Whenever I think of writing a post here, I ask myself if I have anything worth sharing that would add some value to the reader or myself, and the answer is always negative. Dostoevsky once wrote: “People with new ideas, people with the faintest capacity for saying something new, are extremely few in number, extraordinarily so, in fact.” I’m not one of them. I see, I read, I listen, I try to absorb anything I find beautiful, but I cannot create beauty. I’ve made my peace with it, I think.
But it is a new year, and this begs some words in the written form. Such has been the tradition. It is probably the only tradition I follow — I start out each year with writing — a blog post, a diary entry, anything.
After Crime and Punishment, I had decided never to touch another nihilistic novel again. Yet a couple of days ago, I was lazing on the hostel lawn after having finished Slaughterhouse Five, pondering about the meaning of life. The temptation was too much. It is a pit, I tell you! And god help you if you fall in.
Such novels, in spite of being terribly saddening, carry moments of profound warmth which I find quite refreshing among all the pretense and hypocrisy of normal life. There is a part at the beginning of Slaughterhouse Five, where the author talks to a fellow soldier’s wife about the novel he is writing. This is where I realized that I’m in for something special.
“You were just babies then!” she said.
“What?” I said.
“You were just babies in the war like the ones upstairs!”
I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood.
“But you’re not going to write it that way, are you.” This wasn’t a question. It was an accusation.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Well I know,” she said. “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be portrayed in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.”
So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies.
So I held up my right hand and I made her a promise:
“Mary,” I said, “I don’t think this book of mine is ever going to be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away. If I ever do finish it, though, I give you my word of honor: there won’t be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne.
“I tell you what,” I said, “I’ll call it The Children’s Crusade.”
She was my friend after that.
– from Slaughterhouse Five (or The Children’s Crusade) by Kurt Vonnegut.
It turned out to be a wonderful book — definitely one of the best I’ve read. At the final page, when the bird had said “Poo-tee-weet.”, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the contrast of my environment to the world inside the book. There I was, alone, enjoying the warm winter sun on the comfortable grass, with flowers nearby that swayed to a gentle breeze. Everything was perfect. Whereas the book had just fulfilled its initial promise:
“It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet.”
But I digress. I’m supposed to wish anyone reading this a happy new year. Happy new year!
I am currently in my hostel room, wrapped in a blanket, typing in the dark. The diffused sounds of shouting and fireworks are reaching me through the earphones. Somehow, being on my own is the only way I know of spending a moment meaningfully. Yet, as the first hours of the new year roll by, my mind is full of the same questions as everyone else.
I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.