In 2006 a high school English teacher asked students to write to various famous authors and ask for advice. Kurt Vonnegut was the only one to respond, and his response is insightful:
Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and [he mentions the names of the students]. 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 anymore 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 playing 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 receptacles. 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!
This was one of the last things Vonnegut wrote. He died months later.
Here are some things I take from Vonnegut’s words: First, we can approach almost anything in a creative spirit and a creative way—whether it’s writing a letter, preparing a meal, having a conversation, performing a challenging task, dealing with a personal problem, or just getting through the day.
We always have the option to step back, open our minds, think afresh and respond a little differently, a little better.
Second, when we do anything creatively, it does something for us inside. It nurtures our spirit in a way that just putting our head down and getting through it may not do.
Third, we’re all creative. For example, every day you are creating a non-repeatable, irreplaceable life—a one-and-only you.
Creative means that you have a say in deciding how that work of art called your unique life will look–as opposed to just letting it happen.