This was up on the USS Rock ‘n Roll Blog today:
Sometimes I am uncertain! This is not unusual, but today, trying to write, I am worried that it will not be exceptional. So I will use a favorite tactic, and lean upon others. There are a lot of great lines in Kurt Vonnegut books. He drew great pictures in Breakfast of Champions, including this one of a rattlesnake:
There is a lot of formidable writing in that book, including this section regarding Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut’s alter-ego in many of his novels, a homeless science fiction writer with unshakable self-confidence:
Kilgore Trout took a leak in the men’s room of the New York City movie house…. There was a message written in pencil on the tiles by the roller towel. This was it:
What is the purpose of the Universe?
Trout plundered his pockets for a pen or pencil…he would have written this, if he has found anything to write with:
of the Creator of the Universe,
We all have that responsibility, to treat other human beings with kindness, decency, and respect, and to try to be a source of reason in this otherwise all too cold and difficult world. I think that is very difficult and beautiful. When I am uncertain, chestnuts like these help me a great deal. Vonnegut is full of them. He quotes his son, Mark Vonnegut, in his novel Timequake. “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”
Similarly when I read the following from C.S. Lewis’ A Horse and His Boy, I realize that by fretting that my work and my output are not exceptional and perfect, I am missing the point. The titular talking horse named Bree (who has spent his whole life as the only talking horse among normal, dumb animals) visits Narnia, and encounters other talking horses for the first time. Gobsmacked, Bree finds himself shattered by the prospect of not being special. A Hermit he encounters offers strong wisdom:
My good Horse, you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit. No, no, cousin. Don’t put back your ears and shake your mane at me. If you are really so humbled as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the great Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses…. It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you’re nobody special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another.
Thursday night I was very frustrated with my life and my work, feeling mediocre and directionless after a rehearsal and a long, difficult day. I think I get very hung up on the notion that the things we do in life, and the work we create, should always be exceptional. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to read this passage and remember that there is great comfort and calm that everything cannot be exceptional. Instead I can take one thing with another, and try to be a very decent sort of Horse.