A step in the right direction

And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction. ― Kurt Vonnegut

From Player Piano, this is quite possibly my favorite quotes of all time. It’s a reminder that progress is rarely relentlessly forward. There are missteps and backtracking. There are promising leads that turn into dead ends. All of this is progress, though, if you have the courage turn back rather than continuing on a route that isn’t going to get you where you want to be.

(Image courtesy of Will Thomas)

Vonnegut after Dresden

The superb Letters of Note has a remarkable letter written by a young Kurt Vonnegut to his family shortly after the bombing of Dresden.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden — possibly the world’s most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

This was a key and traumatic event in Vonnegut’s life, but he is almost casual in his description the carpet bombing of Dresden and its aftermath. I guess this is the nature of trauma: we hold things at a distance until we are better able to deal with them. It took Vonnegut over 20 years.

So it goes.

Just one person

Yesterday, Jason Kottke featured this tidbit from Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing short stories:

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

Last night, I read this in 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School:

Design a flight of stairs for the day a nervous bride descends them. Shape a window to frame a view of a specific tree on a perfect day in autumn. Make a balcony for the worst dictator in the world to dress down his subjects. Create a seating area for a group of surly teenagers to complain about their parents and teachers.

Designing in idea-specific ways will not limit the ways in which people use and understand your buildings; it will give them license to bring their own interpretations and idiosyncrasies to them.

Design for just one person: it sounds easy, but it rarely happens.