I went to the Ramona Ausubel reading on Nov. 2 with few expectations. While many students in attendance were well-read English majors with their copy of Ausubel’s “Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty” at the ready, I was an English major who didn’t even know the author’s name of the talk I was attending. It’s Ramona Ausubel by the way, and the talk far surpassed expectations.
Ausubel is a contemporary author who wrote “Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty,” “No One is Here Except All of Us” and short story collection, “A Guide to Being Born.” She has won many highly credited awards and her work has appeared in Tin House, The New York Times, The New Yorker and on NPR’s Selected Shorts as well as in many other esteemed locations.
Ausubel, however, didn’t become a successful writer overnight. Setbacks sprinkled her journey as she, like many of us writers, struggled to find her voice. Ausubel told us of a writing experience in graduate school when she decided it was time to write a baseball story. Although lacking any passion – or knowledge for that matter – about baseball, she wanted to write the “timeless” and “All-American story.” Everyone loves a baseball story.
But Ausubel quickly found herself bored. She was stuck in a rut, the dreaded writer’s block. Instead of scrapping the bland, unoriginal strike of a story, she decided to liven it up. The little boy became a little girl learning baseball from a ghost Civil War soldier in the middle of nowhere. Ausubel added quirky family dynamics and a spunky protagonist and suddenly the story everyone loved became one she did.
That’s Ausubel’s secret: write about what interests you. Write about your passions even if you think no one else will want to read it.
Ausubel’s specialty seems to be creative, out-of-the-box pieces. She began the talk with a reading of her short story, “Tributaries.” Inspired by a creative writing prompt, she tried to answer the question: what would happen if people showed their love on the outside?
In the story, everyone grows love arms. Fingers and nubs spout from bodies as proof of falling in love, and, if the love is true or long lasting, entire arms form. Some people have one extra arm, some ten, some zero. A group of teenage girls dream about their future love arms, hoping to one day grow arms as some girls hope to find Prince Charming. One girl jokes that her grandmother had seven love arms even though she was only ever married to her grandfather. The story takes the idea of love handles to a whole new level.
Now, had I just read “Tributaries” in print, I may have written it off as an odd story. It’s not everyday you read about grown men bragging about their extra limbs ... well ... However, hearing the words from the mouth of the author who drafted them gave them an entirely new meaning. Ausubel is like her story – kooky and creative. She is in love with her work and she, like the love arms in her story, wears her passion for everyone to see.
Ausubel inspires me. Here is this writer – living in a world where rejection runs rampant and the rulebook for writers simply states “Don’t do it!” – who writes for passion and pleasure. She writes for herself, knowing that she maybe the only person who enjoys the finished product.
When Ausubel was in graduate school, she had a realization while reading canonical authors who pushed the boundaries with their creative flair. “Wait, I can write that?” Ausubel said the more she read.
I had a similar realization listening to Ausubel’s talk. Wait, I could write about a civil war ghost? I could write about phantom love limbs? Or even, I could write about my own passions? Huh. And according to Ausubel, we writers can and should.