Every morning I wake up and randomly choose, using an intricate alphabet-patterning system, one article of clothing around which I must create an outfit. If the outfit allows me to wear leggings, I have been successful. If every day I keep running into that green blouse, I must eventually give it away. Randomizing my wardrobe allows me to lose control, and give up a choice, which have been known to be hard for me to make in the morning.
I’ve also started randomizing my circulation around the classroom as a teacher. I try to get to everybody instead of always to the kids who are falling off their chairs, either because they can’t sit still or because their hands are so high in the air and their chests so stretched outwards that their position no longer fits it. I feel this brings a balance to my practice, and along with removing choice, offers moments of great synchronicity: the next three kids I flip through are the last three that asked me questions, and that kid falls off his chair at the exact moment after I pick his name.
I am also trying it in writing. Once I’m knee-deep in the novel, once it’s living and I’m wanting to sink deeper, I open the random number generator. I pull a page number and attack it, from anywhere I can. It could be one word, one theme, one sentence: I use that as a jumping board into the deeper places of the story, as though they’re already there but just need careful mining. This randomized approach does nothing inherently better than a linear–all that matters is that it convinces me of some magic and relieves me of some choice.
The move away from linear thinking helps me connect elements in a different way. I would never have put the green blouse with the red pants, or that kid with this one, unless told to by my bossy system. I also wouldn’t have created a flashback on page 38 to recall what happened on page 14 if not made to see what was happening in each part side by side. Randomizing comes from a place of privilege, a place where what one does next doesn’t matter to anyone but you, and that’s writing, and that’s the clothes I wear, but it’s also not always that. Randomization allows the speed and depth and care with which I need to touch base with each of my students several times a day. What should be different in a novel? I need to keep all the parts in my head, the balls in the air, the storylines jumping and crossing so that by the end of this I’ll have something that’s a novel, a cohesive, breathing thing, and not a bunch of words I’ve piled up in a line. Randomization is silly, but it’s the heart of what I’m doing, and what we’re all doing when we’re creating, being creative, or creating relationships.