Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 1922-2007



This was a hard one. I'd always hoped I'd meet him someday, just long enough to tell him "thank you." His was not an easy life, and I think the simple act of surviving it was accomplishment enough. But he did much more than survive - he told imaginative, brilliant stories that showed us the awful truth about about ourselves. Yet even that does not do it justice.

Vonnegut's work was full of humility and love. He did not lecture. He did not pontificate. His craft was invisible. The writing was so accessible and conversant, it was easy to believe that there was no labor behind it, that he simply stared out the window and put his passing thoughts to paper. You'd close the book after turning the last page and think "Well, there wasn't so much to it. Some clever images. Some funny jokes. What's the big deal?" And that's when it really begins to work on you. Somehow, those "simple" stories just don't seem to go away. A year, five years, ten...and not a week goes by you don't think about the frozen oceans, the cat's cradle, the fire-bombing in reverse, the unknown allied collaborator who won the war but lost his identity. Those simple phrases and images arise, unbidden, at odd moments. And at some point, you realize that you'll never put it behind you, that everything you've ever read by him will be restlessly churning around inside your brain for the rest of your life. Vonnegut gave you the truth, made you feel like you discovered it for yourself, and showed you how to keep on going. And he kicked you in the ass if you dared take yourself too seriously. Don't let that revelation go to your head, kid!

Thank you, Mr. Vonnegut. And farewell.

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