If I hadn’t read The Book Thief, I’d probably say that the main theme of Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night is that people are capable of extraordinary kindness and chilling evil, and trying to predict which one to expect from someone at a given time is a fool’s errand. But because I cherish the idea that there really are Hans Hubermanns in the world, and that good character can consistently produce good actions, Mother Night left a different impression on me.
It made me think about whether society can distinguish between when a person is diseased and when that person has realized his world is. So that thought has been living in my head this week, right next to a haunting sentiment from the back of a Whataburger cup: “when I am empty please dispose of me properly.”
It was against this backdrop of dark existential amusement that I stayed up all night doing schoolwork. And it was in a state of acute awareness of my own physical need to sleep that I got to see DC Pierson, author of The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To, do standup comedy. I read that book about a year ago, a book about “A kid who dreamed so hard it exploded from his head and into the world, promising everything.” (Page 226).
DC Pierson was hilarious, and like all truly hilarious people, part of his humor came from his seriousness. A couple of times he used the phrase “apparently, the nature of reality…” and his smirk dared the audience to guess whether or not he was joking. As far as I can tell, he was, barely.
But as I listened to Pierson’s riotously-funny-slash-borderline-tragic stories, and that line from his book drifted back to me, my squirming insides felt a little bit better about Mother Night’s bleak vision of humanity. Dreams explode out of people in terrible and wonderful ways, and because of the mark those dreams leave it’s impossible to separate people from the world.
To use an obvious example, society did a bad job realizing that the world was in fact the diseased entity when dreams exploded out of Martin Luther King, Jr. But King’s dreams flashed so hard and so strong that it eventually it didn’t matter that society initially thought he was crazy. Just as easily as they can destroy, dreams can be the first step in a remedy.
So I’m glad I got to see DC Pierson, because he was a well-timed reminder that just because something is sad doesn’t mean it’s not also funny. And he was a reminder of how important sleep is.