recently, my husband handed me kurt vonnegut’s Armageddon in Retrospect, a collection of posthumously published letters, speeches and short pieces. he wanted me to read vonnegut’s letter to his parents, written in 1945, right after he had undergone an unbelievably horrific experience as a prisoner of war in germany. he writes matter-of-factly, concisely, with a healthy dose of dry humor… all while recounting how many times he had almost died and retelling some crazy disturbing stories — particularly at dresden where hundreds of thousands were bombed to death. considering this, his writing and attitude are remarkably funny. dark yet not desperate. thoughtful yet not overly philosophical. just like his style in Slaughterhouse Five. which i am assuming you all have read, and if you haven’t, you should.
i started skimming through other parts of the book and came upon a couple of gems that i had to share.
first, it was abundantly clear from vonnegut’s son (mark vonnegut), who wrote the introduction, that his writing didn’t necessarily always come easily and smoothly.
When Kurt wrote, he was setting out on a quest. He knew, because it had happened before, that if he could keep the feet moving, he might stumble over something good and work it and work it and make it his own. But as many times as it happened, Kurt didn’t have much self-confidence. He worried that every good idea he got might be his last and that any apparent success he had had would dry up and blow away.
mark vonnegut, now a pediatrician and writer himself, recounts childhood memories of his father writing, rewriting, throwing his writing out, writing over again and rewriting over again. it only reinforces my realization that even good writers really don’t have a magical word fountain where the text flows forth. they really do agonize over every piece and find the magic in the end result of rigorous editing. i find that comforting in a misery-loves-company kind of way.
the second glimmering gem i found in this book has to do with my number one most hated type of punctuation.
in a 2007 speech at butler university, presumably to students, he talks about a host of seemingly random things. at one point, he goes…
My advice to writers just starting out? Don’t use semi-colons! They are transvestite hermaphrodites, representing exactly nothing. All they do is suggest you might have gone to college.
finally. FINALLY. a perfect articulation of my feelings on semicolons! thank you, kurt vonnegut.