Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make 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. — Kurt Vonnegut
I was reading Vonnegut. For no other reason than to say I was reading Vonnegut, thinking it would make me sound erudite. And wanting an opportunity to say erudite. First time I heard the word it was used as part of an introduction. A guy describing himself. As erudite. I assumed it meant asshole.
The other reason I was reading Vonnegut was that I figured Kurt couldn’t be all bad, having been cited so often and more importantly that he’d made a cameo appearance playing himself in a Rodney Dangerfield movie—hired by Rodney’s wealthy character to write a college book report, on Vonnegut. Vonnegut wrote the paper. And got a B.
Now, three decades and two lifetimes later, I’ve taken Vonnegut’s words to heart—not Rodney’s college paper but Kurt’s quote regarding the arts—not for a living but the joy and significance of creation. Something from nothing. Alchemy. Even the rubbish. The inherent majesty of manifestation: poetry, painting, writing and song. Effort and reward. The rumpled foolscap in a bin. The polished, published hardback, bookended on a shelf. Library stacks and album sleeves, digital recordings and paperless chapbooks—every innovation, interpretation and collaboration grasped from the ether, atmosphere and mental space, thought-bubble-drifting-clouds where pictures, words and eighth-notes merge, converge and find their way to fingers, keyboards, fretboards, staffs and paper—tangibility now birthed then berthed to lifebuoys, hawsers, docks that stretch beyond the sea in fathomless depths of pure potentiality.
This, I understand, have tasted, shared. And long to savour any, every time the motivation, muse and inspiration rear, arise, reveal themselves and beckon, welcome us to where we still don’t fully understand. And yet we know this space, that place, is beautifully, frighteningly, mindbogglingly real. The trip, unscheduled, to which you simply have to hold your ticket—destination blank—and saunter, wait, next to those tracks and platform landings, terminals and transit stands. Hail, hail all you like, your ride—our ride—will simply come along and pick us up when fates and norns and crystal balls align, those instances and instants in between the second hands, firsthand experience and nanoseconds serendipitous. A moment between moments cast in time.
And Kurt, despite your faults and foibles, rest in peace. The words you shared, you share, remain—this art the greatest legacy of all.