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4/24/2007

I hate disclaimers… however, this is atrociously late for two reasons. One is an untimely passing in my extended “family.” The other is the simple fact that there’s no way I could possibly condense my thoughts on this man in just one day.

“Still and all, why bother? Here's my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”

We lost a good one recently. A great one, in fact. Though he’d never claim as much.

I don’t often comment on the subject of fallen public figures. I oftentimes find the subject morbid. In spite of my recent rant about Anna Nicole Smith (which was intended as more of a swing at news media), I’ve really only offered my thoughts on Richard Pryor, Dimebag Darrell and Johnny Cash.

But Kurt Vonnegut’s passing has jarred me significantly, and many others.

It was Vonnegut’s writing that really drove my style and my perception of life as we know it. While I don’t necessarily share all of his opinions (we would likely never have engaged in theological discussion, being that I’m Christian and he was a skeptic), I feel as though his stance on life in general resonated with me over the years.

I first discovered Vonnegut’s work in London some six years ago this time. I took a class in postmodernism in literature, and there were some real gems on the syllabus that I still have. The New York Trilogy, The Crying of Lot 49, Ulysses, and of course, Slaughterhouse-Five.

The latter is the one that really sticks out with me.

I was utterly mesmerized with Vonnegut’s prose and non-linear structure. It was something all too new to me in the world of literature. Not to mention the fact that the book’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, the perfect portrait of the unreliable narrator. To say that Slaughterhouse is an important contribution to American literature would be a massive understatement.

It’s not just an anti-war book, although that is surely a component. There’s something special about that one, but all of his works, really, are enlightening, refreshing reflections.

Vonnegut’s contributions are significant for a multitude of reasons, the least of which was not his message. No matter how bizarre or absurd his topic, the thrust of every one of his books is to make the reader question everything. Think for yourself. Whether the matters at hand be political, sociological, religious, scientific, whatever. He really covers the breadth of humanity.

And a humanist he was. Ultimately, Vonnegut’s fascination with humankind, be it from the stance of a cynic or an optimist (I really think it depends on the person in question), truly drives his stories and engages the reader in the plight of doing what’s best for humanity. Or at the least just exhibiting some goddamn good common sense, something we seem to lack a lot of these days.

The remarkable thing about Vonnegut’s books are really the protagonists. Or what he considers to be protagonists. Ultimately they’re not terribly proactive, certainly not in the classic, heroic sense. They also don’t fit the archetypal template of the textbook protagonist. They aren’t particularly good looking and are typically riddled with self-doubt. Moreover, they don’t have any real goal in life… they just sort of meander through the story, giving the impression that their fate is predetermined no matter what their goals.

Billy Pilgrim is a perfect example, perhaps the finest. He spends practically all of Slaughterhouse as a passive observer, merely bearing witness to the various atrocities of Dresden and the war in general. He is literally forced to glide through time, falling away wherever the space-faring Tralfamadorians take him.

It’s an interesting concept, and it’s something that’s gonna force people into working to figure it out. Like many aspects of life in general, it’s not terribly cut and dry. There are pieces that have to be assembled, loves. To quote a good friend of mine, the day of Vonnegut’s passing was “a sad day for anyone with a brain.”

It’s not light fare, and it’s not fluff. It’s easy to read but sometimes tough to dissect. It’s complex, phenomenal literature from a brilliant mind that will not be soon forgotten. They’re contributions that cannot be understated, and Vonnegut’s message needs to be loud and clear, now more so than ever.

Question everything, accept nothing.

“We are here on this planet to fart around and nothing more.”

So it goes.

Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

4/03/2007

Can I just share something with you all, dear friends? I have a real problem with indecision in human beings. I’m not really sure what it is, but I seem to be encountering it more and more as of late. It’s frustrating to say the least. More than that, it’s downright disappointing.

I don’t mean to get all hard-assed over here, but the fact of the matter is that we as human beings have decisions to make in life, both large and small. Some that affect us alone, some that affect others and not us, and some that overlap.

