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?
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.
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.