I finished reading A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut a couple of days ago and found it a little disappointing. The book felt like Kurt dropped a box of post-it notes at my feet and said “well, I’m out to lunch.” Being the observant reader, I was able to take home a few nuggets of value away from the text though. First and foremost is his quote about the arts. This has been circling social media outlets for some time but I enjoy repeating it.
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 [his way of making sure the reader knows he’s not being sarcastic from earlier in the book]. The arts are not a way of making a living. They are 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 sake. 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 will get an enormous reward. You will have created something. (p. 24, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York)
How can I argue with that? It dovetails into my quote from watching Press.Pause.Play. The arts aren’t about money, anyway. Really. Sure, we’d all like to roll around on a bed full of money a la Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal, but how many of us will really cash in on that? How many of us have the real support of the people around us and others who know how to make stuff happen for writers, actors, comedians, etc.? We can’t all be professional writers. We all can’t be baseball players. We all can’t be Hollywood-types.
There’s just too many of us, and some of us have friends in very high places. It’s a game to some, but not me. It’s only a game when you make it about money. At this point in my minute existence, all I want is to leave something behind much like a slug that leaves a trail over a sidewalk. You may get the same sense of discomfort or disgust while reading my work, too. Good on you.
The current book I’m reading is Unleashing the Ideavirus by Seth Godin, and he would say it’s not a matter of technical ability or money. To him, it’s a matter of creating an idea to circulate material to as many people as possible. This kinetic, wide-eyed thinking is the amusement I miss in my economics classes back in the day. It totally misses the point, the one I just told you in the last paragraph. This is not to be confused with an “it’ll sell itself” attitude, because that’s not what’s being discussed.
Vonnegut also spoke of how he was regarded at English departments. “Critics feel,” he writes, “that a person cannot be a serious artist and also have a technical education, which I had.” (p.15) This is very meaningful to me, as I’ve found myself in the same boat. What I have to ask myself is “do I want to be recognized as a ‘serious artist’?” It’s a legit question, and I suppose I couldn’t say at this point. Maybe if I were younger I’d be gung-ho about the idea. Now, I’m not so sure.
At any rate, I’m still here. I’m still breathing, writing, and working. Maybe someday I can look back and laugh at this? I certainly hope so, because it’s pretty damned depressing.