Author: Vonnegut Kurt Vonnegut, Kurt - Mother Night · Read more Kurt Vonnegut - Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut v · Read more. Kurt Vonnegut says: "I've worked with enough students to know what beginning writers are like, and if they will just talk to me for twenty minutes I can help them. KURT VONNEGUT, JR. Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint the following material: 'The Waking': copyright by Theodore Roethke .
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by Kurt Vonnegut. Copyright by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Published by DELL PUBLISHING CO., INC., 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza,. New York, N.Y. All. Kurt Vonnegut is a master of contemporary American literature. His black humor Bluebeard ranks with Vonnegut's most imaginative works. Broad humor and. HARRISON BERGERON by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. THE YEAR WAS , and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law.
These lessons for writers, drawn from his fiction and non-fiction, reveal Vonnegut as a sharp observer of human nature and all of its existential absurdities.
They are a very human way of making life more bearable. 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 possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something. So many writers will never make a living from their writing.
The key is to find a way to still feel creatively fulfilled. Learn to move on. You might as well have asked that of Beethoven. He was goofing around in Germany like everybody else, and all of a sudden this stuff came gushing out of him. It was music. I was goofing around like everybody else in Indiana, and all of a sudden stuff came gushing out. Writers have to be open to the world as inspiration can strike from anywhere and everywhere.
I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. Between them, nervous, grinning, young, and forever apologetic for his own lack of? Halyard had been with the Shah for three days now and was able to understand, without Khashdrahr's help, five of the Shah's expressions.
The Shah had left his military and spiritual fastness in the mountains to see what he could learn in the most powerful nation on earth for the good of his people. Doctor Halyard was his guide and host. It had been khabu and siki and akka sahn until he was half out of his mind. He leaned forward. We are about to cross the Iroquois River, which divides the town in two. Over there on the opposite bank is the Ilium Works.
The crew had opened a lane for an old Plymouth with a broken headlight, which was coming through from the north side of the river.
The limousine waited for the Plymouth to get through, and then proceeded. The Shah turned to stare at the group through the back window, and then spoke at length. Doctor Halyard smiled and nodded appreciatively, and awaited a translation. They have same rights as other citizens - free speech, freedom of worship, the right to vote.
Before the war, they worked in the Ilium Works, controlling machines, but now machines control themselves much better. Khabu bonanza-pak?
From taxes on the machines, and taxes on personal incomes. Then the Army and the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps people put their money back into the system for more products for better living. He told the Shah that advances had been most profound in purely industrial communities, where the bulk of the population - as in Ilium - had made its living tending machines in one way or another.
In New York City, for instance, there were many skills difficult or uneconomical to mechanize, and the advances hadn't liberated as high a percentage of people from production. Khashdrahr blushed, and translated uneasily, apologetically. They simply tax that part of industry's income that once went into labor, and redistribute it.
Industry is privately owned and managed, and co-ordinated - to prevent the waste of competition - by a committee of leaders from private industry, not politicians. By eliminating human error through machinery, and needless competition through organization, we've raised the standard of living of the average man immensely.
The little man, not brilliant but a good-hearted, plain, ordinary, everyday kind of person. Citizen - Takaru. Khashdrahr shrugged. The limousine came to a stop again, and the driver honked his horn at a crew of Reconstruction and Reclamation Corpsmen. They had left their wheelbarrows blocking the road, and were throwing rocks at a squirrel on a branch a hundred feet overhead.
Halyard rolled down his window. Reluctantly, surlily, he came down to the road and moved two wheelbarrows very slowly, studying the car and its occupants as he did it. He stepped to one side. It's about time! Halyard sputtered, manfully regained his poise, and wiped his face. Khashdrahr handed him the flask of sacred liquor.
He had had the car at the time of the riots, and among the bits of junk in the glove compartment - match cards, registration, flashlight, and face tissues - was the rusty pistol he had been issued then. Having a pistol where some unauthorized person might get at it was very much against the law.
