Go Ahead, Get Weird
Nov 28 ● BY Kate Carmody
1. Most of the time when I write, I let the piece take whatever shape it wants. It forms itself organically. But sometimes, when I don’t know how to write about something, a form pops into my head and gives me a container to spill words into.
2. In “Teaching Hybrid Literary Genres: An Afterward,” Jacqueline Kolosov says, “Literary hybrids illustrate that genres are not fixed entities but vehicles for finding the best form for our stories, memories, and explorations. Writers don’t have to be bound by genre: rather, genre can be a starting point for finding the most organic form of expression. Put another way: each literary genre is like a family whose individual members are related in various ways without necessarily sharing any single feature in common.”
3. In her essay, “Jose Marti,” Claudia Rankine says, “The playwright and poet Samuel Beckett once said that writing Waiting for Godot was a way of finding ‘a form that accommodates the mess.’ Are conversations accommodations? Perhaps words are like rooms; they have to make room for people. Dude, I am here. We are here.”
4. We are here. We are having conversations. We are working to find a balance between being heard and listening.
5. If words are going to make room for people, then we need to know what they can do. The best way to know what they can do is to play with them, experiment. Go ahead, have a party!
6. Where you start and where you end is up to you. Start with the end, end with the beginning, or just write the middle.
7. In Betwixt and Between: Essays on The Writing Life, Jenny Boully writes, “So, it seems that I am mixed. . . In terms of what I write, it seems that my writing is also mixed. I am sometimes called a poet, sometimes an essayist, sometimes a lyric essayist, sometimes a prose poet. . . I find these categorizations odd: I have never felt anything other than whole.”
8. Writers are party planners. We have to figure out the best way to accommodate our guests. We have to be good hosts. We have to tend to our words. We have to give them the space they need to let loose.
9. A good party needs music. We have to pay attention to the sound of our words. As Verlyn Klinkenborg says, “Pay attention to rhythm, first and last.”
10. I come from a family of dancers, not in the formal sense, but, in the house, car, or anywhere really, if there’s a catchy beat, we’re movin’. My siblings and I poke fun at my dad’s moves and my mom hushes us. Don’t you tell your father he’s a bad dancer or he’ll never want to dance with me again. I like the sonic similarities of father and dancer and never in that sentence. So maybe the lesson here is the old idiom of letting everyone and every word dance to the beat of their own drum. “The purpose of a sentence,” Klinkenborg reminds us, “is to say what it has to say but also to be itself, / Not merely a substrate for the extraction of meaning.”
11. The first time I felt comfortable being my whole self was in college. I am still close with the women that empowered me to give myself that permission. On one of our yearly trips, one friend referred to us as stone-cold weirdos and it’s stuck. Her name for us, an allusion to Bridesmaids where Maya Rudolph’s character Lily toasts her friends and says, “This is such a stone-cold pack of weirdos, and I’m proud.”
12. We’re artists, and artists are weird. Embrace it.
13. In the introduction to Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, Margot Singer and Nicole Walker say, “According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘hybrid’ in its original usage referred to the crossbreeding of domesticated pigs with wild boar. In literature, too, hybridization infuses wild energy into familiar forms. The hybrid is transgressive, polyvalent, queer. The hybrid challenges categories and assumptions, exposing the underlying conventions of representation that often seem so ‘natural’ we hardly notice them at all.”
14. Writers can use form as a way to reject normativity and make space for all identities.
15. Merriam-Webster defines “weird” as “of strange or extraordinary character” and “of, relating to, or caused by witchcraft or the supernatural: magical.”
16. A friend of mine dated a magician, and I was a little disappointed I never got to meet him before they broke up. Perhaps he was all trick, no charm. Witches > Magicians.
17. Kazim Ali in the essay, “Genre-Queer: Notes Against Generic Binaries,” explains, “Once you’ve experienced the bliss of disorienting text you have a hard time going back to novels and essays that draw from nineteenth- and eighteenth-century models. You get drunk in the real possibilities of what shapes language can make. The space between literature and life, lingers, is a wound of perception.”
18. Some synonyms for “weird” listed by Merriam-Webster are: “bizarre, bizarro, crazy, curious, eccentric, erratic, far-out, funky, funny, kinky, kooky (also kookie), odd, off-kilter, off-the-wall, offbeat, out-of-the-way, outlandish, outré, peculiar, quaint, queer.”
19. I think you could say that hybrid or experimental forms are party animals, are the life of the party. They know how to move.
20. My favorite song to dance to at weddings is “Shout” by the Isley Brothers. The singer calls out, and we respond, jumping as high as we can in unison. When the Isley Brothers recorded the song, they invited friends to the studio to mimic the party of their live performances.
