When my copy of What It Is arrived in the mail, I flipped through a few pages and immediately thought that this was going to be the kind of book hipsters go nuts over. It appeared to be a series of collages without a plot or a running theme, which is exactly the kind of thing hipster will pause from their craft beers from to say, “Wow, I totally get that- it really speaks to me,” when in actuality, it isn’t meant to make sense. But I was completely wrong about this book.
This book does have a running theme and a bit of narrative thrown in. Lynda Barry talks about her experiences growing up and learning to channel her creativity. Each collage is meant to define (or perhaps un-define) what creativity is. Barry asks simple questions on each page, such as, “What are thoughts?” or “What is realization?” to get your mind flowing in a more abstract and creative way. She makes you think about what it means to be a “good” writer, singer, or artist. Good is a relative term- it is something that changes with generations, culture, personal tastes. Since we can’t create a solid definition of what it means to be good at something, we should aim to be good at the process, not at creating the end product that pleases the most people. This is a book designed to help initiate the creative processes that produce pleasing end products for their creators.
I didn’t think the activity section was going to be terribly helpful. I am a terrible writer and always have been. My teachers throughout school tried everything they could to help me, but no activity or technique seemed to work. For me, the trouble was getting started. I never knew what to write, and once I came up with an idea, I never knew how to translate it from the images in my head to words. My brain works better with pictures than with words, so an activity book that teaches you how to write using pictures is perfect for me. This book was not at all what I expected. Learning to write using this book probably would have saved me from a lot of the stress and anxiety of learning how to write.