Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jessica Ramsey Golden: The Art of the Ridiculous

Jessica Ramsey Golden

I'm working on a ridiculous novel.

It's so ridiculous, it's embarrassing.

It's so ridiculous I wouldn't tell you the premise, even if I didn't already have a general policy against discussing my WIP.

But if I did tell you the premise, you'd roll your eyes. Or do that restrained brow lift that people do when they're trying not to laugh in your face.

It's so ridiculous that three months and 40,000 words into it, I hit a Wall of Ridiculousness.

My lit degree, my inner editor, and the words “serious writer” became anchors and pulled me to a full stop. I scrapped the whole thing.

But the characters followed me around, saying and doing interesting things, damn them, and I eventually pulled the novel out again.  

This fixed not one sliver of my block.

So I mucked around with the story. Half-hearted mucking at that. Not even mucking. Dinking. And there's nothing's worse than dinking around with a story.

My creativity, even my joy in writing, had been waterlogged by that which destroys both joy and creativity – fear.

I wasn't afraid of writing badly, or of getting the story wrong. Those are craft issues and can be addressed. I was afraid of getting it completely right, and failing by default.

I was afraid of writing a book I could never share because it is too ridiculous. I was afraid of pouring my heart and soul into stories that are stupid. I was afraid of looking foolish.

Remember in adolescence when everyone had some kind of obsession? Pokemon. Backstreet Boys. Titanic. Whatever.

When you're a kid, you're allowed to spaz out over things you love.

Then you become a Grown Up. You get a Job. Spazzing out is Uncool.

I never stopped spazzing out. I only got better at pretending I wasn't excited about the things I love.

And my new project is a total spaz out. It is a bizarre and ridiculous mixture of a bunch of my obsessions.

Then two things coincided that slowly started to clear the fog of ego from my silly, pride-addled brain.

First, I got hooked on Breaking Bad.

There's nothing special about a Breaking Bad binge. (In fact, if you're one of the 5 people on planet earth who has not binged on it, stop reading this and go binge this very instant. We'll see you in three weeks. You can thank me then).

One day, mid-binge, I was explaining to a friend how the show is just like Shakespeare. It's Macbeth with meth. 

My friend's response was, “Maybe. But the entire premise is just ridiculous.”

I opened my mouth to counter her. But before the first word of defense had formed on my lips, I realized, she was absolutely right.

The premise of the show is ridiculous.

As I simmered over this in relation to my creative quandary, the second thing happened. It came from one of those great practitioners of dis-inhibition, a four-year-old.

My daughter fell irretrievably, endlessly, and passionately in love with Queen.

The rock band.

Yes. That Queen.

I began to measure driving distances by how many listenings of Bohemian Rhapsody we would get through.

I planned extra time between errands for re-dressing her in her coat, boots, hat or any other article of clothing she may have “rocked” off of her body.

And I tolerated it with utmost patience. After all, she'll have her whole adulthood to hear people tell her not to spaz out over something she loves.

But after listening to Bicycle Race 4,000 times in a row, I can personally attest that Queen is the most ridiculous band in the history of ridiculousness. Freddie Mercury was a spaz, and one glorious to behold.
Here's what I learned:

Every obsession has the potential to be creative fuel. The object of obsession is compelling beyond rationality, because the beholder sees in it something meaningful. Something personal.

No wonder spazzing out over something you love is uncool.

“Cool” people must defend themselves from vulnerability with apathy.

Cool people do not make art.

So I am giving you permission to be ridiculous. You don't need permission. From me or anyone else. But if it helps you at all, take it.

Spaz out. Look foolish. Fuel your passions with your obsessions. Be ridiculous.

Or if you would have it from weightier minds than mine, take whichever of these you please, write it on your walls. Then go create.

“All great deeds, all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.” Albert Camus

“Yell. Jump. Play. Outrun those sons-of-bitches. They'll never live the way you live.”
Ray Bradbury

A long-time Alaskan, Jessica Ramsey Golden attended the University of Alaska Anchorage, serving on the staff of The Northern Light as a writer and editor. After graduating with a BA in English, she moved into the not-for-profit sector, working in public relations, technical writing and, currently, event management. Golden’s poetry has appeared in such journals as The William and Mary Review, Orbis International, Calyx, and Cirque. In 2006 she was awarded the Eleanor B. North Poetry Prize. In 2009, she received an Individual Artist Award from the Rasmuson Foundation. In 2011, she began writing fiction. She is currently drafting a ridiculous science fiction project, while seeking representation for her literary Gothic novel, "The Hidden Door".


Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

As someone who is currently writing a possibly ridiculous novel that involves, in part, a very, very old woman falling in love with a robot, and who will someday resurrect an old draft of a manuscript involving Annie Oakley, time travel, and revenge, I loved this post! (Ridiculous obsessives unite.)

Lynn Lovegreen said...

I love this! Just shared it on Twitter :-)

jessicaramseygolden said...

Thank you, both. And this is reassuring from you, Andromeda. Because you and those boxes of Asimov's are partially to blame for my current sci-fi frenzy.

Owen Thomas said...

Jessica: Terrific post. I really enjoyed it. And really, where would we be without the ridiculous? So many ideas are "ridiculous" until someone finds some profound truth buried in the middle of all of it. Give me the ridiculous over the trite any day. Thanks for the post.