I Discovered Kurt Vonnegut

[thoughts from  ~burning woman~   by Sha’Tara]

Quote: “Most writers waste people’s time with too many words. I’m trying to reduce everything down to the minimum. My last work will be a blank piece of paper.” — Samuel Beckett

{did you say “typos”?  Ok, let me fix that, for the grouches and grammar Nazis…}

That’s right, that’s what the title says, I discovered Kurt Vonnegut.  I don’t mean by that that I never heard of him before, I’ve heard of Kurt Vonnegut since, well basically puberty, when politics, politics and politics became so important to me I started reading fiction in Earnest (a diner that used to belch barbecue exhaust on the eastern end of town), and then in my spare time as well.  (Yes, that is, indeed, a misplaced modifier – I just thought it looked better here than there.)

Having discovered Kurt Vonnegut, I thought I’d finally, finally, get to read Cat’s Cradle, which the entire world has heard of but few have read.  So I got that, but a few other books decided to tag along and now I’m reading “Breakfast of Champions.”  Ultimately, in this life (or the next, life’s funny that way) I will get to read Cat’s Cradle, honest, I will.

But this isn’t about Kurt Vonnegut, or Cat’s Cradle, or even Breakfast of Champions.  This is about writing… and reading.  So then, allow me (and how could you not? – got you there) to re-preface this with, “So many Writers, so Little Time (to Read them All!)”

In the worlds of writers and readers, I’m primarily a reader.  When I write it’s for the pleasure of reading the stuff for my own entertainment or edification.  Oh yes, forgot to mention that when I write I haven’t got a clue what I’m going to write about, or what I’m writing about, or where it’s all supposed to go, therefore there can be but one reason why I should write and that’s as already stated.

Having said that, I have a massive complaint, as a professional reader that is.  When I decided to become a reader, I naturally set upon the task of reading all that was ever written.  I mean, how to choose, right?  So grab something, anything, written, and read it.  I would eventually have read all that had ever been written still extant.  I was after all quasi-literate in 2.36 languages, already a huge head start.  I could multi-task, even reading while driving (that came later and it takes some getting used to by other drivers on the same road, but that’s their problem, right?  Just get with the program and all will be well) or doing other menial tasks for which AI’s hadn’t been invented yet.

But then came a heart-stopping, bone-jarring, mind-numbing realization: Writers!  Contrary to what my English and French teachers insisted upon, these critters weren’t all dead smart guys.  Some still lived and they still wrote!  Not only that but a whole swamp of wanna-bees hummed and buzzed in the undergrowth.  Books, books and more books were piling up and bookstores were graduating into high-rises.

Then came the computer age and… ahhh, a bit of respite as bookstores went broke and closed.  Newspapers thinned out.  Magazines became things you whispered about if you didn’t want people to guess how old you were.  For a few brief moments it looked like a recognized author could get by with writing a couple of novels in a lifetime and retire comfortably somewhere in Greece, preferably near a nude beach and a decent telescope – don’t assume I’m talking only of male writers.  After all, writers who become authors have imagination.

Anyway, I was getting nicely settled back down to my classical reading of Frank Herbert, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Canterbury Tales (just kiddin!) Isaac Asimov (Yawn!) and Alice in Greenland (well, why not?  Do YOU know where that rabbit hole goes?) as well as Little Women when there was a loud ‘bang!’ and just like that, there was an Amazonian Internet explosion and from it began to… you guessed it… ooze out more and more books, not from authors, but from writers!  Not only that, but as time went on, this Infernal Internet decided it could TRANSLATE books written in languages that sourced somewhere in the back of the Horsehead nebula, so that any and all books could be read by anyone with only a rudimentary grasp of her own maternal language.

So, I read (make that past tense) and read (still past tense) and read (now in the present) and it’s the punishment of Sisyphus all over again. It’s the 13th Labour of Hercules.  I will drop dead one day soon, and my face will fall and be absorbed inside the FBReader library.

Imagine this: A couple of days ago I innocently took on a landscape job in Yarrow (that being a little town S-W of here, and yes it is named after that weed).  There was a nastily overgrown backyard in a corner of which was a cute little cabin.  Mystified, I looked through the one window and there, at a desk, facing a computer, was a person, a people of the Earth variety, engrossed and staring at the screen, and the fingers tapping out a dance on a keyboard.  OK, thought I, must be an accountant or some such person working from home.

