A Little Advice on Life from Kurt Vonnegut

“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 possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

–Kurt Vonnegut

I love Kurt Vonnegut’s advice on practicing an art regardless of how well or badly.  Just watch any little kid, they’ll show you what Kurt’s talking about. They dance, sing, and tell wild and crazy stories, giggling all the while. They do these things for the sheer fun of it. They’re not old enough to notice or care if you’re giving them a thumbs up or down. They are doing their song, jig or story out of pure love of expression. And guess what? That little kid is still alive and well in every one of us. Just waiting for that time when nobody’s home and the music gets turned up and that leg starts to jiggle and the next thing you know you’re swinging your arms and your feet are stomping and then a big ole loud song comes bursting out of your mouth while you twirl around the room. We’ve all done it and can do it again with a little encouragement from the likes of a man who knew a lot about letting his hair down and getting serious about being creative, Mr. Vonnegut.

Some people get uncomfortable when people break out in spontaneous song or dance a sudden jig or write a poem or song or story or novel that is less than perfect. But you see, I think those people are missing the point of creativity. As the old saying goes, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” or in this case, the heartfelt, and besides, how can anyone get better at something if they don’t allow themselves the right to be bad at it when they start? Nobody expects a new musician to sit down and play their cello or piano or oboe perfectly right off the bat. In fact, we all accept that playing instruments or even playing checkers requires lots of imperfect attempts before a hint of mastery appears. But for some reason with writing or singing or dancing or engaging in most visual arts, one is not allowed that level of kindness. Critics lurk around every corner ready to put the kibosh on any effort that springs out of a person’s pure desire to simply express him/herself.  We all would be a lot happier and healthier if we followed Kurt’s advice and wrote that “lousy poem” for our friend and then ran right over and gave it to him/her.

Just to illustrate how sincere Vonnegut was about nurturing creativity, the year before he died, he responded to a high school teacher and her class who had written to him. In that letter, he reiterated his thoughts on the joy of creating and encouraged all the students to write 6 lines of poetry as best they could, making it rhyme the best they could, and then tear up that poems in as many pieces as possible and throw those pieces away in several trash cans. He said, “You’ll find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem.  You have experienced becoming, learned a lot about what’s inside you and you have made your soul grow.” How wonderful is that?

A big Amen for Kurt Vonnegut and his theory on the value of practicing an art. Let’s all get out there and dance, sing, write, paint, sculpt or whatever suits your fancy without one thought about whether it’s good or bad. Let’s do it because it’s fun and makes us feel happy. Period.

Here’s to creating. Here’s to soul growth. Here’s to having some fun, which greatly beats the alternative.

Go dig in the dirt and plant a flower, my friends. That counts too.

Talk again tomorrow.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary Jo Doig says:

    Yes, here’s to soul growth!! Thanks, Len!

  2. Thanks, MJ! Hugs to you, my dear.

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