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Favorite Quotes From Vonnegut’s Timequake

March 11, 2010

Vonnegut - he's up in heaven now+.

I start each day with a devotion. I grab book next to my bed – or let’s be honest, couch, I don’t like sleeping my bed during the winter – and pick up where I left off. I usually read for about an hour and then scrawl in my journal for another forty five minutes. Then I do the Hokey Pokey and turn myself around. This week I’m rereading Timequake, which technically I haven’t read in nearly ten years, though I listen to the audiobook whenever I’m trapped in the car and out of range of the nearest craptastic public radio station.

Timequake came into my life when I kind of meandering, both artistically and personally. I had just moved back east and felt a total failure moving in with my mom. Though looking back I realize that was a pretty fucking brave thing to do. To say to yourself, “Hey, you tried it your way and since there are no more Marcia Muller ‘Sharon McCone’ mysteries to read, you better come on home.” And it was in fact La Mommie who would periodically come into my room – with its ice cream shoppe stripped walls – carrying the novel and giving the daily highlights and reflections on its prose.

From my previous post Don’t Disturb This Groove:

Don’t get me started on how many times Tony (The Sopranos) had gotten himself in trouble or how many shiny suits the gang had gone through before I decided to do more than just booty dance to the theme and have my mother and other people just describe episodes and spoilers to me. I did the same thing with SFU. A friend used to watch the shows and then call me immediately afterwards (with notes scrawled during the eps) and go through scene by scene for me. In many cases I loved this more than the actual episodes. Particularly when my mom gave me the lowdown on each and every season six: part one ep of The Sopranos. I love how she editorialized and would say things like, “You know with his history of emotional issues and inappropriate boundaries…” well I wouldn’t know, but I would be fascinated just the same.

With Timequake she used Vonnegut’s prose to both reignite my activist/political passions as well as my artistic/creative passions. And it worked. So without further ado, here are my top favorite things he said.

1. “In real life, as in Grand Opera, arias only make hopeless situations worse.”
(Ch. 32, p. 128)

Buried in the middle of the novel with the more disastrous events taking center stage, this little gem almost gets overlooked. But it resonated with me and it’s sort of my person motto. It strengthens resolve when I’m feeling discouraged and makes me freaking laugh. It’s accurate too. There’s always time to panic. Why rush it?

2. “You were sick, but now you’re well again, and there’s work to do.”
(Ch. 50, p. 196)

The premise involves a timequake – a disruption in the fabric of time and space – sending us all back ten years but no wiser or better equipped to deal with life as a rerun. We can’t change ANYTHING or do anything we didn’t do when it was original material. (Vonnegut) When we’re popped out the other side we suffer from something Vonnegut calls PTA or “Post-Timequake Apathy”. This quote is what Kilgore Trout broadcasts from a TV station in hopes of shaking folks awake. It’s applicable in a variety of situations and fun to say!

3. I always had trouble ending short stories in ways that would satisfy a general public. In real life, as during a rerun following a timequake, people don’t change, don’t learn anything from their mistakes, and don’t apologize. In a short story they have to do at least two out of three of those things, or you might as well throw it away in the lidless wire trash receptacle chained and padlocked to the fire hydrant in front of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. (Ch. 42, p. 161)

This quote shook up my short fiction, which always felt hampered by the literary constructs, which seem to require that people grow, change or learn something. I never really believed it and it severely limited my ability to enjoy a lot of short fiction. In many stories it felt like the characters tap danced off the page or had the equiv of a laugh-freeze frame-flute note-end credits moment often observed on 70s and 80s cheeky dramas. Murder, She Wrote is totally guilty of this. Once I gave myself permission to let my characters do what they will my craft really developed.

4. “Sure the Bible might be the greatest story ever told, but the most popular story is about a couple who has a good time fornicating, but then stops for one reason or another while it is still a novelty. “

There are dozens of lulz to be had in this novel, and this is one of my favorites. It’s a delicious recognition of the truths nobody tells you as a writer. It pretty much sums up some of the most beloved novels in existence.


I love me a good non sequitur and this is one of the best. It’s all about being inappropriate and being caught. In the novel, Vonnegut tells a story of two women chatting during a performance of an orchestra so they have to keep talking louder and louder to out pace the music, which is doing the same. You can guess how this ends. I often say this when a person is caught being inappropriate though not problematic or offensive way. I fry mine in butter.