21. In his essay, “Play-Doh Fun Factory Poetics,” Wayne Koestenbaum says, “Each book, poem, or paragraph, I produce is a physical machine, generated by hand movements. I like to put my fingers to work. I value diligence, facture, momentum.”
22. Speaking of finger and footwork, when asked about her brilliant, innovative, book-length essay “The Body,” which consists entirely of footnotes, Jenny Boully said, “If you read ‘footnotes,’ I believe that means you are paying more attention, looking for the nuances, the details, what everyone else doesn’t see necessarily. That seems a much better way to live to me. If you believe that everything manifests for some reason, then it would seem to me that you’re more alert in your living life and more in tune with messages, whatever they might come from. You’re always looking to see how things connect, how you fit in.” Music.
23. Anne Lamott says that a writer’s job is “to see the bleak unspeakable stuff, and turn the unspeakable into words—not just any words but if we can, into rhythm and blues.” That used to be one of my favorite writing quotes until I met Anne Lamott at a reading and she was an asshole to me. My husband teased me about it afterward, and I burst into tears, which made him feel like an asshole. It was an important lesson for me to not meet writing heroes when I’m writing about trauma. And an important lesson for him not to be an asshole to me when I’m writing about trauma. Also, that cliché of heroes not living up to your idea of them. Also, don’t think Anne Lamott is an asshole just because of this. This can be a lesson for you to not believe everything your writing teacher says.
24. My husband, a musician, isn’t a big fan of the blues. He likes jazz. He taught me how to hear a song’s complexities. Perhaps I’ve refined my taste.
25. I just asked my husband why he likes jazz better and he said, “Jazz is more melodically rich and rhythmically intricate.” I read this to him and asked him if he sees where I’m going. He said he does. I tell him I’m trying to get to talking about avant-garde jazz. He says, “Okay, avant-garde jazz goes beyond boundaries of structure where there is no clear path. You create the path. It’s about discovery.” He then extended that metaphor for longer than I care to disclose. At some point Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” made it in and fish and “thinking outside the bun” (he told me to make sure I put that part in). Obviously, he’s eating Taco Bell. I’m squeezing sour cream out of my chalupa. I eventually interrupted him and asked what he thinks of when he thinks of avant-garde jazz besides all these metaphors. He said, inaccessibility.
26. To tell you the truth, I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about avant-garde jazz—I just like the possibility of it. I like experimentation. I like playing with sounds, stories, and patterns. I normally don’t like listening to music while I write, but once, my husband put on a Charles Mingus album when we were writing and it opened something up in me. I don’t remember what I wrote or if it was any good. I just remember the feeling.
27. Juliana Spahr argues in Everybody’s Autonomy, “By concentrating on works that use nonstandard English, multilingualism, puns, disconnected syntaxes,” the texts are communal because, “Rather than rewarding readers for well-deciphered meaning and allusion, they reward readers for responsive involvement and for awareness of their limitations.”
28. Works that bend genre and experiment with form find a way to resist the singular story that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks of in her powerful TED Talk and response to oppression. As Spahr explains, “They are works that negotiate between the dire worries of homogeneity and loss and the utopian hopes of diversity and invention.” I encourage you to get drunk on the possibilities as Kazim Ali says.
29. Brazilian experimental pop artist Tom Zé once said, “I don’t make art, I make spoken and sung journalism.”
30. At its best, experimental pop and avant-garde art in the US and around the world push boundaries, bend and blend genres, mix mediums and languages, and reject a singular and standardized narrative for the multi: inclusive, intertextual, and intersectional.
31. I like to call my experimental writing genre-fluid. I like Spahr’s argument for avant-garde texts. A space where the writer, readers, and words can mix and mingle—now that’s my kind of party. Go ahead, get weird.
32. I’m with Hanif Abdurraqib when he says, “I’m fine on any dance floor, but I love best when a room folds together in unison. It is almost impossible for anyone with any semblance of rhythm to make a mistake if they just move in the direction the room is already carrying them in, and I suppose that is something like love, or something like trust.”
33. I met my husband on a dating app. An algorithm put us together. But we stay ourselves. We keep the offbeat.
34. He and I are in a band (with our dog Corky) called Dadafacer. I don’t even play an instrument. I just play with words. And somewhere in the middle, we meet. I hope long after this, we writers & rhythm-makers & shakers continue to play with words and possibilities and open up what everyone said was inaccessible. In solidarity.
35. Years ago, at a bachelorette party in San Diego, my friend refused to let go of the cab’s door when we arrived at our rental. “I’m not done partying!” she shouted. We peeled her hand away and told her all the bars were closed. When the cab drove away, she took a few steps toward the cab, ready to call it back, but it turned and she turned to us, shoulders slumped, and followed us inside. May your words always leave your readers wanting more. And may you all continue the party.