Posts Tagged ‘life’


My second Vonnegut book.

September 7, 2011

I held this book in my hands several times before actually checking it out. Every time I’d wonder at the title, a phrase I’d heard so many times but never understood the full meaning of, I’d thumb through and look at the weird illustrations, also something I didn’t get. Something always stopped me from checking it out. Another book always overrode it, whether it was because of urgency, a better cover, whatever. I finally got it on a whim, knowing that I’d have to get one or two more books in of free reading before school would take over 24/7. At first, I was taken aback at the odd descriptions of “wide open beavers” and the like. I closed it after 30 pages and turned back to my laptop where everything was a bit more sane. I turned to the book again later that day and read more and more. And from there, I started loving it. Books and people are like, they both deserve a few chances if they doesn’t immediately capture you.

Excerpt #98:
People took such awful chances with chemicals and their bodies because they wanted the quality of their lives to improve. They lived in ugly places where there were only ugly things to do. They didn’t own doodley-squat, so they couldn’t improve their surroundings. So they did their best to make their insides beautiful instead. (72)

Excerpt #99:
“Trout was petrified there on Forty-second Street. It had give him a life not worth living, but I had also give him an iron will to live. This was a common combination on the planet Earth.”

Excerpt #100:
“God bless you,” said the manager. This was a fully automatic response many Americans had to hearing a person sneeze.
“Thank you,” sid Trout. Thus a temporary friendship was formed.

Excerpt #101
The driver got onto the subject of friends. He said it was hard for him to maintain friendships that meant anything because he was on the road most of the time. He joked about the time when he used to talk about his “best friends.” He guessed people stopped talking about best friends after they got out of junior high school.
He suggested that Trout, since Trout was in the combination aluminum storm window and screen business, had opportunities to build many lasting friendships in the course of his work. “I mean,” he said, “you get men working together day after day, putting up those windows, they get to know each other pretty well.”
“I work alone,” said Trout.
The driver was disappointed. “I assumed it would take two men to do the job.”
“Just one,” said Trout. “A weak little kid could do it without any help.”
The driver wanted Trout to have a rich social life so that he could enjoy it vicariously. “All the time,” he insisted, “you’ve got buddies you see after work. You have a few beers. You play some cards. You have some laughs.”
Trout shrugged.
“You walk down the same streets every day,” the driver told him. “You know a lot of people, and they know you, because it’s the same streets for you, day after day. You say, ‘Hello,’ and they say, ‘Hello, back. You call them by name. They call you by name. If you’re in a real jam, they’ll help you, because you’re one of ’em. You belong. They see you every day.”
Trout din’t want to argue about it.

Excerpt #102:
“Why would anybody in the business of highspeed transportation name his business and his trucks after buildings which haven’t moved an eighth of an inch since Christ was born?”
The driver’s answer was prompt. It was peevish, too, as though he thought Trout was stupid to have to ask a question like that. “He liked the sound of it. “Don’t you like the sound of it?”
Trout in order to keep things friendly. “Yes,” he said, “it’s a very nice sound.”

Trout sat back and thought about the conversation. He shaped it into a story, which he never got around to writing until he was an old, old man. It was about a planet where the language kept turning into pure music, because the creatures there were so enchanted by sounds. Words became musical notes. Sentences became melodies. They were useless as conveyors of information, because nobody knew or cared what the meanings of words were anymore.
So leaders in government and commerce, in order to function, had to invent new and much uglier vocabularies and sentence structures all the time, which would resist being transmuted to music.

Excerpt #103:
“The truck carrying Kilgore Trout was in West Virginia now. The surface of the state had been demolished by men and machinery and explosives in order to make it yield up its coal. The coal was mostly gone now. It had been turned into heat.
The surface of West Virginia, with its coal and trees and topsoil gone, was rearranging what was left of itself in conformity with laws of gravity. It was collapsing into all the holes which had been dug into it. Its mountains, which had once found it easy to stand by themselves were sliding into valleys now.
The demolition of West Virginia had taken place with the approval of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the State Government, which drew their power from the people.
Here and there an inhabited dwelling still stood.

