Make Your Soul Grow

A letter from Kurt Vonnegut to a high school class on the reasons for creating art of any kind.

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals [sic]. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

Source : Teacher Tom

Thinking is Easy

Thinking is easy. Doing is hard. Finishing is nearly impossible.

Thinking up bottled water was easy. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people thought it. But turning it into a manufacturing process, navigating legalities, convincing distributors and grocery stores; That’s hard. Then tying all the details together into a coherent and easy to find object and actually launching it; that’s finishing, almost no one does that.

Thinking about making some art is easy. Hell, it’s even fun. In fact, it’s addicting to enjoy the imagined version of your self as a person who makes/draws/writes/does. But, getting out a pencil and doing sketches, with effort and a critical eye; that’s hard and humbling. Drawing/writing/making/doing art every single day, with deliberate self expanding practice, again and again and again until you edge closer to the artist version of yourself that you had always imagined; almost no one does that.

People who finish add immense value to the world.

Bravery & Self Direction

Why is summer amazing? Is it because of what we do in summer? And if it’s about what we do, then why is summer so particularly ripe for the doing of things we love?

I want to get to the heart of why summer is amazing. Why we hold it in such high regard. Why we wax nostalgic about summers past and why we look forward to the always not-too-far-off “next summer”. (See Part 1 here)

Part 2 – Bravery & Self Direction

With all that space and time outdoors summer is also where we, no matter our age, practice being brave. It’s a time to wander a little farther from our parents. It’s a time to jump out of higher trees and off taller sand dunes. We wander further down the nearby trail and ride our bikes past where our parents say we are allowed too. And we need this. We are always growing and changing. Even as adults our physical and mental limits are shifting. How will we ever know what we are capable of until we try? With success our confidence grows, and in the face of failure we gain important reference points against which to measure growth, and decide our next challenge. Scraped knees injure us and calibrate the understanding of our limits. But they also heal swiftly and remind us we can recover from our failures.

Summer is a time of scraped knees.

Inherent in the expansion of bravery is self direction. Self direction is terrifying. Young or old, we crave it and we fear it. Left to our own devices what will we do? A question that is both thrust upon us (given all that space) and also seems much easier to answer during summer. It’s when we read the books of our own choosing, immersed with whole afternoons flittering away. It’s when Athletes practice their sport, scientist play in the mud and artists take their sketch pads out to tackle challenging subjects. And, between all that excitement, self expression and personal challenge, we face the threat of even more time and space. And soon boredom sets in.

Bold, beautiful and painful, boredom is an essential feeling. It’s a time to wrestle with who we are, what we want, and how we will hold ourselves accountable when no one else will. Boredom is an important step along the path of self discovery that gives us the opportunity to figure out the difference between what distracts us and what engages us. Even more deeply, it reminds us that in so many ways, engagement is a choice we must make actively, for to continue to wait for engagement to come, is to continue to be bored.

With room for mistakes, experimentation and boredom, summer is where we find out who we are, what we can do, what we love, and how we express ourselves. When we are young we are learning this about summer, as as we grow we long for it, look forward to it, and reflect on all it’s been for us.