped strengthen or rebuild those relationships.

Ms. BARRY: That's right.

CONAN: This email to this point from Sarah in Tennessee. I'm a customer service rep. I bought a special notebook to draw my words when I'm angry at customers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And it relieves the stress.

Ms. BARRY: Nicely done.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Danielle, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

DANIELLE: Thank you, Neal. It's wonderful to talk to you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's this - drawing notes for - this is from Jessica in Fresno. Drawing notes makes biochemistry lectures bearable. So there's...

Ms. BARRY: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: There's another testimonial.

Ms. BARRY: But it means - she's talking about physically bearable. I mean, that's the thing to remember is that it sounds like we're talking about some metaphor. I am talking about literally changing our experience of time, which I think is what the function of the image world is. I mean, if you think about it, that whole thing when you're reading a really good book but you're also sitting on the subway...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BARRY: ...both those things are true. You're in - you know, you're reading "Dispatches" and you're in Vietnam, or you're sitting - and you're sitting at the subway at the same time. So that part starts to get very interesting to me, to think about, we do have this time machine. My nephew said he wanted one that had a future, past and a meanwhile knob.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: And I think...

CONAN: A meanwhile knob.

Ms. BARRY: I love the meanwhile knob. I was going to think of that. But - that little joker. But that's what I think about this stuff is that it allows - it opens up time. It allows it to somehow fan open and a certain kind of fixing can be done in that state.

CONAN: You've been doodling. I've been listening to you all through this interview. Could you arrange with somebody there at Wisconsin Public Radio to fax that to us, or scan it or send it to us so we can put it on our website?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: Yes, absolutely.

CONAN: All right. You could see Lynda Barry's doodles made while...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARRY: A biological function.

CONAN: ...biological function during this interview. Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

Ms. BARRY: Oh, thanks so much for having me. I had such a good time.

CONAN: Lynda Barry's new book is "Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book." And she joined us from Wisconsin Public Radio, I think, in Madison.

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