Friday, August 23, 2013
Oh Happy Soul
- Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard
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Kurt Vonnegut was the first writer I read who clued me in on how writing was a subversive act. He was the first author I had to read everything of. Under the noses of my parents, on birthdays and holidays, when they asked what gifts I wanted the answer was always the same: books, Kurt Vonnegut's books. He was giddy and morose at the same time. Anger rippled in the words, too. But it was his decency, his gentleness in the face of the horror we'd created in our society (war, prejudice, economic cruelty) that gave me hope. He knew from horror. He laughed anyway. He made me want to write so I could be angry and decent and giddy and gentle and morose. Just like he was.
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The fucked believed their fuckedness is like a wine stain birthmark: indelible, permanent, visible to strangers on the street. It is a measure of how fucked we can get to think this is so. We think this because we conflate the moment to eternity; we assume now is forever and so cannot see the road ahead. It is the height of our arrogance to think in this manner, to live in this manner, to presume that we can stand outside of time, outside of relentless change and hold our lives still because we hurt or don't know what to do or are afraid to do it or because we like the way we look as a martyr or whatever the holy fucking lie we tell ourselves.
But change comes regardless of your assent. Your body breaks down just a fraction more each day. You may not notice it and then you suddenly will and then you'll be even more fucked because you thought now was forever.
The sins of the fucked are self-inflicted because it is all self-referential. You, oh high in the art of suffering one, you are stunned to silence and inaction because you thought life, your life would be different than the one you are living, that it would somehow work out better than it has. You are here, dear fucked brother, dear fucked sister, because somewhere along the line you severed the line between your thoughts and your actions. What you dreamed of you did not do. Fear, circumstance, the unique inequities and pieties of your life stopped you, split you in two.
In Calvino's The Nonexistent Knight and The Cloven Viscount, a young viscount is split in two by a cannon ball, both halves surviving and leading very different lives. One is good, the other bad. Neither are loved by those they encounter. The bad one for obvious reasons, but the endless goodness of the other makes people uncomfortable as well. A duel between the two leaves both mortally wounded until they are sewn back together and the man is made whole. It doesn't take a cannon ball to break one down. When your fear and unhappiness with your life is all that you've got you are torn asunder: denying your goodness and seeing only your faults.
Snap out of it.
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Riddle me this: where is your soul? Does your body contain it, or is it thought only? If it is thought only, where are your thoughts born? Your brain? What is consciousness? Is there a part of our brains that lie to us to give us the soothing thought of a God, or did God manage our biology so we could have a chance at knowing something bigger than ourselves?
I don't fucking know. What I do know is this - when you act as if you don't have a soul, then you don't. When you believe now is forever, then it is. When you deny the gifts of your anger and seek only to be good or kind, you are less than you are. When you lose the connection between your thought and your deeds, between your soul and the body you get to use for now, you are dead where you stand. What animates life is not goodness, or righteousness, or ethereal wisps of soul, but the marriage of heaven and hell, of the blood flowing into and out of your heart - both physical and metaphorical. It is exchange. Your body needs your soul. Your soul needs your body. Your life needs you to live it. Take the fucking tools at hand and build something. Do not worry about the tools you don't have, or the body you wished you had, or the thoughts you think you should have. You have everything you need RIGHT NOW.
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In Bluebeard, Rabo Karabekian finally does something, finally says something, finally sews himself together. The last lines of the book are: "Oh, happy soul. Oh, happy meat. Oh, happy Rabo Karabekian."
Isn't it time to make like Rabo?
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It's not too late. Promise.
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