A review of All I Want To Do Is Live by Trace Ramsey

Reviewed by Jan Peregrine

All I Want To Do Is Live
A Collection of Creative Nonfiction
by Trace Ramsey
Pioneers Press
May 2017, $16.00, ISBN: 9781939899286

If you took the Annie Dillard book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and mixed in personal observations of your life with depression and family, you would have Trace Ramsey’s new memoir All I Want To Do Is Live, published by Pioneers Press in Kansas. It’s not, however, simply nature musings for those who delight in the astounding sights, sounds, and smells of nature. Ramsey helps us to see through his suffering eyes how depression, like raw, wild-eyed nature, looks, feels, and even smells like.

He has a line toward the end that I find most compelling, which he obviously does too since he used it in a cartoon for his last page. In the first panel there’s a ghost; in the second the ghost seems to get a bright idea. In the last  the ghost says, “I am a ghost unsure of my method of haunting.”

That line says so much about Ramsey’s feelings about himself, as well as, I suspect, his uncertainty about whether he’s said anything in the book that’s real and solid and meaningful.

I’ve been reading about black holes in a book by a physicist and (trust me, there’s a point I’m making), the information we release through our negative and positive energy is stored in the cosmos and, to be brief, that reality we make reflects back to us like a holographic movie. Sounds kooky, I know, but Ramsey reminds me of how intimately connected we are not only with the nature we see and love, but also with the hidden realities out there.

The more energy added to black holes, which trap information, the more they expand.

So I read about his miserable episodes of depression when he succumbs to very low energy and despair, when he considers ending it all with a gun, when he muses that his child may experience his ‘disabled’ mind someday and what he’ll tell her, and I think, oh my, he’s sunken into a black hole.

I read his lovely, earthy prose about life in the rural South of the United States and I wish I knew what all those flowers with unfamiliar names looked like. What they smell like without the shadowy veil or sour smell caused by his disease. It’s impossible to imagine his world except in the shattering way he perceives it.

Let me be honest. Ramsey doesn’t realize he wants to live until his short essays and ‘flash fiction’, collected from previous, award-winning work, lead us far into the book, past a poetry section. Maybe, as he hopes, the energy flowing out of his words will connect and resonate with you.

While I don’t suffer a chemical imbalance in my brain that runs in my family, as it does Ramsey, I sadly created an interior black hole upon suffering a traumatic CNS injury that turned my life upside down and could have ruined it if I hadn’t fought my way out, as has Ramsey, through writing.

Is his second book a commentary on our chaotic times, a mirror revealing its turbulent social climate, as the back cover suggests? I believe that’s a narrow perspective.

It seems to me that Ramsey describes the timeless effects of our breaths mingling with the air, our trembling embrace of the universe. How could these not stretch beyond our present reality? His compulsion to bring forth life, in children as well as words, marks him as one of us, his frustrating circumstances as another layer of humanity’s story.

I’ll end with these words from the book:

“I am not myself in this moment. Or maybe it is better to say I am just a splinter of the person who opened up the mailbox a few short weeks ago. Circumstances changed. I became a father..it has become hard for me to maintain simple daily functioning, let alone keep up consistent self-appraisal.”

But then…aren’t we all just splinters of people we’ve been?

About the reviewer: Jan Peregrine has recently published a Kindle book called Dr. Freudine Is In: The Tale’s Tail, which may be enjoyed by itself if you don’t want to bother with the amusing first two.