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Exactly What I Want: Art In Non Sequiturs

I find myself lost more frequently in recent days. Which is a poor excuse for not posting here as often as I’d like. I’m in the midst of a tiring job hunt, mounting work frustrations, and laboring at a story collection that feels like all my writing hopes are pinned to (and yes, I recognize the overly dramatic nature of such a statement, but it’s honest nonetheless).

But this had me thinking of non sequiturs. One in particular: “It’s not what you want that makes you fat.” My mother used to say this to me when I was young, largely because her mother had said it to her. As a kid I laughed it off and now, as an adult with a taste for desserts and other unhealthy things  like fast food, pizza, etc. I feel like I can definitively say that actually it is EXACTLY what I want that makes me fat.

Of course, that’s not the point. For some reason in the deep mire of exhaustion I was feeling the other night while finally putting all the stories for my collection into a manuscript, I started thinking about that phrase. “It’s not what you want that makes you fat.” I can’t explain why this seems to make some mysterious sense to me in terms of writing, but it does. And it made me wonder if anyone else out there has a non sequitur that comes to them in the practice of writing or any great authorly non sequiturs they’ve read.

Or maybe, finding sense in nonsense is just an early sign that I’m losing it.

  • Ryan W. Bradley has pumped gas, changed oil, painted houses, swept the floor of a mechanic's shop, worked on a construction crew in the Arctic Circle, fronted a punk band, and managed an independent children's bookstore. He now works in marketing. His latest book is Nothing but the Dead and Dying, a collection of stories set in Alaska. He lives in southern Oregon with his wife and two sons.

11 thoughts on “Exactly What I Want: Art In Non Sequiturs

  1. Being unfamiliar with this phrase, I certainly can’t be sure of the spirit in which it’s said, but it seems to me one of those phrases which leaves its full expression implicit. To wit: “It’s not what you want that makes you fat, it’s what you eat.” The insight of which would be something about interest/desire vs. action, only the latter of which can truly said to bear consequences.

    1. it was said any time we asked for something. not directly about food or anything. i don’t know the origin, though know my eccentric grandmother it very well could have just come from her.

      1. Okay, I just googled the phrase–as I suppose I should have done before commenting–to find that I was right and wrong. The full phrase seems to be “It’s not what you want that makes you fat, it’s what you get.”

  2. I wrote a story in which a character says “there’s no use crying over chickens and eggs.” It’s really more of a mistake than a non-sequitur, but it reminded me of your grandmother’s saying in that it sounds like nonsense at first, but then it doesn’t. It’s so easy to let the wrong things stop us from moving forward. To be distracted by things that leave us inert.

    I guess it sort of works for me — in writing and in general. And I think it’s similar to your saying in relation to origins and results. If you want the cookie with regard to the significance of origins and results. If you want the cookie but don’t eat it, you won’t get fat. To paraphrase Shya’s point, the desire is irrelevant to the outcome. Likewise, determination of the precedent between chicken or egg doesn’t matter. Your saying relates to results, mine to origins, but both address the correlation between action and a desired end.

    So, I guess your thing means you need to get your collection together without believing your entire writing career depends on its success (i.e. want it but don’t obsess about failure) and my thing means I need to ignore all the useless crap that keeps me from producing good writing.

    (I’m fairly certain this makes little to no sense. If this is true, ignore it and know that I empathize and wish you the best. And if laughing at me helps, consider it entirely sanctioned …)

    1. I think it makes perfect sense, Lauren. Maybe we’re the same brand of crazy? I’m glad for your interpretation of what it means to my current writing situation, too, because while the phrase kept coming to mind I didn’t invest in what I should be learning from it. You are much wiser than I.

      I like your saying, too. A good source for these kind of ridiculous statements is listening to clips of Dr. Phil, who generally I despise but is full of weird southern sayings that make some fifteen second clips worth the pain of enduring his baldness. One day maybe I’ll write a story chock full of them and it will be called “This Ain’t My First Rodeo.”

    1. negative capability always intrigues me in a way that makes me wish I were more intelligent.

      apropos to nothing other than the term itself, when i was tooling around on my old computer the other day i found an unfinished noise rock song i had labeled “negative capability.”

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