What do you think you're doing?

Today I finished reading One Hundred Demons, a graphic memoir by Lynda Barry. In this work of what she calls “autobifictionalography,” Barry sets out to draw one hundred demons, a practice she heard about in an old Zen story. While drawing her demons, Barry revisits pivotal, often painful anecdotes from her life, which she tells in cartoon form.

The result is quirky and surprisingly powerful: a memoir-like collection of cartoon episodes that point to the persistence of even minor memories. Barry learns (and readers discover) that both our childhood and adult identities are shaped not by major, life-changing moments but by the incremental influence of seemingly innocuous events.

Who do you think you are?

Being an adult, Barry suggests, is like traveling by plane. From the sky, you can’t see children playing kickball in the streets below: the mundane details of one’s childhood are overshadowed by other, more pressing concerns. But when Barry reflects back on her childhood, it is the little stuff that lingers–an early, cruel boyfriend; the moment she became too self-conscious to dance; a first kiss that comes after she’d already lost too much of her innocence. Often, the things we don’t understand or recognize as important at the time are the ones that stay with us decades later.

I first encountered Barry when I read Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, which I blogged several years ago. Syllabus is a book about art, teaching, and creativity, and the playfulness of that book is what initially drew me in. Barry notes that every child can draw, but adult self-consciousness causes too many of us to put down our pencils and pens. Barry encourages readers to draw with self-abandon, suggesting that there is no such thing as a bad or “wrong” drawing.

Why even bother?

In One Hundred Demons, Barry shows the source of her creative courage. Barry isn’t afraid to draw a wrong line because she’s already lived and endured so much wrongness. When you draw your demons, you necessarily have to face them, and when you face your biggest, most daunting doubts and detractors, you sometime realize they look an awful lot like you.

Inspired by Barry’s book, this morning I doodled the demons that illustrate today’s post. Click here to see more of my demon-doodles: enjoy!