Many years ago, I stumbled across Kurt Vonnegut in a used bookstore. Well not him, but a novel he’d written. Somehow I’d never heard of him, but was intrigued by the tombstone-shaped title graphic on Slaughterhouse-Five and picked it up. After flipping though it and reading only a few random lines that I could’ve sworn were written just for me, I knew I was supposed to read this book. I didn’t know I would fall wildly in love with it, develop a lifelong addiction to Mr. Vonnegut’s work, and through it all feel an almost kindred connection to the writer.
It’s an absolutely depressing condition, being a human being, but it’s also the most fun I can imagine. I find myself still mesmerized by so many of our endearing and frustrating tendencies. A people watcher. Kurt’s writing reflected this same perspective, this love/hate relationship with everything we are, and how “in it” we all are together and (tragically) don’t even know it. Finding that in his writing has meant more to me than I could ever express. But it wasn’t merely the reflection that I found comforting, it was also the guidance. He taught me about me, and about everyone. I loved him for being someone who just… got it. Someone who slowed down and paid attention enough to get it, and write about it. Someone who told me through his writing that it was not just ok, but a hilarious gift to be so painfully human. That I could laugh at myself for being such a total human being sometimes. I felt less alone when I discovered his work, and not only in the sense that I now had him, but also that we all have each other. We are all so much the same. He had a way of connecting us so delicately in his writing.
I try to be as much of a human as I can, to soak up as much of the positive and negative experiences and thoughts and feelings you can only have as one, and I owe a lot of that intent to Mr. Vonnegut. I feel that I would’ve lost that along the way, as most grownups do, if not for consistently reading his novels and essays. I’m not sure I would take time to draw silly pictures for my daughter every night if not for his reminders over the years to simply enjoy life, because it matters so much but also not at all, so you may as well have some fun. I’m not sure I would consciously stare at the people I love in order to appreciate and memorize them, that I’d hold hands for that extra minute and give one more kiss goodnight, if not for his (and my) philosophy that we are basically at the mercy of whatever it is that could take away anything and anyone we love from us at any moment, but doesn’t. I can’t imagine how many days I would’ve wasted angry or sad without the simple phrase “So it goes” engrained in the back of my mind, filtering so many annoyances and disappointments. I owe a lot of my silliness to Kurt too, because he was silly and he pointed out the silliness of NOT being silly. Who cares? Play. Enjoy. Have fun. Be kind. It all matters and it all doesn’t matter. The biggest deal is that we’re all here together.
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies–: ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”
It’s been 9 years since he passed away and I miss him. I miss him being in the world. I’m so thankful he was here for awhile.
“Jokes can be noble. Laughs are exactly as honorable as tears. Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion, to the futility of thinking and striving anymore. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward – and since I can start thinking and striving again that much sooner.” — K.V. Jr. (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007)