I love Kurt Vonnegut because he was so excellent at pointing out nonsense and illusion of our society. And he did it with humor. He was always truthful and always laughing.
“See the cat? See the cradle?” is a catch-phrase between Bob and I because of Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, a novel with a moral much like The Emperor’s New Clothes. In the string game, no one can see a cat or a cradle, or any image at all, but everyone pretends like it makes sense to call a tangle of string a cat’s cradle.
On my walk this morning, this is what I was pondering. There are a lot of people who don’t see the cat or the cradle. A lot of us see through the bullshit. And there’s a ton of bullshit out there, my friends. I know I’m not the only person out there who has on occasion wished that I were less intelligent; it seems like it would be a lot easier in some ways.
Some people, like Vonnegut, can laugh at it. Some saintly few, like the Dalai Lama and Mother Theresa can recognize it and function within it (and fight it) while never buying into it. And others, too many, respond with despair and rage and their own homebrewed illusions.
Even Vonnegut eventually stopped laughing. The saddest things I’ve ever read was one of his last essays, when he said that throughout his life and all the terrible truths he knew, he never doubted that humanity could pull itself out of the nosedive it was in. At the end of his life, though, he lost all hope.
I was evaluated by a psychologist last year after I recovered from my health crisis enough to be in the In-patient Rehab. At the end of it, he asked, “Are you a fighter?” and even though I happened to be crying at the moment, I had to struggle to keep myself from bursting out laughing. In The Royal Tennenbaum’s, the fake doctor asks Royal’s family that and it’s a joke. I couldn’t help it.
The first thing I said after they pulled that hideous tube out of my throat was a joke. Even though I was still completely out of it at that point, I’ll never forget the look of disbelief on Bob’s face. Here he’d been trying to prepare himself for my death and here I was making jokes. I didn’t even have a real voice yet; I was whispering. I can’t help it.
I don’t want to give the impression I that I laughed my way through five weeks in the hospital because I absolutely didn’t. I cried just as much. I was very emotional. Bob was careful about how much information I got at a time. Thanks to him, I wasn’t confronted with the full knowledge that my lung collapsed, I was intubated (of course I knew that; that tube was the worst part of the whole thing), my kidneys and liver failed and I had to be recessuitated twice. I might have responded differently if I’d learned all that at once.
But I was laughing while I was in a place where a lot of people wouldn’t, or couldn’t, in the same situation. And that could be one reason that I recovered so much faster than anyone thought I would. I’m not a fighter, I think that’s actually a pretty silly thing to say. What choice did I have but to move forward?
Anyway, my main point that I’m trying to communicate here is that I never made a decision to be that way. I didn’t choose to be this way. And I’ve been kind of ridiculed for being this way; one reason writing this blog makes me kind of fearful and uncomfortable.
One thing that whole ordeal taught me is that people don’t always choose how they respond to things. It’s given me compassion for people that I didn’t have before.
I remember watching “Cool Hand Luke” once and thinking, agonized, why does he act like that? He just always brings a world of shit down on himself! Then I realized the point of the movie is that he’s powerless to act any other way (well, and the nail that sticks up gets hammered down). (I’d just like to state here that I love Paul Newman. That is all.)
Maybe you don’t get to choose your response when you realize how much around you are just threads in a big tangle of string that everyone else seems to think is real. Some people are built to cope better than others; some turn to drugs (prescription or not) or alcohol or whatever. That’s one reason I get so angry when I hear people down on the poor or homeless—who cares if they are addicts? We don’t all start from the same place; we don’t all have the same coping skills. I’ve heard stories about people’s childhoods that I can’t even believe they survived, so it’s no surprise to me that they think Cheetos and Mountain Dew is an appropriate breakfast for their kid or that they try too dull their pain any way they can.
All right. I have no idea if this entry makes any sense at all. I’ve learned that there is little circularity in my writing, and very little resolution. I leap from idea to idea and just take it on faith that my reader can take those leaps, too. I blame it on being an introverted intuitive. Thanks for reading.
“i tell you, we are here on earth to fart around, and don’t let anyone tell you different.” -k. vonnegut