Even members of the huge standing army did without firearms until they'd disembarked for occupation duty overseas. Only the police and plant guards were armed. Paul didn't want the pistol but was forever forgetting to turn it in. Over the years, as it had accumulated a patina of rust, he'd come to regard it as a harmless antique. The glove compartment wouldn't lock, so Paul covered the pistol with tissues. The engine wasn't working properly, now and then hesitating, catching again, slowing suddenly, catching again.
His other cars, a new station wagon and a very expensive sedan, were at home, as he put it, for Anita. Neither of the good cars had ever been in Homestead, and neither had Anita for many years. Anita never needled him about his devotion to the old car, though she did seem to think some sort of explanation to others was in order.
He had overheard her telling visitors that he had had it rebuilt in such a way that it was far better mechanically than what was coming off the automatic assembly lines at Detroit - which simply wasn't true.
Nor was it logical that a man with so special a car would put off and put off having the broken left headlamp fixed. And he wondered how she might have explained, had she known, that he kept a leather jacket in the trunk, and that he exchanged his coat for this and took off his necktie before crossing the Iroquois.
It was a trip he made only when he had to - for, say, a bottle of Irish whisky for one of the few persons he had ever felt close to. He came to a stop at the Homestead end of the bridge. About forty men, leaning on crowbars, picks, and shovels, blocked the way, smoking, talking, milling about something in the middle of the pavement.
They looked around at Paul with an air of sheepishness and, as though there were nothing but time in the world, they moved slowly to the sides of the bridge, leaving an alley barely wide enough for Paul's car.
As they separated, Paul saw what it was they had been standing around. A small man was kneeling beside a chuckhole perhaps two feet in diameter, patting a fresh fill of tar and gravel with the flat of his shovel. Importantly, the man waved for Paul to go around the patch, not over it. The others fell silent, and watched to make sure that Paul did go around it. The others joined in, chorusing the message earnestly. Paul nodded his thanks.
His skin began to itch, as though he had suddenly become unclean. These were members of the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps, in their own estimate the "Reeks and Wrecks. The soldiers, with their hollowness hidden beneath twinkling buttons and buckles, crisp serge, and glossy leather, didn't depress Paul nearly as much as the Reeks and Wrecks did.
He eased through the work crew, past a black government limousine, and into Homestead. A saloon was close to the end of the bridge. Paul had to park his car a half-block away, for another crew was flushing out the storm sewers with an opened fire hydrant. This seemed to be a favorite undertaking.
Whenever he had come to Homestead when the temperature had been above freezing, he'd found a hydrant going. One big man, with an air of proprietorship, kept his hands on the wrench that controlled the flow. Another stood by as second-in-command of the water. All around them, and along the course of the water to the sewer mouth, a crowd stood watching.
A dirty little boy caught a scrap of paper skittering along the sidewalk, fashioned it into a crude boat, and launched it in the gutter. All eyes followed the craft with interest, seeming to wish it luck as it shot perilous rapids, as it snagged on a twig, spun free, shot into the swift, deep main flow, mounted a crest for a triumphant instant, and plunged into the sewer. Paul worked his way through the crowd, which was continuous with the clientele of the saloon, and got to within one rank of the bar.
His back was against an old player piano. No one seemed to have recognized him. It would have been surprising if someone had, for, in line with policy, he kept pretty much to his own side of the river and never permitted his name or picture to appear in the Ilium Star-Tribune. Around the bar were old men, pensioners, too old for the Army or the Reeks and Wrecks.
Each had before him a headless beer in a glass whose rim was opaqued by hours of slow, thoughtful sipping. These oldsters probably arrived early and left late, and any other business had to be done over their heads. On the screen of the television set behind the bar, a large earth mother of a woman, her voice shut off by the volume knob, beamed, moved her lips excitedly, and broke eggs into a mixing bowl.
The old men watched, occasionally clicking their dentures or licking their lips. No one made a move to let him get to the bar. A fat, whitening collie, curled beneath the barstool of an old man blocking Paul's way, showed its toothless gums and growled fuzzily.