He told Trout that people he’d heard of in the area who grabbed live copperheads and rattlesnakes during church services, to show how much they believed that Jesus would protect them.
“Takes all kinds of people to make up a world,” said Trout.

Trout marveled at how recently white men had arrived in West Virginia, and how quickly they had demolished it – for heat.
Now the heat was all gone, too – in outer space, Trout supposed. It had boiled water, and the steam had made steel windmills whiz around and around. The windmills had made rotors in generators whiz around and around. AMerica was jazzed with electricity for a while. Coal had also powered old-fashioned steamboats and choo-choo trains.
Kilgore Trout thought about the cries of steam whistles he had known, and about the destruction of West Virginia, which made their songs possible. He supposed that the heart-rending cries had fled into outer space, along with the heat. He was mistaken.
Like most science fiction writers, Trout knew almost nothing about science, was bored stiff by technical details. But no cry from a whistle had got very far from Earth for this reason: sound could only travel in an atmosphere, and the atmosphere of Earth relative to the planet wasn’t even as thick as the skin of an apple. Beyond that lay an all-but-perfect vacuum.
(123-127, excerpts)

Excerpt #104:
“It don’t seem right, though,” the old miner said to Trout, “that a man can own what’s underneath another man’s farm or woods or house. And any time the man wants to get what’s underneath all that, he’s got aright to wreck whats on top to get at it. The rights of the people on top of the ground don’t amount to nothing compared to the rights of the man who owns what’s underneath.”

Excerpt #105:
Dwayne and Francine made love in the Quality motor Court. Then they stayed in bed for a while. It was a water bed. Francine had a beautiful body. So did Dwayne. “We never made love in the afternoon before,” said Francine.
“I felt so tense,” said Dwayne.
“I know,” said Francine. “Are you better now?”
“Yes.” He was lying on his back. his ankles were crossed. His hands were folded behind his head. His great wang lay across his thigh like a salami. It slumbered now.
“I love you so much,” said Francine. She corrected herself. “I know I promised not to say that, but that’s a promise I can’t help breaking all the time.” The thing was: dwayne had made a pct with her that neither one of them was ever to mention love. Since Dwayne’s wife had eaten Drano, Dwayne never wanted to hear about love again. The subject was too painful.
Dwayne snuffled. It was customary for him to communicate by means of snuffles after sexual intercourse. The snuffles all had meanings which were bland: “That’s all right…forget it…who could blame you?” And so on.
“On Judgment Day, said Francine, “when they ask me what bad things I did down here, I’m going to have to tell them, ‘Well – there was a promise I made to a man I loved, and I broke it all the time. I promised him never to say I loved him.'”

Excerpt #106:
Oh, Mr. Trout,” nice Milo went on, there in Trout’s suite, “teach us to sing and dance and laugh and cry. We’ve tried to survive so long on money and sex and envy and real estate and football and basketball and automobiles and television and alcohol – on sawdust and broken glass!”
“Open your eyes!” said Trout bitterly. “Do I look like a dancer, a singer, am an of joy?” He was wearing his tuxedo now. It was a size too large for him. he had lost much weight since high school. His pockets were crammed with mothballs. They bulged like saddlebags.
“Open your eyes!” said Trout. “would a man nourished by beauty look like this? You haven oohing but desolation and desperation here, you say? I bring you more of the same!”
“My eyes are open,” said Milo warmly, “and I see exactly what I expect to see. I see a man who is terribly wounded – because he has dared to pass through the fires of truth to the other side, which we have never seen. And then he has come back again – to tell us about the other side.” (239-240)

Excerpt #107:
All of us were stuck to the surface of a ball, incidentally. The planet was ball-shaped. Nobody knew why we didn’t fall off, even though everybody pretended to kind of understand it. 
The really smart people understood that one of the best ways to get rich was to own a part of the surface people had to stick to. (247) 


