“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.”
I keep meaning to read more Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse Five
somehow did not have the transcendent effect on me it has on so many other reader. But this collection of graduation speeches Vonnegut made in his later years, as an oft-invited speaker, paints a picture of a warm human being with gentle humor and some degree of self-depreciating wisdom. He was president of the Humanitarian Society, one of those squishy liberals who vex Christians so much by actually believing in all the stuff Jesus said without believing in Jesus.
“1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them.”
Affectionate toward his country, while also disgusted as hell, Vonnegut was a man who saw Dresden burn in World War II, and then watched Korea and Viet Nam and the Cold War happen. His speeches are full of warmth and humanity and jokes that range from funny to canned. This collection, If This Isn't Nice, What Is?
, was a free download from Audible. Since it collects several of his speeches, you can hear him repeating themes, even lines, but a fairly full picture of his philosophy emerges.
“If you want to really 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 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 possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
He was a great guy. It would have been an honor to meet him. This collection has no truly brilliant gems of wisdom or scintillating one-liners, but it's certainly worth having for any Vonnegut fan, and worth listening to if you have any interest in the man at all.
“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”