Thursday, January 22, 2009

Kurt Vonnegut. Personal Hero. Super Hero. Hero.

15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will

by Josh Modell, Kyle Ryan, Noel Murray, Scott Gordon, and Tasha Robinson April 24, 2007

1. "I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"

The actual advice here is technically a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's "good uncle" Alex, but Vonnegut was nice enough to pass it on at speeches and in A Man Without A Country. Though he was sometimes derided as too gloomy and cynical, Vonnegut's most resonant messages have always been hopeful in the face of almost-certain doom. And his best advice seems almost ridiculously simple: Give your own happiness a bit of brainspace.

2. "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God."

In Cat's Cradle, the narrator haplessly stumbles across the cynical, cultish figure Bokonon, who populates his religious writings with moronic, twee aphorisms. The great joke of Bokononism is that it forces meaning on what's essentially chaos, and Bokonon himself admits that his writings are lies. If the protagonist's trip to the island nation of San Lorenzo has any cosmic purpose, it's to catalyze a massive tragedy, but the experience makes him a devout Bokononist. It's a religion for people who believe religions are absurd, and an ideal one for Vonnegut-style humanists.

3. "Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, 'Why, why, why?' Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand."

Another koan of sorts from Cat's Cradle and the Bokononist religion (which phrases many of its teachings as calypsos, as part of its absurdist bent), this piece of doggerel is simple and catchy, but it unpacks into a resonant, meaningful philosophy that reads as sympathetic to humanity, albeit from a removed, humoring, alien viewpoint. Man's just another animal, it implies, with his own peculiar instincts, and his own way of shutting them down. This is horrifically cynical when considered closely: If people deciding they understand the world is just another instinct, then enlightenment is little more than a pit-stop between insoluble questions, a necessary but ultimately meaningless way of taking a sanity break. At the same time, there's a kindness to Bokonon's belief that this is all inevitable and just part of being a person. Life is frustrating and full of pitfalls and dead ends, but everybody's gotta do it.

4. "There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

This line from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater comes as part of a baptismal speech the protagonist says he's planning for his neighbors' twins: "Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." It's an odd speech to make over a couple of infants, but it's playful, sweet, yet keenly precise in its summation of everything a new addition to the planet should need to know. By narrowing down all his advice for the future down to a few simple words, Vonnegut emphasizes what's most important in life. At the same time, he lets his frustration with all the people who obviously don't get it leak through just a little.

5. "She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is doing."

A couple of pages into Cat's Cradle, protagonist Jonah/John recalls being hired to design and build a doghouse for a lady in Newport, R.I., who "claimed to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly." With such knowledge, "she could not understand why anyone should be puzzled about what had been or about what was going to be." When Jonah shows her the doghouse's blueprint, she says she can't read it. He suggests taking it to her minister to pass along to God, who, when he finds a minute, will explain it "in a way that even you can understand." She fires him. Jonah recalls her with a bemused fondness, ending the anecdote with this Bokonon quote. It's a typical Vonnegut zinger that perfectly summarizes the inherent flaw of religious fundamentalism: No one really knows God's ways.

6. "Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.'"

In this response to his own question—"Why bother?"—in Timequake, his last novel, Vonnegut doesn't give a tired response about the urge to create; instead, he offers a pointed answer about how writing (and reading) make a lonesome world a little less so. The idea of connectedness—familial and otherwise—ran through much of his work, and it's nice to see that toward the end of his career, he hadn't lost the feeling that words can have an intimate, powerful impact.

7. "There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too."

Though this quote comes from the World War II-centered Mother Night (published in 1961), its wisdom and ugly truth still ring. Vonnegut (who often said "The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected") was righteously skeptical about war, having famously survived the only one worth fighting in his lifetime. And it's never been more true: Left or right, Christian or Muslim, those convinced they're doing violence in service of a higher power and against an irretrievably inhuman enemy are the most dangerous creatures of all.

8. "Since Alice had never received any religious instruction, and since she had led a blameless life, she never thought of her awful luck as being anything but accidents in a very busy place. Good for her."

Vonnegut's excellent-but-underrated Slapstick (he himself graded it a "D") was inspired by his sister Alice, who died of cancer just days after her husband was killed in an accident. Vonnegut's assessment of Alice's character—both in this introduction and in her fictional stand-in, Eliza Mellon Swain—is glowing and remarkable, and in this quote from the book's introduction, he manages to swipe at a favorite enemy (organized religion) and quietly, humbly embrace someone he clearly still missed a lot.

9. "That is my principal objection to life, I think: It's too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes."

The narrator delivering this line at the end of the first chapter of Deadeye Dick is alluding both to his father's befriending of Hitler and his own accidental murder of his neighbor, but like so many of these quotes, it resonates well beyond its context. The underlying philosophy of Vonnegut's work was always that existence is capricious and senseless, a difficult sentiment that he captured time and again with a bemused shake of the head. Indeed, the idea that life is just a series of small decisions that culminate into some sort of "destiny" is maddening, because you could easily ruin it all simply by making the wrong one. Ordering the fish, stepping onto a balcony, booking the wrong flight, getting married—a single misstep, and you're done for. At least when you're dead, you don't have to make any more damn choices. Wherever Vonnegut is, he's no doubt grateful for that.

