Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Nice Things

I have to say that this is the first Jesus and Mo strip (called “nice”) that I don’t really get. It’s a repeat: as the author noted in the email:

I’m away again this week, so here’s an old one from 2008. It’s not funny. It’s a tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote the words in the last panel.

Do read the article at the link. At the time Vonnegut (a great favorite of mine) was working on what was to be his last novel, If God Were Alive Today, which he never finished (he died in 2007). The unfinished part, as well as Vonnegut’s first unpublished novella, We Are What We Pretend To Be, has been published in a collection you can buy on Amazon: We Are What We Pretend to Be: The First and Last Works. I haven’t read either work and so must now do so (I’ve read everything Vonnegut ever published.)  The Amazon summary of the unfinished work is this:

When Vonnegut passed away in 2007, he left his last novel unfinished. Entitled If God Were Alive Today, this last work is a brutal satire on societal ignorance and carefree denial of the world s major problems. Protagonist Gil Berman is a middle-aged college lecturer and self-declared stand-up comedian who enjoys cracking jokes in front of a college audience while societal dependence on fossil fuels has led to the apocalypse. Described by Vonnegut as, the stand-up comedian on Doomsday, Gil is a character formed from Vonnegut s own rich experiences living in a reality Vonnegut himself considered inevitable.

Along with the two works of fiction, Vonnegut s daughter, Nanette shares reminiscences about her father and commentary on these two works both exclusive to this edition.

The article to which the artist links, from In These Times, is called “Knowing what’s nice” and comprises some remarks Vonnegut made at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 2003. It’s a compendium advice for both would-be writers and students about to graduate, and includes this, from where the strip comes:

And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

That’s one favor I’ve asked of you.

Now I’ve got another one, a show of hands. How many of you have had a teacher at any point in your entire education who made you happier to be alive, prouder to be alive than you had previously believed possible? Now please say the name of that teacher out loud to someone sitting or standing near you.

OK? All done? “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

I wish I would have been one of those teachers, at least for some students, but you never get that kind of feedback!

Vonnegut adds this:

Do you know what a Humanist is? I am honorary president of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that functionless capacity. We Humanists try to behave well without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. We serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community.

We had a memorial services for Isaac a few years back, and at one point I said, “Isaac is up in Heaven now.” It was the funniest thing I could have said to a group of Humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, “Kurt is up in Heaven now.” That’s my favorite joke.

. . . What about God, if He were alive today? Gil Berman says, “God would have to be an Athiest, because the excrement has hit the air-conditioning big time, big time.”

Vonnegut also recommends one piece of music, one short story, and one work of nonfiction that, he says, we all must read (they’re not his work).  I’ll let you see these for yourself.

32 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I think it is just that Artist is on vacation. And if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks for filling in the gaps on this one – I think GBJames got it right, but hey who knows.

  3. Martin Knowles
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    I take this Jesus and Mo episode as a reminder that appreciation for beauty is a sensibility that transcends hate and intellectual shortcomings. It’s respite from the storm of ignorance we deal with on a daily basis.

  4. Lee Beringsmith
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I know you are that kind of a teacher for me and so many others that you share your thoughts with, thank you for providing us with so many nice molments.

    • DTaylor
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Yes, definitely!!!

    • Ken Elliott
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      I am coming very late to this post, so doubt you will read my comment, but I concur with Lee, you have been that kind of teacher for me, from the pages of this daily posting as well as from your books. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens have been that kind of teacher to me as well. I know Daniel Dennett is considered one of the Four Horseman, but I feel it should be you.

      As for the strip, I see it as irony in the recognition by 2 afterlife believers of the glory of living today. We know living today is nice. We don’t know about tomorrow.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I recall Vonnegut saying somewhere that Mother Night was his only novel with an overt moral to the story, and it was “be careful what you pretend to be,” because that’s what you end up being.

    A girl I met at the shore during the summer before sophomore year gave me Slaughterhouse-Five. I read it over a couple days, then read everything I could get my hands on by KV over the next couple months. Passed Slaughterhouse on to my friends, too, most of whom did the same. I could be wrong, but I don’t get the sense that books hold the same central place in the life of the mind for college kids today, with their iPhones and twitter and Snapchat.

    • Kevin
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      “Be careful what you pretend to be,” because that’s what you end up being. Definitely worth repeating.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure you’re right. Books are no longer as important as they once were. But, they still come in handy as something to lean your iPhone against. 😉

  6. veroxitatis
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Even Ol’ Mo can rise above the dogma of his religion. It’s the fleeting moments of joy at being alive. It’s the silence which one can almost touch during the night in wilderness far from people. It’s the spaces between the music of Beethoven, particularly the last quartets. Maybe it’s the feelings of empathy with an ostracised duck, Jerry.

    • tombesson
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:03 am | Permalink

      Maybe Mo is just being in the moment, which, like Kurt’s joke about his friend being in heaven, would be funny, indeed.

  7. BJ
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    What wonderful advice from Mr. Vonnegut, and words I really needed. It’s rare for me to realize when I’m actually happy, and realizing it is of particular importance if only because it’s rare that I’m happy. When I am happy, I usually don’t notice it until after the time has passed.

    Vonnegut has always been one of my favorite authors and, without doubt, had the most effect on me of any when I was in middle school and up through college. I can’t think of anyone whose storytelling and prose I’ve enjoyed more. Perhaps it’s time for me to go back and read his works again.

