Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bon Voyage, Mr. Vonnegut

The first book I read by my hero, Kurt Vonnegut, was God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. To tell the truth, I hardly remember reading it. I do remember thinking it was bizarre, and wishing fervently that we could read something awesome, like Stephen King, instead. Ah, the ignorance of youth.

I have to laugh at that, because on occasion I was shockingly closed-minded in my early years for no good reason whatsoever. This is an example that gives me a special kind of grief these days because I became such an ardent admirer of his - and to admit that I didn't connect with him straight away somehow cheapens our relationship (as one-sided as it may be).

Fast forward to my early twenties - Bored out of my skull in a job that could have been performed by a monkey, I was tearing through books at a pace my wallet couldn't handle. I had just finished yet another snore-fest of girly fiction about someone who stole someone's boyfriend or some similar ilk, and I was in need of a book for the work day. So, on my way out the door I dropped to my knees in front of the bookshelf I shared with my roommates and began to quickly scan the available titles.

There are few moments in life that I would ever describe as being close to true kismet (seeing as I think that the idea of fate is ridiculous) but at that exact second, just as my eyes and brain focused enough to read the first book's title, Cat's Cradle basically hopped into my hands. I would say I was drawn to it for aesthetic reasons, but the spine is pink and pink is the color I dislike most, so that's not a likely answer. I got lucky though, whatever it was that caught my eye was the catalyst for a great explosion of joy in my life. I read Cat's Cradle in less than two days and fell hard for one Mr. Kurt Vonnegut.

"No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat's cradle is nothing but a bunch of X's between somebody's hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X's..."

"No damn cat, and no damn cradle."

Something burst inside me. It was like he understood me - like we spoke the same language. Different from most people. Beyond that, I had entered into a time in my life where I felt like I'd been rushed out of the main current of progress. Some eddy had interrupted my path and now I was stuck like debris along the side of the river, watching the way the system worked instead of being a part of it. And you know what? I found out that the system sucks. And he already knew that - he agreed with me.

It's difficult to feel lost, but certainly not rare - and I had spent a lot of time wallowing in the uncomfortable truth that I didn't know what I was doing in life. It didn't help matters that I felt like a bit of a traitor to my upbringing. Not everything fit me the way that I had been told it would. The potential of my youth gave way to the cold hard facts of my burgeoning adulthood - I saw the world for what it was, and because of it I started formulating my own ideas about what it all meant and where I fit. It was a strange time, and although my friends are basically the greatest a person could ask for, they were also very young - not ideal mentors for the lost. I was looking and looking for a place to land, and my spirit was tired from vacillating between ledges.

But Kurt Vonnegut understood. It was right there - in ink. He was looking and looking, too. Neither of us could see the point. It was ok that I felt like a black sheep. He was one, too. I felt the ground solidify under my feet, surprised that it had always been there.

What happened next is terribly predictable - I chewed my way through Slaughterhouse-Five and bawled my eyes out over that damn horse's hooves. I devoured Sirens of Titan, Slapstick, Deadeye Dick, Breakfast of Champions and so on.  Each completed novel fueled my own inspiration. I wanted so badly to write something Kurt Vonnegut would read. Because of him I tried to make art, no matter how piss poor. He was (and I daresay is) my muse - I have some of his words tattooed on my body. The rest are tattooed on my soul.

When I was planning my wedding in 2007, I decided that I would invite him. I knew he was not likely to show up, but when you get married you want the people who have impacted your life to be there. It was natural then that I should want him in attendance - but, I didn't get the chance to send an invitation because he died in April of that year.

I cried silently in the bathroom at work that day, April 11th, 2007. My hero had died. And I never got the chance to tell him that he changed my life, that he was the one to cast me a lifeline in the darkness of my self-doubt. I'm not sure the letter I planned to enclose with my invitation would have ever even been seen by him, but I regretted bitterly that I hadn't sent it sooner. So it goes...

I think of him when I am stuck creatively - try to channel him sitting at his typewriter, smoking Pall Malls and writing the Truth. Or drawing something deceptively simple that will still somehow break your heart. Sometimes it helps. Other times I just feel sad that he's gone.

Bon voyage, Mr. Vonnegut. Circle back here again and again - flip backwards in time for me.

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