There in the cocktail lounge, peering out through my leaks at a world of my own invention, I mouthed this word: schizophrenia.
The sound and appearance of the word had fascinated me for many years. It sounded and looked to me like a human being sneezing in a blizzard of soapflakes.
I did not and do not know for certain that I have that disease. This much I knew and know: I was making myself hideously uncomfortable by not narrowing my attention to details of my life which were immediately important, and by refusing to believe what my neighbors believed.
You get to know a man, and deep down there’s something bothering him real bad, and maybe you never find out what it is, but it’s what makes him do like he does, it’s what makes him look like he’s got secrets in his eyes. And you tell him, ‘Calm down, calm down, take it easy now.’ Or you ask him, ‘How come you keep doing the same crazy things over and over again, when you know they’re just going to get you in trouble again?’ Only you know there’s no sense arguing with him, on account of it’s the thing inside that’s making him go. It says, ‘Jump,’ he jumps. It says ‘Steal,’ he steals. It says, ‘Cry,’ he cries. Unless he dies young, though, or unless he gets everything all his way and nothing big goes wrong, that thing inside of him is going to run down like a wind-up toy. You’re working in the prison laundry next to this man. You’ve known him twenty years. You’re working along, and all of a sudden you hear this click from him. You turn to look at him. He’s stopped working. He’s all calmed down. He looks real dumb. He looks real sweet. You look in his eyes, and the secrets are gone. He can’t even tell you his own name right then. He goes back to work, but he’ll never be the same. That thing that bothered him so will never click on again. It’s dead, it’s DEAD. And that part of that man’s life where he had to be a certain crazy way, that’s DONE.
‘In the beginning there was absolutely nothing, and I mean NOTHING…but nothing implies something, just as up implies down and sweet implies sour, as man implies woman and drunk implies sober and happy implies sad. I hate to tell you this, friends and neighbors, but we are teensy-weensy implications in an enormous implication. If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back to where you came from?
The first something to be implied by all the nothing was in fact two somethings, who were God and Satan. God was male. Satan was female. They implied each other, and hence were peers in the emerging power structure, which was itself nothing but an implication. Power was implied by weakness.
God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. Satan could have done this herself, but she thought it was stupid, action for the sake of action. What was the point? She didn’t say anything at first.
But Satan began to worry about God when He said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. She had to wonder ‘What in the heck does He think He’s doing? How far does He intend to go, does He expect me to help Him take care of all this crazy stuff?’
And then the shit really hit the fan. God made man and woman, beautiful little miniatures of Him and her, and turned them loose to see what might become of them. The Garden of Eden might be considered the prototype for the Colosseum and the Roman Games.
Satan couldn’t undo anything God had done. She could at least try to make existence for His little toys less painful. She could see what He couldn’t: To be alive was to be either bored or scared stiff. So she filled an apple with all sorts of ideas that might at least relieve the boredom, such as rules for games with cards and dice, and how to fuck, and recipes for beer and wine and whiskey, and pictures of different plants that were smokeable, and so on. And instructions on how to make music and sing and dance real crazy, real sexy. And how to spout blasphemy when they stubbed their toes.
Satan had a serpent give Eve the apple. Eve took a bite and handed it to Adam. He took a bite, and they fucked.
I grant you that some of the ideas in the apple had catastrophic side effects for a minority of those who tried them…All Satan wanted to do was help, and she did in many cases. And her record for promoting nostrums with occasionally dreadful side effects is no worse than that of the most reputable pharmaceutical houses of the present day.
My uncle Alex Vonnegut…taught me something very important. He said that when things were really going well we should be sure to notice it.
He was talking about simple occasions, not great victories: maybe drinking lemonade on a hot afternoon in the shade, or smelling the aroma of a nearby bakery, or fishing and not caring if we catch anything or not, or hearing somebody all alone playing a piano really well in the house next door.
Uncle Alex urged me to say this out loud during such epiphanies: ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’
Jokes can be noble. Laughs are exactly as honorable as tears. Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion, to the futility of thinking and striving any more. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward - and since I can start thinking and striving again that much sooner.
Still and all, why bother? Here’s MY answer: Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don’t care about them.
If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts.
The joke in that is that so many people think that practicing art…is a way to make make a living, is a good way to make a living. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for Heaven’s sake. I mean, I’m talking about singing in the shower, I’m talking about dancing to the radio, I’m talking about writing a poem to a friend, a lousy poem. And this is what I hate about the computer. The computer says ‘I’m going to do all the becoming now’. You become by practicing an art, no matter how well or badly. It’s not a way to make a living…It’s a way to make your soul grow.
Mister, when I see my first lady angel, if God ever sees fit to show me one, it’ll be her wings and not her face that’ll make my mouth fall open. I’ve already seen the prettiest face that ever could be.