Futilely, Paul waved his hand for the bartender's attention. As he shifted from one foot to the other, he recalled the fully mechanized saloon he, Finnerty, and Shepherd had designed when they'd been playful young engineers. To their surprise, the owner of a restaurant chain had been interested enough to give the idea a try. They'd set up the experimental unit about five doors down from where Paul now stood, with coin machines and endless belts to do the serving, with germicidal lamps cleaning the air, with uniform, healthful light, with continuous soft music from a tape recorder, with seats scientifically designed by an anthropologist to give the average man the absolute maximum in comfort.
The first day had been a sensation, with a waiting line extending blocks. Within a week of the opening, curiosity had been satisfied, and it was a boom day when five customers stopped in.
Then this place had opened up almost next door, with a dust-and-germ trap of a Victorian bar, bad light, poor ventilation, and an unsanitary, inefficient, and probably dishonest bartender. It was an immediate and unflagging success. He caught the bartender's eye at last.
When the bartender saw Paul, he dropped his role of high-handed supervisor of morals and settler of arguments and became an obsequious host, like the bartender at the Country Club. Paul was afraid for a moment that he'd been recognized.
But when the bartender failed to call him by name, he supposed that only his class had been recognized. There were a few men in Homestead - like this bartender, the police and firemen, professional athletes, cab drivers, specially skilled artisans - who hadn't been displaced by machines.
They lived among those who had been displaced, but they were aloof and often rude and overbearing with the mass. They felt a camaraderie with the engineers and managers across the river, a feeling that wasn't, incidentally, reciprocated.
The general feeling across the river was that these persons weren't too bright to be replaced by machines; they were simply in activities where machines weren't economical. In short, their feelings of superiority were unjustified. Now, the bartender had sensed that Paul was a personage, and he made a show of letting everyone else go to hell while he gave service to Paul.
The others noticed, and turned to stare at the privileged newcomer. Paul ordered the bottle of Irish in a quiet voice, and tried to become inconspicuous by bending over and petting the aged collie. The dog barked, and its owner turned on his barstool to confront Paul.
The old man was as toothless as the dog. Paul's first impression was of red gums and huge hands - as though everything were sapped of color and strength but these. I've been in here once or twice before.
You're young Doctor Proteus. The old man was apparently quite deaf, for his voice was erratically loud, then soft. Paul colored. The old welding shop, was it? He thrust out his hands, palms up.
Good as ever, and there's not two like them anywhere. You said so yourself. How many of you can say that? Knowing that, knowing smart men like you say that about Rudy, that means a lot. It's about all I got, you know, Doctor? That and the dog. His eyes were magnified and fogged by extremely thick glasses. Maybe he's the smartest man in the country.
The man Rudy had shaken was now studying Paul sullenly. Paul glanced quickly about the room and saw hostility all around him. Addled Rudy Hertz thought he was doing a handsome thing by Paul, showing him off to the crowd. Rudy was senile, remembering only his prime, incapable of remembering or understanding what had followed his retirement.
But these others, these men in their thirties, forties, and fifties - they knew. The youngsters in the booth, the two soldiers and three girls, they were like Katharine Finch.
They couldn't remember when things had been different, could hardly make sense of what had been, though they didn't necessarily like what was. But these others who stared now, they remembered. They had been the rioters, the smashers of machines. There was no threat of violence in their looks now, but there was resentment, a wish to let him know that he had intruded where he was not liked.
And still the bartender did not return. Paul limited his field of vision to Rudy, ignoring the rest. The man with thick glasses, whom Rudy had invited to admire Paul, continued to stare.
Paul talked inanely now about the dog, about Rudy's remarkable state of preservation. He was helplessly aware that he was hamming it up, proving to anyone who might still have doubts that he was indeed an insincere ass.
