Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Vonnegut saved fiction

I thought I'd held fiction's head underwater long enough to drown it. Then Kurt Vonnegut saved it. It's not the first time he's done it. And he doesn't work alone.

Vonnegut first saved fiction while I was in college. I was uncovering the secrets of the Universe in the poems and proverbs of William Blake, the dialogues of Plato, the scientific mysticism of Fritjof Capra, the interconnectedness of Buddhism and the aphorisms of Nietzsche. What did I need fiction for? The highfalutin make believe of blowhards.

But "Slaughterhouse-Five" is short and I'm on break... And "Cat's Cradle," and then I remembered why fiction mattered. How, in Vonnegut's hands and voice, it doesn't take itself all that seriously, but does; is irreverent, but genuine, is made up and autobiographical; imparts philosophy without preaching.

There have been co-conspirators: trying to navigate the mind and work of James Joyce in school; discovering and devouring Tom Robbins when graduate school for philosophy didn't happen; backing into David Mitchell while writing speeches and feature articles. When I think I need to back slowly out of fiction's room, someone taps me on the shoulder.

This past week in Ocean City, I was unmotivated by a novel I was reading. I'm searching for a job, wondering where life is going, if the girls had sunscreen on them, if the beer has enough ice on it, you know, equally important existential questions. Fiction, I got no time for you. And then I start looking at titles of books on the beach house's shelves. And there is "Bluebeard," a Vonnegut I haven't read.

I picked it up and half finished it in a day. We were leaving the beach, so I picked up my own copy at a book store on the way home. In the midst of job applications, getting rid of a tree in the yard, feeding kids, Vonnegut seeps into the day. "Bluebeard" is finished. Fiction matters. Its ideas. Its voice. Its humor.

Vonnegut has saved it. Again.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Go to weddings

I have no advice to give. I'm not a marriage counselor. And anything I've learned over the course of being married for 14 years is so quirky it probably wouldn't do you any good anyway. Each marriage is like a snowflake, unique and melts when it gets too hot... (kidding). But if I could recommend one thing to the married couples out there, it might be: go to weddings.

Not in a Wedding Crashers kind of way, for the sake of morals and no midnight bondage art shows, let's stick with weddings you actually get invited to. Take the opportunity to get dressed up and go on a date. Pay attention during the service. Watch for the moment when the bride and groom see each other for the first time. Look at the look on the bride's father as he walks her down the aisle (especially if you have two daughters--it's sacred and uplifting and crushing all at once).

Hold hands and listen to the vows the couple makes to one another. Watch how happy they are to be married and dancing and celebrating with the people around them. If you the wedding you are attending is along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and you get to catch a sunset with the spans of the Bay Bridge in the background, so much the better.

Go to celebrate your friends, absolutely, but go also to remind yourself of your own wedding day. Re-live all those thoughts and feelings for yourself and with each other. Remember, spark, recharge.

It's funny how much your thoughts are the same and different over time. Watching a brother serving as best man, toasting his newly married younger brother and wife, it takes my thoughts to our daughters, who are 11 and eight and certainly won't be getting married for another 30 years or so...;), wondering if they'll be close enough to be the maids/matrons of honor at each other's weddings (should they find someone and choose to get married), what their lives will be like, what their shared memories will be, and what they might say to the other.

Other people's weddings are a time for celebration. But they can also be a time for reminding you of what got you there, however long ago.