Thursday, April 12, 2007

Billy Pilgrim Has Come Unstuck In Time

I'd like to step out of character for a moment today and say good-bye to a person I've never met, yet has been a source of strength and inspiration, a role model and friend, Kurt Vonnegut.

Kurt Vonnegut, the satirical novelist who captured the absurdity of war and questioned the advances of science in darkly humorous works such as "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle," died Wednesday. He was 84.

It's hard for me to say which of Vonnegut's books affected me the most. Reading them was often a roller coaster of hope, fear, anger, joy, laughter, and tears. They were funny because laughing at hopelessness brought us back to hope. Vonnegut had a knack for finding the punch line in existential dread.

I often marveled at how a man with Vonnegut's sensibilities could get through life on this planet surrounded by the likes of us, and of course he couldn't. He suffered from depression most of his life, even attempting suicide. Yet even in what must have been his darkest of times, he could laugh at his own tragedy. Luckily for us he came back from those depths and in so doing gave strength to us all, a kind of off kilter, wry sort of strength to be sure, but strength none-the-less.

Vonnegut said be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be. Unraveling the dizzying levels of that statement is typical of the trips he sent me on. If you looked for complexity in his novels, you could find it, but each time you bent to touch it, it would disappear in a poof of pretension. The whole thing, after all, is really quite simple: Hello, babies. Welcome to earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you have about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of– God damn it, babies, you’ve got to be kind.

Well, there is one other thing:

I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.

And so it goes.

1 comment:

James said...

Very nice tribute. I got to hear him speak once, and it was one of the best lectures I've ever attended. Almost as fun as reading his books.