He didn't seem to notice that silence greeted his proposal, and that he drank alone. He made clucking noises with his tongue, and winked in fond reminiscence, and drained his glass with a flourish. He banged it on the bar. Paul, smiling glassily, decided to say nothing more, since anything more would be the wrong thing.
He folded his arms and leaned against the keyboard of the player piano. In the silence of the saloon, a faint discord came from the piano, hummed to nothingness. His voice was surprisingly high for so resonant-looking a man. Several glasses were raised this time.
When the toast was done, the man turned to Paul with the friendliest of smiles and said, "My boy's just turned eighteen, Doctor.
Wonderful age, eighteen. He isn't what you'd call real bright. Like his old man - his heart's in the right place, and he wants to do the most he can with what he's got. He just finished his National General Classification Tests. He just about killed himself studying up for them, but it wasn't any use.
He didn't do nearly well enough for college. There were only twenty-seven openings, and six hundred kids trying for them. Somebody else, like Matheson, maybe, would. Matheson was Ilium's manager in charge of testing and placement.
Paul knew him slightly, didn't like him very well. Matheson was a powerful bureaucrat who went about his job with the air of a high priest.
He's awfully clever with his hands. He's got a kind of instinct with machines. Give him one he's never seen before, and in ten minutes he'll have it apart and back together again.
He loves that kind of work. Isn't there someplace in the plant -? He reddened. Sometimes we get Reconstruction and Reclamation people over to help put in big machines or do a heavy repair job, but not very often. Maybe he could open a repair shop.
How many repair shops you think Ilium can support, eh? Repair shop, sure! I was going to open one when I got laid off. So was Joe, so was Sam, so was Alf.
We're all clever with our hands, so we'll all open repair shops. One repairman for every broken article in Ilium. Meanwhile, our wives clean up as dressmakers - one dressmaker for every woman in town. Paul stepped away from the box. Machinery whirred importantly for a few seconds, and then the piano started clanging away at "Alexander's Ragtime Band" liked cracked carillons. Mercifully, conversation was all but impossible. Mercifully, the bartender emerged from the basement and handed Paul a dusty bottle over the old heads.
Paul turned to leave, and a powerful hand closed on his upper arm. Rudy, his expansive host, held him. Just the way the feller hit 'em. Look at 'em go! Rudy still shouted. You can almost see a ghost sitting there playing his heart out. She was already dressed for the party at the Country Club, already dominating a distinguished company she had yet to join.
As she handed Paul his cocktail, he felt somehow inadequate, bumbling, in the presence of her beautiful assurance. Only things that might please or interest her came to mind - all else submerged.
It wasn't a conscious act of his mind, but a reflex, a natural response to her presence. It annoyed him that the feeling should be automatic, because he fancied himself in the image of his father, and, in this situation, his father would have been completely in charge - taking the first, last, and best lines for himself. The expression "armed to the teeth" occurred to Paul as he looked at her over his glass. With an austere dark gown that left her tanned shoulders and throat bare, a single bit of jewelry on her finger, and very light make-up, Anita had successfully combined the weapons of sex, taste, and an aura of masculine competence.
She quieted, and turned away under his stare. Inadvertently, he'd gained the upper hand. He had somehow communicated the thought that had bobbed up in his thoughts unexpectedly: that her strength and poise were no more than a mirror image of his own importance, an image of the power and self-satisfaction the manager of the Ilium Works could have, if he wanted it.
In a fleeting second she became a helpless, bluffing little girl in his thoughts, and he was able to feel real tenderness toward her. Kroner and Baer got there early, and I sent Finnerty over to keep them company while you get dressed. I swear he was wearing the same baggy suit he wore when he said goodbye to us seven years ago.
And I'll swear it hasn't been cleaned since then, either. I tried to get him to wear your old tuxedo, and he wouldn't hear of it.
Went right over the way he was. I suppose a stiff shirt would have been worse in a way. It would have showed how dirty his neck is. But he just looks awful all the time. I mean, after all, a man in his position, and not even clean. It was true. Finnerty had always been shockingly lax about his grooming, and some of his more fastidious supervisors in the old days had found it hard to believe that a man could be so staggeringly competent, and at the same time so unsanitary-looking.
