Trapped in the Amber of the Moment

Reflecting on the death of Kurt Vonnegut

I need to thank my older brothers, who turned me on to the unusual, maddeningly outrageous and ultimately mind-opening writings of people like Robert Heinlein and Kurt Vonnegut. It’s odd to consider that these two authors probably had very little in common, ideologically speaking, anyway. And yet each proudly carried an outsider’s point of view that I cherished, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that my current world view takes bits and scraps from hugely varying philosophies, yet aligns itself with none.

I grew up devouring all the Vonnegut I could get my hands on, often cover-to-cover in one sitting. He and Heinlein taught me the value of thinking for myself, of challenging the accepted norms, and of seeing the world as the quirky, flawed yet flawless, and wonderful place that it is.

Much has already been written about Kurt Vonnegut’s life, and in the ensuing days, much will continue to be written — and a great deal of it by writers far more talented than I. So rather than attempt to pen a worthy epitaph, let me share a few gems from his works. Simple quotes are not the best way to enjoy Vonnegut’s genius — one really needs to embrace his works in larger doses to truly appreciate him, I think. But nonetheless, here are some favorite lines that resonate with me… or perhaps just make me smile. So it goes…

  • Let us devote to unselfishness the frenzy we once gave gold and underpants.
  • The arts put man at the center of the universe, whether he belongs there or not. Military science, on the other hand, treats man as garbage— and his children, and his cities, too. Military science is probably right about the contemptibility of man in the vastness of the universe. Still— I deny that contemptibility, and I beg you to deny it, through the creation of appreciation of art.
  • I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, “Please— a little less love, and a little more common decency.”
  • I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out some way. I am a fool.
  • Pretend to be good always, and even God will be fooled.
  • There is no way a beautiful woman can live up to what she looks like for any appreciable length of time.
  • All male writers, incidentally, no matter how broke or otherwise objectionable, have pretty wives. Somebody should look into this.
  • We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.
  • Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
  • If you can do no good, at least do no harm.
  • “I can’t help it,” I said. “My soul knows my meat is doing bad things, and is embarrassed. But my meat just keeps right on doing bad, dumb things.”
    “You and your what?” he said.
    “My soul and my meat,” I said.
    “They’re separate?” he said.
    “I sure hope they are,” I said. I laughed. “I would hate to be responsible for what my meat does.”
  • If somebody says, “I love you,” to me, I feel as though I had a pistol pointed at my head. What can anybody reply under such conditions but that which the pistol-holder requires? “I love you, too.”
  • Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.
  • Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion… I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.
  • Kilgore Trout once wrote a short story which was a dialogue between two pieces of yeast.  They were discussing the possible purposes of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement.  Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne.
  • True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.
  • Roses are red
    And ready for plucking
    You’re sixteen
    And ready for high school.

And lastly: “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”

So long, old friend.

© 2007 DJ Holte

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