Genius working alone

The team must consist of three sorts of specialists, he says. Otherwise the revolution, whether in politics or the arts or the sciences or whatever, is sure to fail. The rarest of these specialists, he says, is an authentic genius — a person capable of having seemingly good ideas not in general circulation. “A genius working alone,” he says, “is invariably ignored as a lunatic.”

~ Kurt Vonnegut, from Bluebeard

Meta: Copy-paste-and-search if you want to read the entire, surrounding passage. As a creator of content myself, I decline to copy and paste the much longer passage as many others have.

This passage from Vonnegut is brilliant, but it makes me a little nervous. Am I the genius? …or more likely, the lunatic? Perhaps I’m one of the other two specialists. Or worse, I’m not any of the three.

Suddenly

I remember why I keep bourbon on hand.

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It’s only five sentences!

As Vonnegut said, if you can’t write well, you probably don’t think as well as you think you do. There was something about a particular project that wasn’t clicking for people. I couldn’t describe what was wrong—why I couldn’t communicate clearly. The more I talked to key confidantes, the more I tried to explain it, and the more I listened, the more convinced I became that I didn’t know what I was talking about. I didn’t have something straight in my thinking. So I asked for a meeting of minds to craft a clear explanation. To write it clearly, I believed I would need to clarify my thinking.

Four people sat down to write a better description of a project. It took over four hours to write five sentences. They’re not particularly complicated sentences. The affect—the change in my perspective, the things I now see have been done wrong and need changing… The affect is vertiginous. I’ve begun sharing the sentences with key confidantes. I’m letting them set and I’m picking them up at intervals to see if their power persists.

Forget about my five sentences.

What’s something you could solve, improve, or take to a new level if you sat down and crafted five perfect sentences?

Could you do it in four sentences? …how about three? …two? …what about one?

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The shape of stories

https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/11/26/kurt-vonnegut-on-the-shapes-of-stories/

But there’s a reason we recognize Hamlet as a masterpiece: it’s that Shakespeare told us the truth, and people so rarely tell us the truth in this rise and fall here [indicates blackboard]. The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is. And if I die — God forbid — I would like to go to heaven to ask somebody in charge up there, ‘Hey, what was the good news and what was the bad news?’

~ Kurt Vonnegut

First, note that by “shapes” he literally means figures, graphs—drawings of the shape of the story.

Second, although I’m unsure wether or not I’m “old,” I am sure that I’m starting to get some perspective. A few posts back I was talking about there being a horizon-of-self: Once my experiences are far enough in the past, I lose any true sense of who that self was. Vonnegut’s point—to me anyway—drives home the fact that I don’t even truly know who I am right now.

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Vonnegut in rare form

https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&time_continue=9&v=crPrPpAaRXo

When I taught in Iowa, University of Iowa, I had a writers workshop… Is I’d tell my students to go to the public library there in Iowa City and take out a novel that hadn’t been taken out for twenty years… And geezers they found some knockouts. It doesn’t surprise me at all.

~ Kurt Vonnegut

…and when I say “in rare form,” I mean that literally. This is a YouTube video, of a live interview in Second Life on NPR’s “The Infinite Mind.” The video is of two avatars, (in front of a live audience of avatars,) having a virtual, live interview… and it’s all Vonnegut gold.

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Create something

If you want to really hurt you parents … the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

~ Kurt Vonnegut