Illustration sourced from “A Man Without a Country” by Kurt Vonnegut (2005)

Read the books your close pals say you should read.

Jason, a close pal of mine, recommended I read “A Man Without a Country” by Kurt Vonnegut. Jason’s a well-read individual who closely observes where you’re at and only gives you material that makes sense to you now. Or what could possibly make sense to you in a little while. This is why I use the word close in front of the word pal. I took the book, not knowing the author’s other work or writing style, and dove right in.

This book has shown me, context and content aside, that writing and reading are synomous. I realised page after page that other people’s stories and ways of seeing the world can be exactly what we need to spur us on to the point of inspiration. What I love most about other people’s stories is that we can’t fight with them. We can differ in opinion and outlook maybe, but their story is their story, and that’s quite special.

This story in particular is told in a specific context. It’s nearly the end of Bush’s first administration in America and the author gets straight into telling stories about his life, referencing people he’s both fond of and not too fond of. Retrospectively I can understand the latter given the context. The author is no longer alive, but if he was I’d ask him a simple question: did the happy moments outweigh the bad ones?

I’d ask him this because there’s an overall pessimistic tone that’s layered with a candid and conversational writing style, which makes it enjoyable. I’d just like to know if he reached a place of contentment throughout life because he’s brought joy (through what some would call a negative lens) to my little life. I’d like to thank him for that, if given the chance to. I think we may like candor as human beings because it feels refreshing and right.

Two parts of his book stood out for me.

The first:

Is it possible that seemlingly incredible geniuses like Bach and Shakespeare and Einstein were not in fact superhuman, but simply plagiarists, copying great stuff from the future?

The second (a responce from graphic artist Saul Steinberg when Vonnegut asked him, “Saul, are you gifted?”):

“No, but what you respond to in any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her limitations.”

These two snippets might seem highly biased because I’m called a creative for a living, but it’s because I want to make some form of point about creativity by the time this post is done. Yes. This is me telling you my intension for writing this post because candor.

I might have to amend that previous statement to points about creativity because distilling something to a singular piece of information feels too official and “quotable” and I’m definitely not ready for any of that yet.

The first point is that the future exists already. We’re just catching up to it, slowly but surely. It takes the weight off a little when thinking about the future that way. Well, at least that’s how I’ve experienced that realisation. Why I make a point of this is because we often couple the word “creativity” with “innovation” and this adds a lot of pressure to creativity. I think if we spent more time fixating on discovering creativity, innovation will surely follow. The future would turn to present, if you will.

My closing point speaks to the limitations we project unto ourselves. I know most great minds that I’ve come to respect would tell me that “limitations are my best friend”, and I do agree. However, what I’ve started realising over the last few years or so is that we may be thinking about limitations in the literal sense. If I could get figurative or a second, limitations are like glass. They hold water, they protect us from water, they’re fragile and they’re sometimes futile. Recognising the purpose of our limitations may be the key to unlocking what they’re their for. I don’t know if this key even unlocks any particular door yet, but I’d like to start looking at limitations like that and see where I end up.

I know these paragraphs have been a bit cumbersome but my editing muscle didn't seem to be flexing today. What I do hope you take away is that I’m young and don’t know a lot. I’m merely here as an observer sharing my own (somewhat personal) thoughts to whoever comes across them. Ultimately, this is me trying to figure this creativity thing out, a Medium article a time.

P.S. This post didn’t respond directly to the honest story Vonnegut told, and there were definite moments of optimism and lightheartedness throughout it. I simply summarised my position after reading it into a very distilled thought or two, so please give “A Man Without a Country” a read because there are some nuggets of gold and wit that await.