Advice from Kurt Vonnegut
Like many people, I enjoy singing. Also like many people, I am very bad at singing. Several of my exes have politely, and then less politely, asked me to stop doing it, even while we were at home, folding yoga pants.
There's this idea that we should only do things we’re good at. The rest of it, all the hundreds of thousands of things we’re not at all competent in, should be done either under cover of darkness, shamefully, or never at all.
But those who never sing off-key, or deprive themselves of doing the Elaine dance, or stop themselves from writing silly poetry about hungry vaginas are missing out on one of the most fundamentally human experiences we have at our disposal.
I was reminded of the importance of such for-the-joy-of-it endeavors when Gabe Hudson tweeted a letter from Kurt Vonnegut. A high school English teacher asked her students to write to a famous author and get their advice.
No one else responded, except Kurt Vonnegut, which, I mean, !!!
His advice was this:
Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:
I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six-line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net.
Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?
Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash receptacles. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
Vonnegut’s letter reminded me to sing a little more loudly that day, to really belt that Evanescence into the great void that is my soul’s becoming.
And I hope you do, too. I hope you do some small, joyful, entirely ridiculous and purposeless thing today, and that you do it with such brazen aplomb that your soul grows in the manner of the Grinch’s heart after he discovers the meaning of Christmas. (Not coincidentally, BECAUSE SINGING.)
And I secretly hope you’ll tell me about it, even though Vonnegut thinks you should keep it to yourself.
Getting snippity over vasectomies and how to address a lack of dating experience
“I recently began dating a woman who is 12 years younger than myself. We have been doing everything except intercourse. We have very good sexual chemistry. Eighteen years ago I had a vasectomy. She knows that. And yet, she is concerned that she may become pregnant.” … continue reading
Poly interference and outing yourself as a unicorn
“My girlfriend and I are poly, and she recently hit it off with a guy at a work conference. She wants to follow up on their connection, but the guy is not poly. What can I do about this other guy? I don’t want to interfere too much, but at the same time I want to reassure him that I’m okay with him getting involved with her.” … continue reading
And, there’s more recent advice on my website. (I’m trying to be better about updating.)
If you want another romantic comedy to add to your TBR pile, you can enter to win my book, Love Where You Work, on BookSweeps today —plus 50+ exciting romantic comedies from a great collection of authors AND a brand new eReader.
Just click the link and add your email to enter.
Or, if you like your romance on the steamier side, there are about 100 free erotica books to choose from in this batch.
What’s in the box?
True Biz by Sara Novic.
A big-hearted weaving of several characters impacted by deafness, including CODAs (children of deaf adults), a cochlear-implanted teen who’s never met another deaf person, and a generations-old Deaf family whose daughter is unexpectedly born hearing.
This is a great primer for anyone who wants to know more deeply and intimately the issues that impact those with hearing loss, told through the lens of (mostly) a group of teenagers at a boarding school and their gay headmistress. Highly recommend!
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.
This is a science book, if science books were written by gossip columnists. (Bryson’s not a gossip columnist, but it 100% reads that way, and it’s all the more entertaining because of it.)
Have you ever wondered how we figured out the age of the earth? How the moon came about and somehow controls our tides? What the fuck thermodynamics actually is? Bryson tackles all the questions we wished our science teachers would’ve addressed, and with unsparing asides on the brilliant, egotistical, painfully awkward eccentrics who grew our knowledge, sometimes by electrocuting themselves, ingesting poison, or burning off their own eyebrows.
For instance, here’s Henry Cavendish, who was the first to isolate hydrogen.
“Cavendish … suffered … from shyness to a ‘degree bordering on disease.’ Any human contact was for him a source of the deepest discomfort.
Once he opened his door to find an Austrian admirer, freshly arrived from Vienna, on the front step. Excitedly the Austrian began to babble out praise. For a few moments Cavendish received the compliments as if they were blows from a blunt object and then, unable to take any more, fled down the path and out the gate, leaving the front door wide open. It was some hours before he could be coaxed back to the property. Even his housekeeper communicated with him by letter.
Just a poem
“Hand Games” by Marge Piercy
Mostly the television is on
and the washer is running and the kettle
shrieks it’s boiling while the telephone
rings. Mostly we are worrying about
the fuel bill and how to pay the taxes
and whether the diet is working
when the moment of vulnerability
lights on the nose like a blue moth
and flitters away through clouds of mosquitoes
and the humid night. In the leaking
sieve of our bodies we carry
the blood of love.
PS: Some personal news.
Photo: Robyn Kessler
Thanks for reading AnnaGrams! If this was forwarded to you, subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.