Connecting to the past through words

The written word allowed mankind to share knowledge in the present and across time. We can learn from others experience when it is shared in a written or audio format. Storytelling and reciting from memory was how history was passed down through generations for much of human history. The alphabet and written text in its various languages and appearance changed human culture.

Kurt Vonnegut was an exceptional wordsmith, crafter of words both real and of his own creation. To connect any interested readers or writers, in brief, I returned to the bookstore for a copy of Timequake to give to a friend and instead found a book that fills in yet more gaps in the biography, The Brothers Vonnegut, and autobiography/novel Timequake. Armageddon in Retrospect, And Other New and Unpublished Writings on War and Peace, (Berkley Books, 2008, New York), by Kurt Vonnegut, Introduction by Mark Vonnegut (one of his sons who is also a writer) is a collection of unpublished short stories and letters including one that was mentioned in both Timequake and The Brothers Vonnegut.

The letter was published in a newspaper after WWII. It is the initial, oh, you may not have heard yet family, but I’m not dead and no longer Missing In Action, letter to his lived ones. I haven’t read past the letter. Tears in my eyes make it difficult to read – or write. War is bad. We need to be reminded of that everyday until we figure out how to manage life more humanely. I share the hope that humans can do that soon.

Learning to write better may be a goal which reading well written words can help achieve. Learning to live better may be a bonus.

Previous post about The Brothers Vonnegut: https://transcendingsquare.com/2018/03/01/who-owns-science-or-should-all-ideas-be-shared/

Previous post about Timequake: https://transcendingsquare.com/2018/03/05/timequake-a-novel-by-kurt-vonnegut/

Disclosure: This information is being provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of Fair Use.

Timequake, a novel by Kurt Vonnegut

Timequake as a work of fiction isn’t quite and as an autobiography might also leave a few bewildered readers unless they were regular readers of Kurt Vonnegut. Surreal fiction that isn’t quite science fiction but which also isn’t quite based in the real world is a norm for the books I remember besides the book he is best known for. Slaughterhouse Five is novel that describes his experiences in World War II during which he was captured and held as a Prisoner of War. Conditions were intolerable and many other soldiers who were captured died. The experience left Kurt Vonnegut going that peace would be achieved after the war.

Timequake (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1997) is the last novel Kurt Vonnegut wrote and he was in his seventies at the time. In a recent post I discussed a biography that is a history based on a variety of archived material about he and his brother Bernard Vonnegut, a weather/cloud seeding scientist, and other scientists from the era, and interviews from a few surviving family members. https://transcendingsquare.com/2018/03/01/who-owns-science-or-should-all-ideas-be-shared/

The nonfiction book and novel include some of same stories from the family’s history but written in different styles. Both books provide an interesting look into the effort involved in building a successful writing career. While the nonfiction biography/history was written more recently it was helpful to read it first as it provides more detail in consecutive order about Kurt Vonnegut and his family and it helped provide a better understanding of some of the pain and difficulty that may have led to some of the more surreal and cryptic stories that Kurt Vonnegut included in Timequake. 

Part of the book includes a storyline that is fiction but which is also somewhat autobiographical because the main character is an author that he considered somewhat of an alter ego. Nice to have a fictions voice to say the things that polite society wouldn’t say or might not want to hear. The storyline is what the title is derived from, all the characters including Kurt Vonnegut are supposedly trapped in a Timequake and they are having to repeat everything they did in the previous ten years over the course of the next ten years. When time unfreezes again people aren’t prepared for a return of free will. The author character tells them:

‘You were sick, but now you’re well again, and there’s work to do,’

The phrase catches on and more people start to repeat it.

The underlying theme is about peace and ending gun violence. It is also about appreciating each other and the little things in life more than television shows. It is about self respect and holding yourself together when it might be difficult. The book is timely and may leave your self respect slightly shredded at points but you may arrive on the other end of the Timequake stronger and ‘there’s work to do,’ so it may be worth the slight shredding. An example:

Men are insane. Women are psychotic.’

Having survived being a Prisoner of War and the Allie’s carpet bombing of Dresden may give some license for questioning human nature and the line isn’t flattering to either gender. Six of one, half a dozen of the other – who among us is completely sane at all times?

The title may have to do with an experience mentioned on page 129 that occurred after the Allie’s won WWII but Kurt Vonnegut hadn’t returned home yet. He and another soldier found a Nazi soldier as he lay dying. The soldier asked them to leave him to die and then signaled that he had something else to say. Last words? They listened:

I have just wasted the past ten years of my life,’ he said.

Kurt Vonnegut followed the story with a line describing the last words as a Timequake.

The Nazi soldier is dead and far more than ten years were lost in WWII but there is always tomorrow for the rest of us who are still reading and thinking.

You were sick, but now you’re well again, and there’s work to do.

Disclosure: This information is being shared for the purpose of education or entertainment within the guidelines of Fair Use. Opinions and any errors in the summarized material are my own.

When and What, two important questions

Regarding the question of school shootings and increasing safety the question of what to control may need to include questions of who and when. It has been said that guns don’t kill people, people kill people and that is true but people can be more lethal to themselves and others when guns are more readily available. Nations such as Australia had a significant reduction in the number of suicide by gun after increasing gun regulations. So the question of who might be answered with more help for those at risk of suicide and the question of when might be answered with sleepless teens.

A very simple change in timing of high school and university class schedules has been recommended as research suggests attendance and grades are improved with a later start to the young adult’s school day and also it may help with reducing impulsiveness and suicide risk. (page 89-93, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel H. Pink, Riverhead Books, New York, 2018) (penguinrandomhouse.com/when-the-scientific-secrets-of-perfect-timing) The book includes a range of tips and research examples about our bodies biological clock and best time to achieve more of our goals.

Sleep deprivation has been associated with oxidative stress in the brain, reduced memory ability and decision making ability. While modifying the schedule of young adult education would have some difficylty for adult caregivers and school personnel the strategy has helped increase grades and reduce dropout rates in the few places it has been tried.

Making guns less accessible has been found to reduce suicide rate in countries where it has been tried but gun access is only part of the issue. Helping reduce the number of young adults and others with suicidal tendencies is also important and modifying schooling for young adults might be a strategy that could help. The nation of Iceland has a large number of guns per capita(average number of an item per average citizen) and yet they have a much lower rate of gun violence then in the U.S.. they also have an education system that is very supportive of extracurricular activities for students. Funding is provided to support groups of sports or other interest groups and all students are encouraged to participate in some extracurricular activity.

Addition, May 18, 2018: The mental and physical benefits of adequate sleep for adolescents is also discussed in the book Nurtureshock.

Nurtureshock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (https://www.amazon.com/NurtureShock-New-Thinking-About-Children/dp/0446504130)

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.