Occasionally, the tall, gaunt Irishman would surprise everyone - usually between long stretches of work - by showing up with his cheeks gleaming like wax apples, and with new shoes, socks, shirt, tie, and suit, and, presumably, underwear. Engineers' and managers' wives would make a big fuss over him, to show him that such care of himself was important and rewarding; and they declared that he was really the handsomest thing in the Ilium industrial fold. Quite possibly he was, in a coarse, weathered way: grotesquely handsome, like Abe Lincoln, but with a predatory, defiant cast to his eyes rather than the sadness of Lincoln's.
After Finnerty's periodic outbursts of cleanliness and freshness, the wives would watch with increasing distress as he wore the entire celebrated outfit day in and day out, until the sands and soot and grease of time had filled every seam and pore.
And Finnerty had other unsavory aspects. Into the resolutely monogamous and Eagle Scout-like society of engineers and managers, Finnerty often brought women he'd picked up in Homestead a half-hour before. When it came time, after supper, to play games, Finnerty and the girl would generally take a highball in either hand and wander off to the shrub-walled first tee, if it was warm, or out to his car, if it was cold.
His car - in the old days, anyway - had been more disreputable than Paul's was today. In this direction, at least - the most innocuous direction, socially - Paul had imitated his friend.
Finnerty had claimed that his love of books and records and good whisky kept him too broke to download a car and clothes commensurate with his position in life. Paul had computed the value of Finnerty's record, book, and bottle collections and concluded that the Irishman would still have plenty left for even two new cars.
It was then that Paul began to suspect that Finnerty's way of life wasn't as irrational as it seemed; that it was, in fact, a studied and elaborate insult to the managers and engineers of Ilium, and to their immaculate wives.
Why Finnerty had seen fit to offend these gentle people was never clear to Paul, who supposed the aggressiveness, like most aggressiveness, dated back to some childhood muddle. The only intimation as to what that childhood had been like had come not from Finnerty but from Kroner, who took a breeder's interest in his engineers' bloodlines.
Kroner had once remarked, confidingly and with a show of sympathy, that Finnerty was a mutant, born of poor and stupid parents. The only insight Finnerty had ever permitted Paul was in a moment of deep depression, during a crushing hangover, when he'd sighed and said he'd never felt he belonged anywhere. Paul wondered about his own deep drives as he realized how much pleasure he was getting from recollections of Finnerty's socially destructive, undisciplined antics.
Paul indulged himself in the wistful sensation of feeling that he, Paul, might be content, if only - and let the thought stop there, as though he knew vaguely what lay beyond. He didn't. Paul envied Finnerty's mind, for Finnerty could be anything he wanted to be, and be brilliant at it.
Whatever the times might have called for, Finnerty would have been among the best. If this had been the age of music, Finnerty would have been, and in fact was, a top-flight pianist - or he might have been an architect or physician or writer. With inhuman intuition, Finnerty could sense the basic principles and motives of almost any human work, not just engineering. Paul could have been only what he was, he thought. As he filled his glass again, he supposed that he could only have come to this moment, this living room, into the presence of Anita.
It was an appalling thought, to be so well-integrated into the machinery of society and history as to be able to move in only one plane, and along one line. Finnerty's arrival was disturbing, for it brought to the surface the doubt that life should be that way. Paul had been thinking of hiring a psychiatrist to make him docile, content with his lot, amiable to all. But now, here was Finnerty, pushing him in the other direction.
Finnerty had seemed to see something in Paul he hadn't seen in the others, something he'd liked - possibly a rebellious streak that Paul was only now beginning to suspect. For some reason Finnerty had made Paul his only friend. Baer's supposed to be on my left, and Kroner on my right; but now, with a member of the National Industrial Planning Board blowing in unexpectedly, I'm not sure who goes where.