So Messed Up It’s Good

April 29, 2009

Excerpt #25:
Don’t expect this to be the kind of story that goes: and then, and then, and then, and then.
What happens here will have more of that fashion magazine feel, a Vogue or Glamour magazine chaos with page numbers on every second or fifth or third page. Perfume cards falling out, and full-page naked women coming out of nowhere to sell you make-up.
Don’t look for a contents page, buried magazine-style twenty pages back from the front. Don’t expect to find anything right off. There isn’t a real pattern to anything, either. Stories will start and then, three paragraphs later:
Jump to page whatever.
Then, jump back.
This will be ten thousand fashion separates that mix and match to create maybe five tasteful outfits. A million trendy accessories, scarves and belts, shoes and hats and gloves, and no real clothes to wear them with.
And you really, really need to get used to that feeling, here, on the freeway, at work, in your marriage. This is the world we live in. Just go with the prompts. (20-21)


When on top of the space needle in Seattle, I want to do what the characters in this book do.

Excerpt #26:
“Tell the world what scares you most,” says Brandy.
She gives us each an Aubergine Dreams eyebrow pencil and says, “Save the world with some advice from the future.”
Seth writes on the back of a card and hands the card to Brandy for her to read.
On game shows, Brandy reads, some people will take the trip to France, but most people will take the washer dryer pair.
Brandy puts a big Plumbago kiss on the little square for the stamp and lets the wind lift the card and sail it off toward the towers of downtown Seattle
Seth hands her another, and Brandy reads:
Game shows are designed to make us feel better about the random, useless facts that are all we have left of our education.
A kiss, and the card’s on its way toward Lake Washington.
From Seth:
When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat?
A kiss, and it’s off on the wind toward Ballard.
Only when we eat up this planet will God give us another. We’ll be remembered more for what we destroy than what we create.
Interstate 5 snakes by in the distance. From high atop the Space Needle, the southbound lanes are red chase lighst, and the northbound lanes are white chase lights. I take a card and write:
I love Seth Thomas so much I have to destroy him. I overcompensate by worshiping the queen supreme. Seth will never love me. No one will ever love me again.
Brandy is waiting to take the card and read it out loud. Brandy’s waiting to read my worst fears to the world, but I don’t give her the card. I kiss it myself with the lips I don’t’ have and let the wind take it out of my hand. The card flies up, up, up to the stars and then falls down to land in the suicide net.
While I watch my future trapped in the suicide net, Brandy reads another card from Seth.
We are all self-composting.
I write on another card frmo the future, and Brandy  reads it.
When we don’t know who to hate, we hate ourselves.
An updraft lifts my worst fears from the suicide net and sails them away.
Seth writes and Brandy reads.
You have to keep recycling yourself.
I write and Brandy reads.
Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everybody I’ve ever known.
I write and Brandy reads.
The one you love and the one who loves you are never, ever the same person.

-Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk


Musings worth a look

November 23, 2008

It was a Thursday and I was walking the ten minutes or so it took to where I park my car every day. I walked around the curb, expecting the silver Scion to come into view. It didn’t. This could mean one of two things. Either it got towed or my dad took it. He does that sometimes when he needs it, just bikes over with a spare key and takes it. When he does this, I receive a text from him: “I took the car” always without the period at the end. Only, today was different. I didn’t have my phone.
My backpack seemed to get significantly heavier, making my shoulders and back ache as I realized the only way to get home now would be to walk. In addition to the backpack, a camera was slung over my neck with no film inside it, just a useless black box with a mirror inside. I grudgingly walked in anger for ten minutes, couldn’t believe that I was stuck in this predicament. I felt stranded. Looking back, I guess this was extremely spoiled of me. Back when I couldn’t drive, I had to walk home a lot, but I always had company.
I promise I am getting to the point of this entry which will contain some excerpts. Suddenly, I realized I could use this time to read. Yes, walk and read simultaneously. I’d seen someone do it downtown. She already looked kind of goofy doing it, and the fact that her foot was in a cast didn’t help because it made her gait slow and clumsy as she limped down the street.
I had two books in my backpack: Grapes of Wrath – convoluted text, annoying dialogue, thick, with sharp corners on the edges of the cover. And Life After God – small, easy to carry, pages move fast because of the size, and the corners had the plastic covering that all library books have. I took the latter out and started walking while reading, self-consciously at first.
But then I got into this element and I barely looked up the entire way home except when crossing streets. I didn’t care who saw me, I was completely engrossed in the narrator’s musings and ramblings and stories about his life and the lives of others. I have chosen a few to type here:
Excerpt #3:
I am reminiscing here. Forgive me. My mood is everywhere today, like the weather. The sky is doing four things at once – raining, hailing, sunning and, it would seem further up on the Grouse Mountain, snowing. It just doesn’t know what to do.

