It’s the first day of a new year, and I am going to take this opportunity to do my first re-post, with a brief set-up. We have all experienced rare and precious moments in life when we read or see or hear something that touches us deeply, and etches itself permanently in our mind. Such was the case for the contents of this post when I first came across it. I read this at a time in my life when I was struggling with justifying (to myself) the rather large amount of time I was spending creating art, which in my case was music. I wasn’t earning any money from it, and I had long ago set aside the dream that somewhere there was a large group of people eager to consume what I was creating. So what the fuck was I doing it for?
Well, the answer is in Mr. Vonnegut’s letter, and not surprisingly he states it with humor, grace and wisdom, in a way that NYC public high school students could readily understand. In the process, he answered a deep metaphysical question asked by a self-doubting older middle-aged man who was looking into the black void of time, a bit lost for how to proceed in his life and desperately looking for a meaningful answer. It turns out the answer was, of course, right there in front of me. Thank you Kurt Vonnegut for clearing things up. Now, from March of last year, enjoy!…
In 2006, a year before he died at the age of 85, Kurt Vonnegut was invited visit the students of Xavier High School in New York City. Although he declined their invitation, stating “I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana,” he wrote the students this letter in reply. I came upon it at a time in my life when I was having a hard time creating and it resonated deeply. He wrote:
“Practice any art . . . no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow. Starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives…”
November 5, 2006
Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:
I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?
Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
God bless you all!