I went back in time, through many dozens of posts, after being alerted that one of a post’s links no longer worked. In repairing the link by finding another iteration of the same late-in-life Kurt Vonnegut interview, I could not help but re-read the entire interview.
What can I say? I like to read. Especially when drudgery beckons.
Strangely enough–given a much more recent post–I realized Vonnegut had mentioned Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, and how it “is one of his best and most realistic comedies, but there are some interesting tragic elements.”
I of course had been mentally reclassifying the same play, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, as a tragedy.
I paused at the line in Vonnegut’s interview I once had meant to revisit but long ago forgot: “Only a person of deep faith can afford the luxury of skepticism.”
It describes Jim so well.
There is so much depth to this brief interview, just as there was in Maurice Sendak’s interview with Bill Moyers.
Vonnegut was an artist as well as a writer, and both author-artists applied their sardonic spin to reflections worth holding and pondering and savoring.
(I realized that both men also were touched personally and dramatically by the Holocaust, as were three of my other favorite authors.)
Both took experiences of witnessing sudden death and transformed them again and again through their artistry, expressing and exhibiting their souls. (For both men, to have actually made a living in so doing never seemed to fail to astonish them during their long lives.)
A more tongue-in-cheek treatment of the concept of luxury was related through a depressive Jonathan Franzen character in Freedom. He was observed by his neighbors after he lost someone he loved, worrying endlessly about birds: his neighbors “felt they understood his worry about birds a lot better than he understood what a hyper-refined privilege it was to worry about them.” (And yes, point taken: I realize I have been obsessively keeping tabs on the now-plump baby robins in the nest a few feet away from where I usually write.)
(Interestingly, several hundred pages before this character experienced the death of someone he loved and turned to life among feathered companions, he recognized his own congenitally “depressive personality type and its seemingly perverse persistence in the human gene pool,” seeing it as “a successful adaptation to ceaseless pain and hardship. Pessimism, feelings of worthlessness and lack of entitlement, inability to derive satisfaction from pleasure, a tormenting awareness of the world‘s general crappiness.” For his ancestors, “feeling bad all the time and expecting the worst had been natural ways of equilibrating themselves with the lousiness of their circumstances. Few things gratified depressives, after all, more than really bad news. This obviously wasn’t an optimal way to live, but it had its evolutionary advantages. Depressives in grim situations handed down their genes, however despairingly, while the self-improvers converted to Christianity or moved away to sunnier locales.”)
A keystone of my family’s values and of the man I married was to put one’s soul into life, to do what one was meant to do and–not self-consciously, but, in retrospect, not incidentally–to teach others through the way they navigated life, whether the joy (and periodic frustrations) of family and of work well-done, the deepest recesses of dark events, or what might only seem to be mere hobbies–say, quiltmaking, or photography, or watching birds and stars.
Perhaps only a person with vast support and love from family and friends can afford the luxury of doing all the things he or she was born to do.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon