By staff writer E. Mike Tuckerson
April 15, 2007
“All of the True Things that I am About to Tell You are Shameless Lies.”
As a child, I found a small sense pride in never looking up to anyone in particular as a role model. This wasn’t to say that there weren’t any good candidates, especially ones named Mike. I mean, Mike Tyson was violating both boxer and beauty queen alike, and Michael Jackson was closer than ever to his fans. Despite such sterling examples, I chose a path unmolested by the celebrities of my youth. Instead of wanting to be like them, I opted to learn from their mistakes. Growing up without a role model was liberating since I never was disappointed when one of these “media idols” turned out to be one pineapple short of a fruit cup.
I still grew up to find some popular figures more inspiring than others. Perhaps most inspirational of them all were writers, particularly the essayists. Of all writers, essayists are charged with making something remarkable out of the basic structure every liberal arts education expects. Every year hundreds of thousands of “how I spent my summer vacation” essays are written. I’d rather asphyxiate while burning them than read a single draft. I mean, almost all writers learn how to write an essay, but who the hell cares to read their work? I used to own a tricycle, but that doesn’t make me a “cyclist.” In that mindset, I believe you actually have to accomplish something with your essays to be a notable essayist, and such was the case with Kurt Vonnegut.
“With more resources and knowledge than ever before, the culture of our populace is devoid of meaning.”
If you’re unfamiliar with Vonnegut, I’ll gladly allow someone else to discuss the merits of his books. What inspired me most about the man was his candor. Much of what I write is filtered through screens of objectivity and multi-perspective analysis. I’d imagine such was the case for him at some point, but what he ultimately published was his own means of critiquing the world we live in. Often times I’m writing for so many people that I find I’m hardly doing any of them any justice. When I post something direct from within me, I’m surprised if it reaches anyone at all. Suffice to say, I continue to write regardless. I just don’t worry so much if other people get to see it or not. That always seemed like the first step in literary candor.
There’s more to the candor of Vonnegut that inspires me to write. While Vonnegut and others broke a sort of dull, puritanical complacency in writing, I find myself trying to bring meaning to radicalism. While it may have been vulgar to write about “wide open beavers” in his day, the meaning of its vulgarity has shifted in modern times. Nowadays dick-jokes and racially derogatory humor are vulgar not for the sake of being indecent and iconoclastic, they’re vulgar by their uniformity and banality. So much for a triumph of independent thought.
Here’s something vulgar in the traditional sense: our pop culture sucks. With more resources and knowledge than ever before, the culture of our populace is devoid of meaning. It’s like we’ve been preparing to make or do something amazing, but no one’s called us yet. It may be a generalization, but it becomes more prescient as time passes. It’s true in those of us that do anything at all that we inevitably return to not doing much after a while. Maybe we’re burned out. Maybe we would just rather be comforted that we “could do something if we wanted to.” I think what brings me to write is the belief that most people are waiting for something. Most are waiting for the right time to be or do something more than what’s expected of us.
So, here’s something in keeping with Vonnegut’s tradition. I submit a call for all to consider trying, if only once in a lifetime: mean something by what you do or say. If you’re a writer or a teacher, teach what you love, or write about what has meaning to you. If you’re a comedian poised to spread some message about life to others, do them no disservice: have an actual message to spread. If you’re waiting tables on the Sunset Strip, make sure you’re not waiting for your life to begin as well. Should you find that you lack any actual substance to what you say or do, chances are the world won’t end. Maybe it will though. In either case, you made the most of it. So it goes.
In Memory of Kurt Vonnegut (11/11/22 – 4/11/07)
“He’s in Heaven now” as the joke goes.