    After all, they did bring me a great amount of happiness…

    • Craw
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      I cannot tag you here. I don’t much like KV, but I do think he was one of the great prose stylists of his era. An example I recall
      “He had a tremendous wang, incidentally. You never know who’ll get one.”

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      “When I am happy, I usually don’t notice it until after the time has passed.”

      Did you ever read Robert Sheckley’s The Store of the Worlds?
      https://www.e-reading.club/chapter.php/82872/81/Catastrophes%21.html

      That made me resolve to appreciate the good times while they were happening.

      cr

      Oh, and that line at the end – “Well,” Mr. Wayne said to himself, “at least we gave as good as we got.” – surely the ultimate in Sheckley cynicism.

  8. Kevin
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    “Societal ignorance and carefree denial of the world s major problems” This is Trump America 2017. Although I would change ‘carefree’ to ‘willful’.

  9. Posted August 30, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Two men sitting together on a park bench under a full moon? At first I thought it might be about celibacy, but then I remembered Mo has thirteen wives waiting for him at home.

  10. Posted August 30, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I hope your experience with the incomplete Vonnegut works is a pleasure.

    My experience with posthumous works (not very many) has been universally disappointing.

    This actually makes me feel good about the publishing process: A high level of quality control is applied by the editor and publisher, and presumably the author, prior to publishing.

    My feeling on the posthumous (and some other unpublished works; both in music and books) is that it is rough, has a clear unfinished feel, and doesn’t have the focus and snap of the “real thing”. And this, for me, is a bug, not a feature.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Yeah, there’s a clear distinction between works that remained unfinished at the time of their authors’ deaths (like, say, Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream or David Foster Wallace’s Pale King), and works that were completed but, for one reason or another, not published during their authors’ lifetimes (like, say, Kafka’s The Trial or John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces). It’s the former that tend to prove disappointing.

      • Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        Islands in the Stream was one or mine …

        • Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          One OF mine, of course …

    • Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Well I hope you approve of this then:

      Terry Pratchett’s unpublished work literally steamrollered.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 30, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

        As a Pratchett fan, I was at first horrified by this. Even though it was Sir Pterry’s wish. I note that ‘run over by a steamroller’ is typical Pratchett.

        But on reflection, it’s probably just as well. It would have been interesting but frustrating to read a part-finished work without an ending, and if someone else had ‘completed’ them it’s never the same. Nobody else can successfully imitate the style of the original. I can call to mind the ‘James Bond’ sequels which are not ‘real’ Bonds, or the ‘sixth book in the HitchHiker trilogy’ which just doesn’t have the Adams touch. Whether it’s the knowledge that it’s not actually Fleming or Adams that unconsciously prejudices me, or the ‘replacement’ author really doesn’t have the talent of the original, or a bit of both, I can’t tell.

        cr

        P.S. Linked off that article – the BBC/Amazon are going to do a 6-part series based on Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Good Omens’, with Michael Sheen as Aziraphale and David Tennant as Crowley. Be interesting to see how it turns out and if it does justice to the book.

        Oh, link:
        http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-40935171

    • Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      I read the Douglas Adams fragment, and it bothered me for a while that there was no more, too.

      Mind you, I get that impression sometimes reading biographies of the dead, like Wooton’s biography of Galileo.

  11. Posted August 30, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Vonnegut once took a walk in the woods with his Finnish publisher. The re was powdered snow on the ground. The publisher whisked some of it away with his hand and offered Kurt some frozen blueberries. Years later Vonnegut remembered this as something nice.

  12. Kevin
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    French speaking father heard to elderly English ladies chatting in a park: one said to the other, “It must be nice to be nice”.
    He commented, “Twice nice in one sentence?”.

    • Kevin
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      French speaking father of a friend heard two elderly English ladies chatting in a park: one said to the other, “It must be nice to be nice”.
      He commented, “Twice nice in one sentence?”.

  13. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Vonnegut’s favorite short story as mentioned in the essay was adapted into both an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” in 1959 and an episode of “The Twilight Zone”, the latter re-edited from a French film in 1964.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      In turn, my favorite short story of Vonnegut’s is The Big Space Fuck. It just perfectly demonstrates his attitudes. Though to really get that you probably need to have read a bit more of him than just that. The story seems to me to be a pretty accurate, though unintended and indirect, self portrait.

  14. rickflick
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I wise fellow I knew, now departed, used to say: people seem to think they’re supposed to be happy all the time – it doesn’t work that way. He was reacting to the way people often desperately seek happiness instead of just noticing life in it’s ups and downs and enjoying the flow. Vonnegut seems to emphasizes how people are often happy when they don’t realize it.

  15. allison
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    “The unfinished part, as well as Vonnegut’s first unpublished novella, We Are What We Pretend To Be, has been published in a collection you can buy on Amazon”

    – isn’t it the “finished part” that’s been published? 😋

  16. harrync
    Posted August 30, 2017 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    A story I have read that should be true even if it isn’t: Vonnegut and Joseph Heller are at a party at some billionaire’s house, looking at the Picassos and Van Goghs. One of them remarks “This guy sure has a lot of impressive stuff.” Response: “Yes, but I have something he will never have.” “And that is?” “Enough.”

  17. Steve Brooks
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Kurt Vonnegut was a guest at a class I was taking at Ball State in the early 60’s. He entered the lecture hall looking thoroughly rumpled and seriously disinterested. At some point, a student asked him about the meaning of some particular novel Vonnegut had written. Vonnegut replied, “It means whatever you think it means.” While I forget many details of my college experience, I still have a mental image of Vonnegut uttering those words as he sat slouched in a chair. It was a moment to be treasured.


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