Wordsmith Wednesday: Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”

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Our Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Kurt Vonnegut‘s “Cat’s Cradle” and consists of two related passages from different parts of the book. The excerpts read:

“‘He must have surprised himself when he made a cat’s cradle out of the string, and maybe it reminded him of his own childhood. He all of a sudden came out of his study and did something he’d never done before. He tried to play with me. Not only had he never
played with me before; he had hardly ever even spoken to me.

‘But he went down on his knees on the carpet next to me, and he showed me his teeth, and he waved that tangle of string in my face. ‘See? See? See?’ he asked. ‘Cat’s cradle. See the cat’s cradle? See where the nice pussycat sleeps? Meow. Meow.”

‘His pores looked as big as craters on the moon. His ears and nostrils were stuffed with hair. Cigar smoke made him smell like the mouth of Hell. So close up, my father was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. I dream about it all the time.

‘And then he sang. ‘Rockabye catsy, in the tree top’; he
sang, ‘when the wind blows, the cray-dull will rock. If the bough breaks, the cray-dull will fall. Down will come craydull, catsy and all.’

‘I burst into tears. I jumped up and I ran out of the house as fast as I could go.’

‘No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s…’

‘And?’

‘No damn cat, and no damn cradle.'”

With these words, Vonnegut planted the seed to a simple truth in my seventeen year old mind, one that solidifies the longer I spin on this multi-colored space rock: nobody really knows what they’re doing. Not your parents. Not your boss. Not your teacher. Certainly not you. Some people have convinced themselves of certainty better than others, but it’s everybody’s first shot at this thing. Everyone’s perspective can offer insight and learning from the experiences of others is essential to success, but it’s vital not to lose focus searching an answer that doesn’t exist. There’s no skeleton key to a successful life. It’s all just a bunch of X’s.

– NR

Kurt Vonnegut

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Lathe of Heaven”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is the opening passage of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel, The Lathe of Heaven.

It reads,

“Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean, the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss. The light shines through it, and the dark enters it. Borne, flung, tugged from anywhere to anywhere, for in the deep sea there is no compass but nearer and farther, higher and lower, the jellyfish hangs and sways; pulses move slight and quick within it, as the vast diurnal pulses beat in the moondriven sea. Hanging, swaying, pulsing, the most vulnerable and insubstantial creature, it has for its defense the violence and power of the whole ocean, to which it has entrusted its being, its going, and its will.”

In Le Guin’s encapsulation of the life of a jellyfish, we see ourselves. Thrown against all the powers that be, and yet all these powers are the same ones that are meant to be at our disposal. We are born into them, yet they control us nonetheless. In the end, we are vulnerable but we trust that our surroundings, all that we have come to know, will help direct and guide us towards what we are meant to become.

– KK

LeGuin