Kurt Vonnegut

Higher Than Where It Began

"The people who can afford to buy books and magazines and go to the movies don’t like to hear about people who are poor or sick, so start your story up here [indicates top of the G-I axis]. You will see this story over and over again. People love it, and it is not copyrighted. The story is ‘Man in Hole,’ but the story needn’t be about a man or a hole. It’s: somebody gets into trouble, gets out of it again [draws line A].

It is not accidental that the line ends up higher than where it began. This is encouraging to readers."

~ Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut on the shapes of stories from Maria Popova on Vimeo.

See also:

  • "Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories and Good News vs. Bad News," Brain Pickings, November 26, 2012
  • Vonnegut, K., & Simon, D. (2005). A man without a country. New York: Seven Stories Press. [library]
  • Duate, N. (2011, November). The secret structure of great talks. TED Talks. http://bit.ly/yrDGfo

Making Life More Bearable

From Kurt Vonnegut's A Man Without a Country:

Here’s a lesson in creative writing. First rule, don’t use semicolons. They’re transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. And I realize some of you might be having trouble trying to decide if I’m kidding or not. So from now on, I’ll tell you when I’m kidding.

For instance, Join the National Guard or the Marines and teach democracy. I’m kidding.

We’re about to be attacked by Al-Qaeda. Wave flags if you have them, that always seems to scare ‘em away. I’m kidding.

If you really want to hurt your parents and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding.

The arts aren’t a way to make a living. They’re a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sakes. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend—even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You’ll get an enormous reward. You’ll have created something.

You Are Not Alone, Others Feel As You Do

Excerpts from a KCRW Bookworm interview with Kurt Vonnegut a year ago discussing his last book, A Man Without a Country. He died yesterday at 84 years old.

The crucified planet earth, should it find a voice in a sense of irony, might now well say of our abuse of it, ‘Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.’ The irony would be that we know what we are doing. And when the last living thing dies on account of us, how poetical it would be if Life could say, in a voice floating up perhaps from the floor of the Grand Canyon, ‘It is done. People did not like it here.’

Millionaires and billionaires are the only ones who have representation in our government now. And we pretend to have two parties, but it’s one party financed by millionaires and billionaires. The Repulicans and the Democrats fight—pretend to fight and to be really angry—but they’re both very well paid to pretend to fight and actually not to make any trouble for the possessors of great wealth.

My dream of a utopia right now is public schools with classes of fifteen students or fewer. That’s it. Just everywhere. And this we could easily afford. All our money...has gone into weaponry.

At the very end of every graduation address I say, ‘All right, now I’m going to want a show of hands. Everybody here: parents, students, campus cops, anybody. How many of you in the course of your education between kindergarten and today, have had a teacher who made you happier to be alive, prouder to be alive than you’d previously believed possible? A show of hands please.’ And so a lot of people will fake it, of course. And then I say, ‘All right, now please say the name of that teacher to someone standing or sitting near you.’ And all these murmurs go on. People who were faking it will suddenly think of a teacher who was that good. Look, all you need is one great teacher and some people really love to teach.

Susan Sontag said something [about the Holocaust] that was so helpful to me…‘Ten percent of any population is cruel no matter what, ten percent of any population is merciful no matter what, and the other eighty percent can be pulled in either direction.’

I have said a reason to write books—or to write anything—is to say to other people, ‘You are not alone, others feel as you do.’