I won’t go into the specific details of how, when or where I was faced with these challenges. It’s not worth wasting precious typing time, to be truthful. Let’s just say it’s been more frequent than I’d care to deal with.

This is my outlook: indecision equals a lack of concern. For example: “What do you want to do tonight?” “I don’t care.”

That’s indecision in perhaps the purest form you could encounter. Maybe it’s me, but that’s how it sounds when someone can’t make up their mind. To me, it sounds like the issue at hand doesn’t matter to the other individual. For whatever it’s worth, that’s my take.

And it’s agonizing. Now in the above example, indecision might not necessarily be a bad thing. The subconscious addendum to the second party’s response could possibly be interpreted as, “I don’t care so long as I’m spending time with you (all).” In which case, it’s far from a negative allusion.

I wish that were the case in most circumstances. Unfortunately, the inability to make decisions and stick to them can be an irritant to others. Particularly myself, I suppose.

There are just instances where I feel someone’s lack of care and willingness to make the call equals out to a waste of my time, and you’d better believe that’s frustrating as all hell.

What’s worse are the people who simple go along with this mind-numbingly void attitude. I’m not saying everyone has to be a leader in certain matters, but by God, nothing is more agonizing than a group of lemmings tailing behind the most recent person’s comments.

Folks, let me put it to you this way: followers are toolkits. Depending on the idiom, I really believe that there is a time not to be a leader. But when you’re not a leader, I believe you should at the very least be an attentive student/listener. At least that’s the case in my experience. But one who just idly breezes by is just sad.

Now do I have a twisted sense of beliefs? I don’t think so. I’ve just found lately that I have little tolerance for fence-sitters. Because to me, it means you don’t care. And in some cases, that’s fine. But if you don’t care, then please, don’t be so eager to offer your two cents. I think it’s great that we all have a voice and the forum with which to share it. That said, if there’s nothing to share, then there’s no reason to pipe up. Some people just love to hear the sound of their own voice, even when they bring nothing to the table.

Perhaps I’m being a bit of a curmudgeon about it, and there’s merit to that, no doubt. I’ve come to realize I hold other folks to a pretty high standard, but at the end of the day it’s nothing less than I’d request of myself. And I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to nut up or shut up.

To me, this really loops in with my post at the onset of the New Year regarding change. It doesn’t really surprise me that those who are unable to make firm decisions, be they grand or minute, are typically the same people who are unable to initiate change for themselves. We really are living in an age of rapid growth, and I guess I just feel that as individuals, it’s essential for us to grow. It should come as no surprise then that I just happened to allude to the Samurai principle of seven breaths in that post. Go back and check it out. Nothing wrong with hitting up the buffet table for seconds, y’know.

So when I deal with people who can’t or won’t take a stance, be it good or bad, I really feel like I’m looking at lost opportunity and wasted talent.

As trite (and unapologetically geeky) as it sounds, my memory hearkens back to The Karate Kid. Something Mr. Miyagi said to Daniel really sticks out. Upon the first day of his protégé’s training, Miyagi asked Daniel if he was ready to begin. Daniel’s simple response was, “I guess so.”

Miyagi then said: “Walk on road, hmm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, *pwch!* Get squish just like grape. Here, karate same thing. You karate do ‘yes,’ OK. You karate do ‘no,’ OK. You karate do ‘guess so,’ *pwch!* Just like grape. Understand?”

Yes Sensei.

And for the record, dorktacular as my 80’s movie reference is, this is from back in the day before movies with the elderly inspirational teacher were cliché. So that line holds some water, true believer.

I digress. Cheesy as that reference is, I do believe there’s value to it. I see no point in strolling in the middle of the road, and for me, there is no “guess so.” Unfortunately, I’m very aware of the fact that the world does not navigate on my map, so there’s little I can do to change that course.

Aside from bitch here. That makes me happy.

Goodnight, and have a pleasant tomorrow.