The Importance of Being Random

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by J. P. Cabit of The House of Happy.

Hi—I’m J. P. I paint late at night, I have a picture of Neil Armstrong hanging on my wall, and I’ve spent the past year searching for a pair of pants that fit (they don’t seem to make real skinny pants anymore—not the squeeze-you-till-you-suffocate kind, I mean honestly and reasonably skinny). Our gracious host, Ollin, had asked me to write a piece about the importance of randomness. But the more I wrote, the more I realized that sometimes, especially in writing, randomness is not so much a conscious choice as it is a simple sense of observation.

What Do You Choose To Focus On?

At the beginning of all this, what I didn’t tell you about myself was that I like to watch movies, I follow those links on Twitter (the focused writer’s worst enemy!), I play the piano, and I was brought up eating macaroni & cheese. There’s nothing quite so random in that, is there? I’ve probably just named about half of the U.S. population. But I didn’t choose to point out those facts at first—I chose to point out my tireless night habits, my homage to the first man on the moon, and my never-ending quest for pants. These items, I hope, made me a slightly more interesting person than if I had pointed out the conventional details of my life…and for that matter, the details of the life of half the U.S. population.

So what is a conventional person like? They talk about the weather… how the sun is shining today just like they hope it will all weekend. Every Monday, they wish it was Friday. When they think about the letter A, an apple comes to mind. When they see red and green, they think of Christmas. Basically, they swallow every stereotype that society puts out for them to eat.

A truly conventional person will follow every hint, and nod at every cue.

So… Do All Conventional People Get Banished To The Isle of “Boring?”

I have to insert here that being a conventional person doesn’t make you a Batman super-villain. Being “Normal” doesn’t somehow exclude you from some ancient secret society known as “The Nonconventionals…” Being “Normal” doesn’t cut you off from the land of interesting…But it will—my apologies—make you somewhat predictable.

I’m not saying that you have to do everything differently. You can like burgers. You can enjoy a good roller coaster. You can watch baseball. Every boy is allowed to wish he had a life like Jim Hawkins…And yes, all you young ladies, you are allowed to fall in love with Austen’s Mr. Darcy. (Even if he did die, like, a hundred years ago.)

But if you want to be an interesting person, and a good writer, look beyond that, and you may start to see just how special you are. Talk about what kind of cows the burgers were made from, and which farm they were raised on. Talk about who built the roller coaster, and how halfway through the construction, a wedding postponed it for a year. Talk about how the baseball players play cards while they sit in the dugout, and how the coach’s favorite pastime is actually watching Tchaikovsky ballets.

Be the art connoisseur who looks at the Mona Lisa and notices the bridge over her left shoulder, instead of talking about her hackneyed grin.

Captain Obvious Is Overrated

Everyone can point out a black sweater, or a drawn curtain, or an open piano. But who notices the shoelace that skips a hole; who notices how the wisp of smoke from a chimney mingles with swiftly-moving August clouds; who notices the upside-down biography on the bookshelf; who notices the misplaced strand of hair on the forehead, the infinitesimal tilt of a puzzled eyebrow?

…Because maybe, being a truly random person is not so much about being odd, as it is about dwelling on the forgotten, ignored little things. 

J. P. Cabit is a writer of children’s books, currently seeking representation for his puzzle-mystery MG novel, Because of the Blue Bloods. He lives in America with his (sometimes mischievous) houseplants—Planty, Gershwin, Arun, Gloriette, and Sofie. When he’s not busy keeping his plants out of trouble, he blogs at The House of Happy

Do you find that putting lots of “Random” details in your writing tends to make it more interesting? Look around your world—what little things are waiting to be noticed?

