Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Horses Jumping Fences...

 Mark Vonnegut, in the introduction to the posthumous Kurt Vonnegut collection "Armageddon In Retrospect."

"When I was 16 he couldn't get a job teaching English at Cape Cod Community College. My mother claimed that she went into bookstores and ordered his books under a false name so the books would at least be in the stores and maybe someone would buy them. Five years later he published Slaughterhouse-5 and had a million-dollar multi-book contract. It took some getting used to. Now, for most people looking back, Kurt's being a successful, even famous, writer is an "of course" kind of thing. For me it looks like something that very easily might not have happened.

He often said he had to be a writer because he wasn't good at anything else. He was not good at being an employee. Back in the mid-1950s he was employed by Sports Illustrated, briefly. He reported to work, was asked to write a short piece on a racehorse that had jumped over a fence and tried to run away. Kurt stared at the blank piece of paper all morning and then typed, "The horse jumped over the fucking fence," and walked out, self-employed again."

Most of us writers never - for a variety of reasons -  reach sufficient escape velocity to break free from the gravitational pull of writing about horses jumping fences. We, of course, recognize this (or at least those of us who don't suffer from terminal self-delusion do) so we are forced to make our horses jumping fences stories as nice and pretty as we can. But in the end, and in whatever form they may take, they're all just stories about horses jumping over fucking fences.

And that's OK. We can't all be Vonneguts. Hell, were I thrust into the same situation, I'm quite sure I would have launched into a haughty, excruciatingly self-aggrandizing little bitch and moan about how demeaning, pointless and utterly banal the whole thing is for an artist such as myself...and then cranked out 12 inches of good, clean, useful, amazing, forgettable copy on how that horse jumped over the fence. And probably would have spent the rest of my working life right there at that SI desk, cranking out even more horses jumping fences stories. 

Because in the end, regardless of how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, most of us aren't Vonnegut. In fact, most of us, artistically speaking, are some variation of this guy...

And for those of you without children who don't get that joke, all I can say is you're doing yourselves a real disservice by not watching SpongeBob Squarepants...

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