Richard G. Petty, MD

So It Goes

Like most young people, I did a load of menial jobs to pay my way through school. For one of them I spent a summer working as a hospital porter: I was the guy who pushed the wheelchairs around. There I met an interesting man who first introduced me to the works of Kurt Vonnegut, and by the end of the summer I had read all his books.

I just heard that Kurt passed away yesterday at the age of 84. He had an interesting life. He was captured by German troops in December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge and he spent the rest of the war imprisoned in a Dresden slaughterhouse. On the night of 13 February 1945, Allied bombing raids flattened the city, creating a firestorm that killed an estimated 35,000 civilians in two hours. Vonnegut and his fellow prisoners survived because they were being kept in a cold meat locker three stories below the ground. When they emerged, there was nothing was left of the city. Vonnegut referred to his experiences of Dresden in several of his novels, most notably Slaughterhouse-Five that came out in 1967.

He often discussed his own mood disorder and a suicide attempt in the mid 1980s. His son, Mark Vonnegut is now a pediatrician, but his book Eden Express is an amazing account of his own descent into a mental illness that was described as schizophrenia, but from his description was far more likely to have been bipolar disorder.

They both survived, and for years now I have had all psychiatric trainees read Eden Express.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Kurt Vonnegut.

  • “1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them.”
  • “A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”
  • “All of us were stuck to the surface of a ball incidentally. The planet was ball-shaped. Nobody knew why we didn’t fall off, even though everybody pretended to kind of understand it.”
  • “All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”
  • “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”
  • “Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”
  • “Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before… He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.”
  • “Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind.”
  • “During my three years in Vietnam, I certainly heard plenty of last words by dying American foot soldiers. Not one of them, however, had illusions that he had somehow accomplished something worthwhile in the process of making the Supreme Sacrifice.”
  • “He adapted to what there was to adapt to.”
  • “(He) told us about one of Plato’s dialogues, in which an old man is asked how it felt not to be excited by sex anymore. The old man replies that it was like being allowed to dismount from a wild horse.”
  • “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
  • “Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.”
  • “How nice–to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.”
  • “Humor is an almost physiological response to fear.”
  • “I am eternally grateful.. for my knack of finding in great books, some of them very funny books, reason enough to feel honored to be alive, no matter what else might be going on.”
  • “I can have oodles of charm when I want to.”
  • “I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, ‘The Beatles did’.”
  • “I think that novels that leave out technology misrepresent life as badly as Victorians misrepresented life by leaving out sex.”
  • “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”
  • “I’m suing a cigarette company because on the package they promised to kill me, and yet here I am.”
  • “I’ve got at least one tiny corner of the universe I can make just the way I want it . . .”
  • “If somebody says, ‘I love you,’ to me, I feel as though I had a pistol pointed at my head. What can anybody reply under such conditions but that
  • which the pistol-holder requires? ‘I love you, too.’”
  • “If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you’re a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.”
  • “It is harder to be unhappy when you are eating.”
  • “Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.”
  • “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.”
  • “Life happens too fast for you ever to think about it.  If you could just persuade people of this, but they insist on amassing information.”
  • “. . . life, by definition, is never still.”
  • “Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.”
  • “Love is where you find it.”
  • “Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail.”
  • “Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.”
  • “. . . most of the world’s ills can be traced to the fact that Man’s knowledge of himself has not kept pace with his knowledge of the physical world.”
  • “Much of the conversation in the country consisted of lines from television shows, both present and past.”
  • “New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.”
  • “One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.”
  • “Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile!”
  • “Thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.”
  • “The chief weapon of sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was too late, how heartless and greedy they were.”
  • “The secret to success in any human endeavor is total concentration.”
  • “There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.”
  • “. . . there is this feeling that I have a destiny far away from the shallow and preposterous posing that is our life . . .”
  • “Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.”
  • “. . . uncritical love is the only real treasure.”
  • “We all missed a lot. We’d all do well to start again, preferably with kindergarten.”
  • “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
  • “We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap.”
  • “Well, the telling of jokes is an art of its own, and it always rises from some emotional threat. The best jokes are dangerous, and dangerous because they are in some way truthful.”
  • “What had made me move through so many dead and pointless years was curiosity.”

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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