Dear Lynda: Fickle Secret Admirers and Knowing the Ending


Ask The Paris Review

Have a question for Lynda BarryEmail us.

A self-portrait by Lynda Barry.

Dear Lynda, 

The other afternoon, I received a text message from a number I didn’t recognize. The sender asked to confirm my address, which I did, and then said there would be a “special delivery” for me, “arriving soon.” It was exciting to think I had a secret admirer, but in the end, nothing came. Since, I’ve tried googling the number, but it’s yielded no results; the area code is from Pittsburgh, and I don’t know anyone from there. Now I’m just curious who it is and what they sent. I feel a little tossed around and it’s making me angry to think I’m being taunted. Should I escalate this anonymous relationship and pressure the sender for answers, or just chalk it up to the many displeasures of the Internet age and let it be?   

Thanks in advance,
Bemused in Brooklyn 


Dear Bemused,

I’m at a loss here, so I’ve consulted a creature my friend Danny Ceballos knows, called the “Bad Advice Dolphin.” Danny read the dolphin your letter and here is the dolphin’s advice: 

Dear Bemused!

Escalate! It was a good idea to text back your address to someone you don’t know! Your instincts have served you well! Now it’s time to escalate! Escalate! True love is worth fighting for! Text back! Tell them the truth! You can’t stop thinking of them! And you must not stop thinking of them until you get to Pittsburgh! Get to Pittsburgh! GO NOW! This whole thing sounds so magical! Tell your boss the same story and you will get time off! (Maybe even paid time off!) Keep your phone with you at all times because it is your portal to the sweet life! Auspicious beginnings such as this can only lead to good things.

Lynda B.


Dear Lynda, 

I am working on my first novel, and I am struggling not only with keeping the reader entertained but with keeping myself entertained. Can you think of any tricks to keep myself interested while I plow through a plot that at this point I barely know anything about, other than its ending?

Restless in Richmond


Dear Restless,

It’s hard to keep a reader entertained by a book that doesn’t exist yet, though many writers try. And it’s hard to stay interested in a book that doesn’t exist yet if you already know how it ends, especially if you’ve known the ending for a long time. You may need to trampoline yourself out of this situation by using your ending as the beginning of your book. Let that big ending be chapter 1, and go from there. Just ask yourself, And then what happens? I recommend writing your answer to this question by hand and giving yourself half the time to do it than you think you’ll need. Don’t use a fancy pen or paper. Write in ten-minute bursts. Try to do five of them in an hour and don’t read over what you’ve written until the next day. The phantom reader will have a harder time manifesting and interfering with an actual human hand committed to staying in motion for ten minutes. When you are writing without a delete button so much more is possible. Your images will have a better chance of living long enough to make themselves seen and their significance understood.

One trick I play when that interfering voice shows up while I’m writing is to address it directly. I say, Okay, you write it. Go on. Knock yourself out.

It can’t. And it knows it. It has a lot of opinions, but it has no hands. You have the hands. Keep them in motion and let them tell you what they know about the story, and keep asking, And then what? And keep your phone either turned off or on airplane mode while you’re working. No human hand can compete with an incoming text. Even a text from an unknown number in Pittsburgh can knock you out of your groove for hours.

Lynda B.


Lynda Barry is a cartoonist, writer, and associate professor in interdisciplinary creativity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A reissue of her book The Good Times Are Killing Me is forthcoming in October