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17 comments on “The Importance of Being Random

  1. Erica Olson says:

    Whoa – I was startled when you mentioned the scene behind the Mona Lisa, because I just wrote about that a few days ago! Now that’s a random coincidence… I agree that putting in unusual details can greatly improve our writing. I think it’s not just the details, but how we interpret them, that allows us to create unique writing. When I was writing about the Mona Lisa, I was trying to explain how the strange, fantastic landscape and the smiling woman seem to be from different realms, and how this clash can give us ideas about humanity vs. the unknown. (Here’s a link to what I wrote – I’m not trying to promote my blog, but there’s not enough room here to describe what I’m talking about: http://artcreators.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/mona-lisa-opening-new-worlds/)

    • J. P. Cabit says:

      Hey Erica, thanks for reading! And that is just a mite creepy about the parallel posts.🙂 Dead on about inclusion vs. interpretation! Writing about a discarded wristwatch can be a completely different experience than relating it to “Wasted time.”😉

      I will definitely have to stop in and read your post!

  2. Ollin says:

    Hey J.P.,

    I loved this life/writing take on randomness. It’s so true, and I just never saw it that way until you said it. Being random is all about observing the details–the ones that stand out as interesting.

    As always, thank you for the delightfully random post!

    • J. P. Cabit says:

      You’re delightfully welcome.🙂 I feel so honored to be asked to make a guest post.

      As the old Turkish proverb goes, “Far better a random, interesting bag of pepper, than simply a bag of pepper.” Okay, well it’s not that old.

      And it’s not actually Turkish.

      But that’s beside the point.😉

  3. […] over at Ollin Morales’ “Courage 2 Create” blog, doing a post on The Importance Of Randomness. Be sure to stop in and visit […]

  4. deshipley says:

    Batman vs. The Conventional Person: Who would win?! (Please tell me it’s Batman…)

    There is much joy to be found in the random. It’s what separates Comedy A, that makes you shriek in shocked laughter, from Comedy B, where you exit thirty minutes in, already guessing where it’ll go and how it’ll get there.
    Predictability is useful if you plan to make your living as a scamming fortuneteller, but if you want to be an artist sans the “con-“, I’d recommend a jaunt down the road less traveled by. Word on the street is it makes all the difference.

    Swell post, J.P.!

    • J. P. Cabit says:

      Hey Deshipley—You can sleep tonight. It would definitely be Batman.

      Love your fortuneteller analogy!

      Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I chose the one with the palm trees, stonehenge arbors, and cactuses. Keep pressing on the random writing road!!!

  5. 83October says:

    This is such a wonderful post. It got me smiling. For indeed, its those little seemingly random details that make things real. As a reader, those moment of randomness and unconventional allows you to reassess the way you’re programmed to think of a plot/character. For some strange reason it adds quirk to the writing or to the character and maybe in some level add the unpredictable. Great post!

  6. Excellent post,C.P. I enjoyed your thoughts on randomness in our lives and in our writing. It seems to me it’s about looking around and noticing what is around us “in the moment.” And here’s a thought, I think, if we live and breathe, we’re probably all predictably unpredictable,probably just a matter of degree. Thanks for the reminder that taking time to be random can spice up our lives and our writing. Great post!

    • J. P. Cabit says:

      Hello Kathleen, thanks for reading! Just a matter of degree indeed. God made us special, it’s simply a matter of looking deeper.

      Take those few seconds, and be a little random!

      (Oh, and BTW, Your mentioning “Predictably Unpredictable” made me think of a great book called “Predictably Irrational.” It’s a great road-trip audio book if you’re interested! No, I’m not a paid advertiser, lol, I’m just an unpaid suggester.)

  7. Jan Simson says:

    I love that post! I’m quite random myself, and I love reading unpredictable plots. I’m working on writing them, as well. Great job! Cheers.

  8. Alexander Bengtsson says:

    Reblogged this on Commonplace.

  9. This is something that I always strive for! My uncle once told me that his secret to his success was observation. He asked less questions and observed more — that brought about conversation, ideas, and overall freshness. Isn’t it crazy how many of us autopilot through life never noticing all its intricacies? =) Loved this post, JP!

    • J. P. Cabit says:

      I feel especially bad about autopiloting. I don’t know how it is in Peru, but that happens here…One day I drew a big sprawling, colorful design in chalk on the sidewalk, and you’d be surprised how many people either simply glanced down at it or didn’t look down at all. ?! Like what is that all about?!?!

      Thank you for reading, Samantha!

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