10. "Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak."

Vonnegut touchstones like life on Tralfamadore and the absurd Bokononist religion don't help people escape the world so much as see it with clearer reason, which probably had a lot to do with Vonnegut's education as a chemist and anthropologist. So it's unsurprising that in a "self-interview" for The Paris Review, collected in his non-fiction anthology Palm Sunday, he said the literary world should really be looking for talent among scientists and doctors. Even when taking part in such a stultifying, masturbatory exercise for a prestigious journal, Vonnegut was perfectly readable, because he never forgot where his true audience was.

11. "All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental."

In Vonnegut's final novel, 1997's Timequake, he interacts freely with Kilgore Trout and other fictional characters after the end of a "timequake," which forces humanity to re-enact an entire decade. (Trout winds up too worn out to exercise free will again.) Vonnegut writes his own fitting epigram for this fatalistic book: "All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental," which sounds more funny than grim. Vonnegut surrounds his characters—especially Trout—with meaninglessness and hopelessness, and gives them little reason for existing in the first place, but within that, they find liberty and courage.

12. "Why don't you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut? Why don't you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooon?"

Even when Vonnegut dared to propose a utopian scheme, it was a happily dysfunctional one. In Slapstick, Wilbur Swain wins the presidency with a scheme to eliminate loneliness by issuing people complicated middle names (he becomes Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain) which make them part of new extended families. He advises people to tell new relatives they hate, or members of other families asking for help: "Why don't you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut? Why don't you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooon?" Of course, this fails to prevent plagues, the breakdown of his government, and civil wars later in the story.

13. "So it goes."

Unlike many of these quotes, the repeated refrain from Vonnegut's classic Slaughterhouse-Five isn't notable for its unique wording so much as for how much emotion—and dismissal of emotion—it packs into three simple, world-weary words that simultaneously accept and dismiss everything. There's a reason this quote graced practically every elegy written for Vonnegut over the past two weeks (yes, including ours): It neatly encompasses a whole way of life. More crudely put: "Shit happens, and it's awful, but it's also okay. We deal with it because we have to."

14. "I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled 'science fiction' ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal."

Vonnegut was as trenchant when talking about his life as when talking about life in general, and this quote from an essay in Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons is particularly apt; as he explains it, he wrote Player Piano while working for General Electric, "completely surrounded by machines and ideas for machines," which led him to put some ideas about machines on paper. Then it was published, "and I learned from the reviewers that I was a science-fiction writer." The entire essay is wry, hilarious, and biting, but this line stands out in particular as typifying the kind of snappishness that made Vonnegut's works so memorable.

15. "We must be careful about what we pretend to be."

In Mother Night, apolitical expatriate American playwright Howard W. Campbell, Jr. refashions himself as a Nazi propagandist in order to pass coded messages on to the U.S. generals and preserve his marriage to a German woman—their "nation of two," as he calls it. But in serving multiple masters, Campbell ends up ruining his life and becoming an unwitting inspiration to bigots. In his 1966 introduction to the paperback edition, Vonnegut underlines Mother Night's moral: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." That lesson springs to mind every time a comedian whose shtick relies on hoaxes and audience-baiting—or a political pundit who traffics in shock and hyperbole—gets hauled in front of the court of public opinion for pushing the act too far. Why can't people just say what they mean? It's a question Don Imus and Michael Richards—and maybe someday Ann Coulter—must ask themselves on their many sleepless nights.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

the pres. the superhero

so all the naysayers they naysay that obama will not do all he has promised to do. i do agree that will be quite a hard thing to do. but i still love him.
and that means, i consider him a superhero. yes i do.
inauguration next week will be a blast.

Friday, January 9, 2009

i just wanted to write a blog so that i could say i'm a good blogger. not much to say. its been a great week. the past few hours have been rough. i'm really convinced i shouldn't be here right now.
but is it true?
can i absolutely know it?
how do i react when i think it?
i am mad at everyone around me for keeping me here. i have thoughts of chains and me trapped in them. images of people all laughing at me. its very painful. outside there is a whole world going on around me. everyone laughing, having fun. me trapped here.
its friday at 4pm, this is a very common one that comes up for me at this time.
how do i treat myself when i believe this thought?
i start to go into stories about how this is the wrong job for me, that i am out of it.
when was the first time you remember having this thought?
maybe back when i was a little lassy and living in the brown house where we snuck early in the morning to make eggs and were afraid we would get caught by our parents
who would you be without this thought?
i would be here and so cool with being here and tired
and proud of my work this week and even maybe okay with writing this blog, just relaxing a little bit after all this hard work.
i should be here right now.
1. i am
2. i can relax and have some fun
3. i am not willing to give up my peace, i'd rather be here and be at peace then be anywhere in the world

i look forward to having the thought i shouldn't be here right now because it reminds me that maybe i could be doing something to be a bit more loving to myself.
it reminds me to say, what is it that i'm doing here, that is so unbearable and make adjustments.
hey, i should be here right now. and i just blogged. =)