I’ll let Vonnegut do his thing:

She was a widow, and he stripped himself naked while she went to fetch some of her husband’s clothes. But before he could put them on, the police were hammering on the front door with their billy clubs. So the fugitive hid on top of a rafter. When the woman let in the police, though, his oversize testicles hung down in full view.

Trout paused again.

The police asked the woman where the guy was. The woman said she didn’t know what guy they were talking about,” said Trout. “One of the cops saw the testicles hanging down from a rafter and asked what they were. She said they were Chinese temple bells. He believed her. He said he ‘d always wanted to hear Chinese temple bells. “He gave them a whack with his billy club, but there was no sound. So he hit them again, a lot harder, a whole lot harder. Do you know what the guy on the rafter shrieked?” Trout asked me. I said I didn’t. “He shrieked, ‘TING-A-LING, YOU SON OF A BITCH!”

+ It is rumored – though Vonnegut claimed this himself – at Isaac Asimov’s funeral Vonnegut said, “He’s up in heaven now.” which if you know anything about either makes this quite humorous. Vonnegut also hoped folks would say the same of him.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Miguel permalink
    March 11, 2010 7:01 pm

    I’ve loved Kurt Vonnegut since I read Slapstick in 7th grade. It was a weird place to start reading his stuff, i guess, but i was really drawn to how bizarre the story was, and it continues to be one of my favorites even though no one else seems to like it much. I love his style of writing, and I think for a couple of years after first discovering it, I pretty much emulated it when I wrote. I lost interest in writing not that long afterwards, though.

    This inspired me to read Timequake again! Its been a while.

  2. March 11, 2010 9:53 pm

    Miguel – I feel the same way. I spend way too much time paying homage to his writing style. I really love the way he structures sentences. It’s mad sexy. Slapstick is great! Oddly enough I only recently read Breakfast of Champions and it was so dazzling.

    Have you read Bluebeard?

  3. Miguel permalink
    March 11, 2010 10:05 pm

    I think i may have started reading it but stopped at one point for whatever reason. Was it about the painter? I loved Breakfast Champions (especially the part where he lists the measurements of everyone’s penis. idk. i’m immature). I always thought it was cool how he uses recurring charecters in his stories; like they’re all some isolated but vaugely related stories.

    I’ve never watched any, but its kinda disapointing how all the movies based on his books seem to universally suck

  4. March 11, 2010 10:19 pm

    I loved Breakfast Champions (especially the part where he lists the measurements of everyone’s penis. idk. i’m immature).

    That’s one of my favorite parts too!

    Yeah, Bluebeard is the one about the painter. It’s slow in the beginning but gets hilarious about a third of the way end. It’s great.

  5. Miguel permalink
    March 11, 2010 10:37 pm

    wait. wait. I just made the connection between the connection between Ambrosia and Kurt Vonnegut. Didn’t they set “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” to music? (and am imaginings that there used to be a lot of references to them on the description?)

  6. Deena permalink
    March 12, 2010 12:53 am

    I love Vonnegut, I love him, I love him, I love him, and now I love you for reminding me why with this post. I have the “Everything is Beautiful” tombstone from BoC tattooed on my arm. I think my personal favorite is Cat’s Cradle, but there are so many from which to choose!

  7. March 12, 2010 3:37 pm

    @Deena. I totally say, “Goodbye, Blue Monday.” all of the time. I need to hit up Cat’s Cradle again. It’s been a long time.

  8. Justin permalink
    May 22, 2014 10:16 pm

    Four years after the fact I find this gem of an entry. Well done.

    In May of 91 I read Slaughter House-5 for a book report my jr year of High School because it was rather short. Twenty four hours later I was a differnt person. (Read it a second time two days later for fun) I quickly followed up with Hocus Pocus, Breakfast of Champions, Cat’s Craddle… So it goes…. ; )

    Then a few months into my senior year my mom, former HS English teacher and all around amazing person, drove me two hours to go see him speak/read/perform in Lincon, NE. One of the funniest, amazing, life altering, unforgettable 90mins…ever.

    Twenty odd years later I’m reading “Sirens of Titan”. No clue why in the Hell I put it off until now.

    Good post!

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