And here is why my mind is all over the place: your mother left me a week ago and she took you with her.
She phones me from her mother’s house and we talk every day. This is better than nothing, She says she has fallen out of love with me. She says she is confused. She says she feels lost, sort of like the way she felt when she was younger.

I told her that everybody feels lost when they’re young.

But she says there’s a difference. She tells me that at least when she was younger she felt lost in her own special way. Now she just feels lost like everyone else.

I asked her if she was unhappy; she says it is not a question of happiness. She says she remembers another thing about when she was young – she remembers when the world was full of wonder – when life was a strand of magic moments strung together, a succession of mysteries revealed, leaving her feeling as though she was in a trance. She remembers back when all it took to make her feel like she was a part of the stars was to simply talk about things like death and life and the universe. She doesn’t know how to reclaim that sense of magic anymore.

I told her to wait – that maybe this is about something else.

She says she doesn’t want us to become dreadful people who do dreadful things to each other because there will be no one to forgive us. She tries to use a brave, cheerful voice with me, but it never lasts long. She says she can’t live in a marriage without romantic love.

I tried to joke with her. I told her that in the beginning of all relationships, you’re out there bungee jumping every weekend but after six months you’re renting videos and buying corn chips just like everyone else – and the next day you can’t even remember what video you rented. (137-139)

Excerpt #4:
The phone rings. It’s her. I tell her a thought I have had. I tell her how strange it is that we’re trapped inside our bodies for seventy-odd years and never once in all that time can we just, say, park our bodies in a cave for even a five-minute break and float free from fears I had years ago. I tell her that I thought that intimacy with another soul was the closest I could ever come to leaving my body.

She says to me, but were we ever intimate? How intimate were we really? Sure, there were the ordinary familiarity-type things – our bodies, our bodily discharges and stains and seepages, an encyclopedic knowledge of each other’s family grudges, knowledge of each other’s early school yard slights, our dietary peccadilloes, our TV remote control channel-changing styles.
And yet…

And yet?

And yet in the end did we ever really give each other completely to the other? Do either of us even know how to really share ourselves? Imagine the house is on fire and I reach to save that one thing – what is it? Do you know? Imagine that I am drowning and I reach within myself to save that one memory which is me – what is it? Do you know? What things would either of us reach for? Neither of us know. After all these years we just wouldn’t know. (144-146)

Excerpt #5:
Why is it so hard to quickly sum up all of those things that we have learned while being alive here on Earth? Why can’t I just tell you, “In ten minutes you are going to be hit by a bus, and so in those ten minutes you must quickly itemize what you have learned from being alive.

Chances are that you would have a blank list. And even if you gave the matter great concentration, you would probably still have a blank list. And yet we know in our hearts that we learn the greatest and most profound things by breathing, by seeing, by feeling, by falling in and out and in and out of love. (153)
-Life After God by Douglas Coupland

I know I have a different cover, I like this one more.

I know I have a different cover, I like this one more.

Boy, I’m glad I didn’t return this to the library.
And yes, sure enough I checked my phone when I got home and there the text presented itself, perfectly innocent. “I took the car” and then another text “Respond”
I laughed, but at the same time was really happy, almost thankful I didn’t have my phone. Otherwise the book might be back on the shelves in the Palo Alto Mitchell Park library, unread by me.