Buzzed Books #56 by Justin T. Brozanski

All I Want to Do is Live

Trace Ramsey’s All I Want to Do is Live, a collection of creative nonfiction and poetry, is an unmistakably great book. Ramsey’s writing is brave against the noise of daily life as he struggles against his “desire to not live,” and seeks strength in the people who love him: his grandparents, wife, and daughter.     

Nonfiction, in general, tends to be loud. Like Philip Robertson’s account of surviving Iraq during ever-increasing violence with In the Mosque of Imam Ali, nonfiction is immediate and suffused with the charge of every experience and choice. It carries infinite possibility, which—according to David Foster Wallace in his introduction from The Best American Essays: 2007—expresses the feelings of “how to order, represent, connect, and why.” Ramsey’s choice, though quiet against the clamor, is not a romanticized musing or meditation. Instead, he delivers a fractured personal mythology stapled together with copied images, drawings, and photographs, which act as a sort of thematic connective tissue or glue.

The hybrid nature of Ramsey’s collection is a textured and fragmented experience which is aesthetically necessary. Like the cover of his zine Quitter #9—four images of the human humerus, in order: cracked, broken, split, shattered—Ramsey’s book is segmented in four parts: nonfiction chapbooks and zines, essays, poems, and interviews. Those sections are, in turn, further divided, either into separate sections or vignettes, enhancing the collection’s solitary and quiet nature.

This multifaceted approach matches Trace’s anarchistic and off-grid leanings, which we learn about through interviews by author and publisher J. David Osbourne (By The Time We Live Here, We’ll Be Friends), and essays detailing times when Ramsey and his wife, Kristin, lived on farm land with hopes of being self-sustainable. The inclusion of the zine form—its modern origins stemming from the punk scene of the 70’s and 80’s—convey a DIY quality and aesthetic, often found in anti-establishment sensibilities, which although broken, identifies as one. The fragments of this book are as much a community as they are splintered. Lines and sections can repeat themselves elsewhere. Farthing Street, for example, is adapted from Quitter #7.  Still, these reprisals are not editorial oversight. They are reflective, deliberate, and above the skin—as a scar. In one instance we see the cut, the other the scab.

Yet, Ramsey’s nonlinear structure is not merely a political construction. It is built out of mental illness and inherited family tragedy.  His essays and poetry—which are lush, stimulating, and deeply personal—are fraught with bouts of debilitating depression, physical abuse, and addiction which only lend to the collection’s cracked composition.   

In another interview from Gut Feelings Zine, Ramsey states that his “whole style of writing is based on relating my past with my current life.” Like a “ghost unsure of my method of haunting” Ramsey teleports between personal vignettes as if he is unstuck in time. The narrative feels scattered, a day-after artifact tossed about in a storm “like a leaf caught in the bushes.” The months which divide Quitter #7 are out of order, July follows November. In Quitter/Ten, separated by Ramsey’s age at the time, nine follows forty. There is uncertainty of station—one minute we are sharing a tender moment with his daughter, Trace teaching her the names of birds and edible plants, and in another, he eats in tense silence built by his physically abusive stepfather after hunting and skinning a rabbit. Each turnabout implacable, like his depression, “unpredictable, furious, disappointing” leaving us uncertain as to whether or not Ramsey will choose life out of this lonely odyssey.

Strikingly heartbreaking and genuinely honest, Trace Ramsey’s All I Want to Do is Live is a deftly constructed hybrid masterwork.

Justin T. BrozanskiJustin Brozanski is an MFA Candidate for Fiction at the University of Central Florida. He loves collecting books regardless of his wife’s chagrin of having to continually buy more bookcases. When he’s not immersed in reading or writing, he can be found volunteering, teaching, and watching Frasier. He also adores playing with his fluffy white cat and sneaking midnight snacks.