Friday, January 2, 2009

so, i've been off "fighting crime" for the past few weeks, thats why i've missed posting.
the whole idea of a superhero has changed for me though, so i feel its important to share.
my superhero powers have morphed from nothing worth mentioning to welcoming stressful thoughts to examine question and then watch as they take a new form...or not

and my superhero powers are four simple questions.
heres how it works

i'm a bad blogger
is this true?
hmmm, well the definition of a bad blogger is some one who doesn't blog, right? and also someone who when they do blog they blog about boring uninteresting topics that only the person themself would find interesting.
so. i'm a bad blogger.
one follower.
i post pictures of dogs in superhero costumes and i'm doing the work.
i would say. YES i am a bad blogger.
can you absolutely know that's true?
well, really the definition of good and bad is something that eludes me more and more. to attach bad to the blog or the actions around the blog and good to others blogs or others perceived actions around their blogs gets so messy.

ill use a mainstream example. have you seen charlie wilson's war?
member when that amazing actor phillip seymor hoffman whose playing that fat drunk dude poses the question of do you know about what the zen master said. here's a clip from the movie:

Gust: There's a little boy and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse... and everybody in the village says, "how wonderful. the boy got a horse" And the Zen master says, "we'll see." Two years later The boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everyone in the village says, "how terrible." And the Zen master says, "We'll see." Then, a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight... except the boy can't cause his legs all messed up. and everybody in the village says, "How wonderful."
Charlie Wilson: Now the Zen master says, "We'll see."

Right so, good and bad, get messy. It's just so much fun to watch my mind and watch it label, sunshine: good inside at work: bad heat: good heater: bad (it kills the polar bears) and on and on and on. killing polar bears: bad polar bears: good. i am shocked i can still work while being so busy with all the analogies.

shheeeesh. where was i?
o so is it true that i'm a bad blogger?
well, at this point i think its safe to say i'm a blogger.
cause right now, i am blogging. i am. blogging. typiddy type type bloggidy blog blog. according to me, superhero blogar and thats really the only reference i have. i blog.
am i a bad one?
that's just not my business.
so. absolutely cannot no its true i am a bad blogger.

how do i react when i think that?
o man. i just worry about what kind of pictures or funny things i can find to make up for my badness, my inability to blog, i ignore and don't think of my blog. i don't promote my blog. i don't want to read other peoples blogs because they will just prove how bad i am. if they blog more than me: i'm bad, they're good. if they post something before me: i'm bad they're good, if they have more followers than me: bad, good. you get it. my one follower who probably won't even read this. i know you get it.
so i react by avoiding and feeling disappointed in myself. i even blame my dad in a weird way for not teaching me to follow through with anything. (even though my father is very good at keeping up at his blog) nevermind, must blame someone.

when was the first time you had this thought?
i am bad.....fill in the blank....
well, i remember a very early memory i must have been four or five and it was dinner and my mom had made pasta but the kind with the different colored noodles, green, red, yellow. o my holy god. it scared me. i couldn't understand why the noodles were different colored. i usually wasn't picky but i remember thinking no way in hell i will eat that. that is bad news. and thats not where the thought i am bad came in, the i am bad came in when my mom made me sit at the dinner table after everyone else finished and i have this memory of this sinking feeling in my gut as a little girl with the cold noodles in front of me that still scared the piss out of me. i mean if someone handed you a hamburger that was black and neon green would you eat it? i was sitting there and i remember my mom was so mad at me and carise and jason were playing in the other room and i was sitting there thinking i am so bad....and i'll be DAMNED if i put one of those malicious noodles anywhere near my face.

what are you afraid would happen if you didn't believe this story?
i am afraid that without this story i won't blog as often.

who would you be with out your story that you are a bad blogger?
the greatest service to my fellow friends and readers and all (which is basically just dan at this point) is to not try to think for him in the past present or future.
i often write an email and then read it over once its sent as if i am the person reading it and i get this weird ego thrill like i've just jumped into that person's mind and received the email and judged it and gotten a glimpse into their mind so when they write back, i already am expecting them to have received it in a certain way and that leaves a great large part of life out for me. the other people. their part in it, i take that on too. with out this thought, i would be writing this with out raping the readers minds. i would be writing this considerate, maybe even editing for language because lord knows i love to swear...but really i would just be giving the greatest gift i could and that would be an honest open heart that is allowing the words to happen without writing them with a motive. and, i might even do it more often. who knows.

turn arounds.
i am a good blogger.
good bad polarity covered but that leaves me with more work to do on good because if i am to believe that nothing can be bad unless there is good then it throws me into a ton of questions about good and the concepts there. more on that later i imagine so for the sake of simplicity and just to understand that there are both sides to it.
i'll go with this turn around.
three examples
1. in my opinion, this is a good blog.
2. that dog picture is adorable
3. the blogar. now that's a damn good blog name.

i look forward to having the thought i am a bad blogger because it will remind me that its time to blog and do the work.