Imagine my crest fallen chagrin when the people person stepped out of the cabin with a frown, but also a hopeful and winning smile, and asked me if I’d seen her kale plant.  ???Say what?  I looked over the gargantuan infestation of weeds… “It’s around here somewhere” says the person, and by pulling at the weeds with a hoe, sure enough, I uncovered a starved, skeletal pale kale thing which beheld the sunshine for the very first time in its short and now totally traumatized life.  “Could you place it out of harm’s way while you clean out the weeds?” added the person.

By then I was getting very suspicious about the person’s computer activity, meaning, who asks to have a 97.2% dead kale thingy transplanted – in the middle of September?  (Keep in mind I’m writing from the Northern hemisphere here and even if Climate Changed temperatures insist on hovering in the 80’s F – and who knows what Celsius would make of that, silly Roman, it’s practically winter here.) 

I said to myself, I know what sort of people person this is… I just know.  So I slyly asked, “How did your garden end up like this?”  If only I had just shut up and stayed with my first assumption!  Stupid me: the mental grenade exploded:  “Oh, I’m a writer, an author actually, and I’m behind on a deadline so no time for gardening this summer.”

Aaaaarghhhh!  #@%#!!! Another writer!!!  It’s like they’re literally coming up out of the weeds and woodwork.  And I had her within reach of my various implements of destruction too!  Good ground a-plenty for a decent burial, and all the necessary tools at my disposal.  Yes, although it’s pure cowardice on my part that that writer is still alive and clacking away to her deadline, I am proud to say that I did not attack her, or otherwise attempt to do her in. 

With total self-control I turned around, slowly, counted to 13 in both directions, and turned back with the fakest smile ever produced and said, “Ah!”  Needless to say, but I’ll write it anyway, just in case, she assumed I was expressing appreciation at the thought of another book on the ether-shelves and smiled broadly and boldly.  Don’t people ever realize when they’re this close to death?

But the books… well, they keep piling up, and up.  As the Preacher observes wryly in Ecclesiastes,  (that would be from the Judaic-Christian bible for those of you who forgot and remain disconnected) and I quote: “Of the making of many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”  Even then, thousands of years ago in what was practically prehistory, when they hadn’t even invented paper, someone was already in my predicament.  Faced with such impossible odds, it’s really no wonder people turn to God in despair.

12 thoughts on “I Discovered Kurt Vonnegut

  1. Phil Huston

    In a conversation with an Englishman I won’t expose, we discussed that if one were to put a word processor in a cage with an orangutan (or choose your mammal) and give them a WordPress account you would end up with another mediocre erotic novel, asci art or obsequious, meaningless poetry, I was depressed and look at me now MEMEs, my heart is broken, my heart sings, and freaking bad Hobbit and Harry Potter dragon and wizard knock offs before you ever got anything worth a shit. Steinbeck called writers writing for themselves “hooptedoodle”. The plethora of self indulgent hooptedoodle makes reading like mining for diamonds in a poop farm, and a why bother proposition. Your conclusion was gold.

    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      I don’t know that I’d call it wasting time. If I was into writing I wouldn’t care (well, as a matter of fact I don’t care obviously since I write without even thinking “publishing”!) as long as I was either having a good time doing it, or I was forcing my mind to disgorge “stuff” it otherwise would keep hidden from “our” internal discussion and arguments. I need to write things down, not just ruminate about them in my mind. Once written down, if there is a shadow of legibility and common sense in it, I sometimes turn it into an essay and post here. The short stories, that’s the funny part. They seem to come in droves, or “migrating flocks” some of which I catch and write down. No idea where they come from, or where they’re going – kind of like dreams. Then, when posted, if I can make someone other than myself, laugh, or come close to tears, from that output, well that’s a bonus. I always think… I’m not forcing anyone to read this stuff, so it’s not an imposition. Plus, if by chance it should inspire someone else to grab the thought, idea, set-up, and write away on it, total bonus. Yes, there is much being written that “I” think doesn’t need to be… but that’s an OPINION, not a fact. I’ve gone to great lengths to “manage” my “follows” so as not to be inundated with comments that mean nothing to me, but obviously they mean something to those commenting back and forth. Also, my little “article” was something off-the-cuff, more of a humour piece than anything meaningful. I was shooting for the laugh track… 🙂 Keep writing, Frank. I’ve read so much on the history of Ireland, particularly the horror stories of oppression, persecution, famine and diaspora, internecine warfare and civil war, I don’t know if I’ll be able to read your current piece, but I’m sure anyone interested in the history of that part of the world will want to read it, coming from someone living there. As a born Breton, I’m always interested in what a Breton writes about my “once and future” country.

