The Nonfiction Editors, Rappahannock Review: We understand that “Little Rambles” is an ongoing project. How did you get the idea for the project?
Lauren Crux: I was roaming around my computer one day when I had a few precious moments to myself, and I found an old file marked “little ramble” (this was long before I knew of the twentieth century writer, Robert Walser’s short essay, “A Little Ramble”). My partner was in the midst of full-on treatment for life-threatening breast cancer, and I was in full-on caregiver mode, plus working full time. I was fried, a little out of my body, unable to write or even to concentrate. And there sat this paragraph. Some sweet little thing I had no memory of writing. I liked it. It was fun, but then I forgot about it.
A week or two later I was rummaging around in my perpetually cluttered studio and came across a box of 4×6 double-sided, matte photographic paper. I had no memory of why I had ordered it or what my intention was at the time. Then came the moment of miscellaneous brilliance: What if I put the little ramble on one side and one of my photographic images on the other? What if I then mailed them out to friends—just for fun? I had stopped my performance career when cancer showed up in our household, but I considered these Rambles as a form of epistolary performance. Their shortness also fit my limited ability to concentrate and limited time to do much of anything extra. I also began to send them out to people I didn’t know—writers and authors whose work inspires me, moves me, encourages me, whose work I love. I send them out in the spirit that Lewis Hyde speaks of—art as a gift and not a commodity.
The constraints of having to say what I have to say in 11-point font on a 4×6 piece of paper forced me into concision. And I gave myself complete permission to meander, to be silly or serious, because I had no other agenda. I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything. I was just telling stories. Such freedom.
Three years later, my partner is alive. I wrote my twenty-four Rambles and then twenty-four more and I now have a book of seventy-two, each with an original photographic image accompanying it. Now to find a publisher…
I have found a form that suits me and that I love.
RR: You make some intentional and conscious literary decisions throughout each one of the “Little Rambles.” Can you walk us through your writing process and how you integrate these decisions into the stream-of-consciousness?
LC: When I notice that I am noticing something, or a story sticks with me, or a phrase someone says, e.g., Aging is Absurd, then I sit down and write. I always begin by using stream-of-consciousness, otherwise I just get in my way with too much thinking. I sometimes get the whole piece and what I want to say in fifteen minutes. Other times, it’s just a big tangled mess. If it is a piece that comes easily and quickly then I come back to it and do little edits—punctuation, a word change here or there. But there are times when I write and write and I know something is there but mostly it’s just a big tangled mess. Sometimes at this point I have a trusted friend read what I’ve written and pay careful attention to their reactions. It can be very helpful. Then I come back to the piece day after day until things start to filter out and I find out what I am trying to say. It can take a surprisingly long time, even though these are very short writings. I can spend three or four months waiting or looking for just the right word or concept. When I get it right, it is such a feeling of relief and of deep connection. I still go back through these writings and tweak them. I listen carefully for my poetic intention and for concision. I also keep moving commas around and have long debates with myself about whether or not I should use a semicolon here or over there, or maybe a dash, etc etc.
I have a nephew who when young once came in from hiking all day and announced to us that he had “satisfied the day.” That’s how it feels when I’ve figured out what I want to say and found the best way for me to say it. Then I’ve satisfied the day.
RR: What advice do you have for nonfiction writers attempting stream-of-consciousness?
LC: Yes: try it. Try it more than once. Invite the critic in you to step aside, or perhaps it would like to go to the beach or the mountains for a bit while you write. Take a few deep breaths, relax, write, have fun if you can, keep writing even if you get scared or take a turn that horrifies you. Let yourself be surprised. I have often heard a voice try to interrupt me that says, “You can’t write that,” or “That wasn’t what I intended to write about,” or “Where the hell did that come from? …” Keep writing. When you’ve finished, let it rest for at least a day. Then invite the editor part in. Keep the stuff that is alive; toss out the rest, or save it in a file to review later. Then have a nice cup of tea, a stretch, pet the cats, and always be kind to yourself.
RR: There is a specific, somewhat satirical tone to this segment of “Little Rambles” that you have implemented very effectively. How do you approach this voice without overdoing it, but also without underwhelming the readers?
LC: I’d like to be more helpful here, but the answer is: I don’t know. It is just something I seemed attuned to—life’s absurdities. Also, because I unabashedly love life despite habitual melancholy, I approach my topics with curiosity and delight. I find the goofiness of life as compelling as its beauties and horrors—all topics I write about.
As to overdoing or underdoing: well, I never think about that. But I do read the work out loud and I listen for the tone and how the Ramble feels. Is it silly, sappy or sentimental, mean or nasty (with contemporary politics the nasty voice keeps trying to butt in)? If I get a yes to those questions then I re-write until I get the tone right.
RR: You emit a sense of spirituality through your rambles. Is this a common theme throughout your writing?
LC: It does seem to show up a lot. I never set out to write spiritually; it is a thread that runs through me so it makes sense that it shows up in my writing. I am aware of my insignificance in the scheme of things; this keeps me humble and helps me to tolerate ambiguity. I have a deep sense of awe and reverence for our vast and complex universe. Happily, I find that this in no way incompatible with my sense of irreverence and occasional transgressive forays. One of my favorite Zen koans: I have an agreement with the universe: it can rain whenever it wants to.
Lauren Crux’s work in Issue 5.1: