Is it possible to see terror in something beautiful and retain that first excitement of love and appreciation? Take this sunset tonight as glimpsed between city buildings. Gorgeous! was my first reaction and it filled me with thoughts of beautiful things, those special moments that make life feel alive. That was a sunset that could put youth into the old, make the poor wealthy, and bring poetry from stones.
Look at it. Mauves and oranges. It is like the cloud caught fire and is smoldering in the sky. The mauvey greys are like smoke, the cloud made of coals as big as the horizon. It is such an exquisite sight and doubly wonderful for being a snippet of a view.
I stood there in the middle of the street, the cars all around me, and took a photo. They always think I am mad when I take a photo from that little domain I claim on the white line. The cars that is. The pedestrians don't notice. I was transfixed by the beauty of the sky and the office workers streaming past in a river of hurry to get home never noticed that the sun had painted another picture just for them. This was an exhibition for the few, right in the middle of the many. So it goes
That's what Vonnegut says. So it goes. I am reading Slaughterhouse Five yet again. Well, listening to it on my iPod. It is my private homage to his life, since he died just a few weeks ago. In the book he tells the story of Billy Pilgrim. It is meant to be about the fire bombing of Dresden in World War Two. He was there, Vonnegut that is, a prisoner of war, in a slaughterhouse called Dresden. But he says that he cannot think what else to say about the firebombing. I think he thinks that the incendiary bombs said all that needs to be said all on their own. So he talks about Billy who also fought in the war and then goes home and becomes wealthy and it is not until 1967 that anyone realizes that all the way back then, the trauma had made him go quietly mad.
That is until 1967 when he decided to tell a radio station that he has become unstuck from time and that one night in a microsecond before his daughters wedding he spent several years with aliens in a zoo and being mated with a porno movie star called Montana Wildhack. So it goes.
His daughter Barbara was aghast. Aghast not that her father had gone mad, or that he had had to endure the horrors of war, but that he was embarrassing her. So it goes.
I read quite a bit of the book as I went about my business purchasing supplies for tomorrows workshop. I discovered a lot of things. I have read Slaughterhouse Five before. Everybody has, it is one of those books that is respected and so everyone claims to have read it, but Slaughterhouse Five is also a powerful and interesting book, so not only do people say they have read it, they usually have. Me, I read it about three times.
I was much younger then. It seems I was probably quite a bit stupider too. Because (as is often the case when I reread things at this age) I am discovering depths and subtleties that I never noticed the other times. Maybe I did notice, but didn't think it was important so I forgot them straight away.
That's the problem with extreme youth, the extremely youthful are in such a hurry they don't pause to notice so many little things. Like sunsets down a street. Or nuances in the way a character says something, or is introduced. Or why they are there in the first place.
Now I am still a youth, but a little less extremely youthful than before, and discovering that a book that I should know very well is able to surprise me yet again. Or maybe, it's just that it is a good book, and that is why I can rediscover afresh within its pages another aspect that I hadn't considered before. And so it goes.
Tonight I could relate to Billy Pilgrim. I think at times like sunsets or other things of great beauty I too can feel a little unstuck from time. Of course unlike Billy I don't think I have been carried off to Tralfamidor by beings who hold their eyes in their hands. At least I don't think I have been.
But there is something that Billy does that I do do. Cry every so often, usually with dry tears. I get it in artworks, especially books or movies or television. I got it tonight. On an episode of Startrek: Enterprise one of the officers is trying to compose a letter to the parents of a crew member who has just died. The portrayal was very powerful and went through stages of denial and anger and rejection and acceptance, and when he came to terms with it, and started to really write as from his heart what he felt about this person I felt the tears welling up and the sensation was of the tears flooding my eyes, but really there was not that much water there, just the sensation. Big boys don't cry after all.
I wondered how I would deal with a real life situation of being in a place like Dresden in the war, and maybe having to tell someone about their somebody and share their last moments because it needed to be done.
I think I might become really unstuck in time too, and maybe even go to Tralfamidor and be in a zoo.
Everything would be different from then on, even sunsets. Later when I was downloading the photographs I was struck by how the colors in the cloud looked like they could be reflecting the fires of a burning Dresden. Even the mauvey greys looked like smoke rising from the city. Yes the cloud was still gorgeous, but somehow Vonnegut had managed to paint a few extra layers in there that I didn't notice the first time. So it goes.