      1. franklparker

        I was only joking – there’s no stopping me! I do recall reading “Cats Cradle” a long time ago but can remember nothing about it now. Perhaps it’s time I read it again. As for Vonnegut’s humour, and writing about horrors, I remember “Slaughterhouse Five”, his memoir about being in Dresden after it was destroyed by a firestorm as a result of Allied bombing. Which reminds me of two things: one of the raids my father was involved in created a firestorm killing thousands of civilians in Hamburg and the original Poor Law Inspector established a fever hospital as an annex to the Kilrush Workhouse in a former pig slaughterhouse.

    2. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks Phil. I wasn’t being totally serious (or honest) here, more into the humour of the thing. Humourists have to exaggerate to hit their target… which is to make someone laugh, or forget her problems for a few moments.

    1. Phil Huston

      John Lennon said, paraphrased, that time wasted that was enjoyable wasn’t wasted time. The meaningless drivel on the internet doesn’t mean that in the midst of self awareness journaling you can’t still find a good story. Or write one.

      1. Sha'Tara Post author

        I agree, there’s some amazingly great stuff popping up on WordPress; refreshing, new, challenging- with the added advantage that most of it comes in the form of short stories, poems, essas or articles that can be read upon being received.

  2. Rosaliene Bacchus

    Sha’Tara, your commentary makes me laugh and cry at the the same time. So many books and so little time to read even 0.1 percent of those published each year.

    As a novelist once again facing the daunting process of finding an agent/publisher, I’m overwhelmed when I visit the websites of potential agents only to discover that I haven’t read any of their best-selling novels. [It’s a plus when you can tell them you’ve read and liked a book by one of their authors.] With so much competition, I begin to question whether what I have to share with readers have any validity. Have I wasted another three years in front of my computer screen?

    Books have changed my life for the better. So, I continue tapping away at the keyboard in the hope that my words would make some difference to someone, someday.

    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Rosaliene. When I discovered I could write (after winning a prize some hundred years ago yesterday) I started writing in Earnest (remember that diner?) Well, Earnest showed up wherever I moved to. Some 20 years ago when I looked at my own stack of stuff written, including 4 unpublished novels (a dystopia, 2 sci-fi, and basically an auto-biography on the status and philosophy re: being a transgendered person) I made a pact with myself over a cup of coffee while sitting in Earnest: I would attempt to publish any of my material if, and only if, I could not find the same “stuff” having already been written and published and said in a superior way. That leaves me with my “Transgender and Tradition” novel. The points made in there are just not available on public shelves. Therefore, and ergo and all that, if I did succeed in publishing this work, I would not be either plagiarizing anyone, or taking away someone else’s livelihood. So, if I can get past my huge reluctance in entering the publishing world, that may yet see the light of day in the public world. Earnest still welcomes readers and still makes a great cup of coffee and I believe it’s syndicated and there’s at least one in every town.

  3. poeturja

    Oh, my heart pounded as I read your post. I suddenly remembered reading my first Vonnegut (Breakfast of Champions) and laughing out loud. For some reason, Cat’s Cradle is my favorite and I’ve read that one every decade since my 20’s. You must make the time to read it! That said, well, I did read your entire post but my neurodivergent mind was clacking away so I need to re-read again before being able to continue commenting. So many books, so little time…

    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks for your comment. Now I really want to get to “Cat’s Cradle” My reason for “perennially” postponing reading it is, I heard it was a dystopia, and I was thinking, Oh, no! Not another “1984” or “Brave New World” or such. Perhaps it’s somewhat different in tone. He seems to write with a penchant for humour, and I like that.


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