Thursday, April 12, 2007

In Memoriam

November 11, 1922 - April 11, 2007

This is truly a sad day. I found out a couple of hours ago that Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has died. To say that it took the wind out of my sails this evening would be an understatement.

So it goes.

I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.

Perhaps it's selfish or wrong of me, but I feel like I've lost an old friend.

I think Vonnegut has influenced me as both a writer and a person more than any single artist in my life. Even more than George Lucas. I've read all of his books (with one exception) at least 4 times. Each time I read a Vonnegut book, I feel like I'm visiting with an old friend and now that friend is gone, although I'll still have his books.

I wrote Kurt Vonnegut three letters. I never sent any of them. And when I was busy not sending them, I knew that eventually his time would come and I would regret not sending them.

Truly, I regret not sending them.

In the letters I told him that he didn't need to fear so much about the generations of kids after him. That people like me still do care about things like Abraham Lincoln and Sacco and Vanzetti and Eugene Debs. Kids like myself (although I suppose I'm not much of a kid anymore) really did learn and care to learn from people as wise as he.

More importantly, he taught me how important it is to care about my fellow man better than all my years studying dogma inside an organized religion and that I didn't have to believe in God to do it. He taught me the value of Christianity and the teachings of Christ without having to fall into the trap of all of the spiritual mumbo-jumbo that went with it. He taught me the optimism to see the essential decency in pretty much any human being.

He inspired me to write what I believe to be some of my best short stories (if you're familiar with Vonnegut's work, you might be interested to read them. Here, here, here, here, and here. But this isn't about me, this is about the profound influence this man has had on my life.)

There's so much more I want to say about him and maybe in a couple of days I'll be more composed to say more about it.

But at this point, I'd be remiss if I didn't sign off by saying that Kurt's probably in Heaven now.

I'm probably not the first to say it and I will certainly not be the last, but it's something that has to be said.


Anonymous said...

Amen, Bryan. Mr. Vonnegut also meant a lot to me. I also wrote him a letter I never sent, comparing his way with ideas to Astaire's way with dance.
Vonnegut was an American treasure. If our culture has enough collective intelligence, he will be honored and remembered as such.

Bryan said...

Hey guys,
Don't feel bad about not sending your letters, I sent one, and he never wrote back.
I'm a physics prof, but today I loaned out seven Vonnegut books that I had to students. Maybe we can turn on a new group to his fabulous point of view.

Abbas Raza said...

Dear Bryan,

I know exactly what you mean by the "punched-in-the-gut" feeling. I had the same reaction. Thanks so much for this moving personal tribute.

Anonymous said...

Vonnegut served as Honorary President of the American Humanist Association. When I saw him speak a few years back, he talked about eulogizing Isaac Asimov, who had previously been
Honorary President. He began the eulogy by saying, "Isaac's probably in Heaven now." And everyone had a good laugh about that . . . .

Anonymous said...

It's nice to read that younger people have respect for a gizzer...we'll miss your voice KV!

A gizzer

Anonymous said...

I met Kurt Vonnegut in New York City back in 1982. Myself and a friend had gone to see him speak on a discussion about the "Moral Majority" organization that was coming on very big at the time. He talked alot about the integrity his fifth grade teacher in making his points about inner directed conscience and character. Later I saw him be very gracious to the young man speaking on behalf of the "Moral Majority" organization after it was over.

Later that evening we were both surprised to see him accompanied by his wife suddenly walk out of the entrance to the bar in our hotel.

My friend just loved him and there he was suddenly walking before her! She called to him and he turned and stopped. She just stood and grinned at him as they both looked at each other.

He was even more impressive in person. His smile even more whimsical. His eyes even more dancing and brighter. His hair even more curly and swirling into the consciousness of that unseen but very real world where people were always thinking about the meaning of this life even when they didn't think they were.

She said to him "Mr. Vonnegut I just love you! Could I get your autograph?" She pulled a rumpled program from the afternoon discussion from her pocket and grabbed a pen from a nearby table in the lobby. He grinned broadly. He took it and began to write in some curios strokes of the pen.

She beamed at him and said "This is like meeting the Beatles in 1964!"

I will never forget his even kinder grin and his utter graciousness to her. He lit up and said "I met the Beatles in 1964!"

It was so pleasant. Like they were old friends some how in that analogy she had made. Like he appreciated her wit.

He then handed her his autograph on the paper and returned the pen to her.

He nodded kindly and said it was nice to meet us and he and his grinning wife turned into the passing crowd and walked out the front door of the hotel.

I looked at the autograph as she held it grinning. I said "That is a very unusual autograph." It was a roundish circle of little stroked lines coming off of it of different lenghts. I was a bit puzzled.

"That's his autograph", she said, "It's an asshole! He always signs his autograph as a drawing of an asshole." Somehow she knew that. She was absolutely delighted.

I have never forgotten that little chance meeting. I can still picture it to this day.

God bless this man. I hope he crossed over peacefully now to learn even more about the Immense Universe. I think he would enjoy that. I hope his characters met him there. That Billy Pilgrim took his hand and helped him go into that expanse.

I felt the hole in the world last night myself. That I have always been comforted in some way all these years knowing that Kurt Vonnegut was out there walking around somewhere on this plane of existence. I will miss that thought.

A wonderful, wonderful man.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this note. You folks who wrote letters and didn't send them at least got further than me, who intended to write a letter but never got to it. Well, now I've learned something. Today I took action on something else I should have done long ago, and hopefully will continue that way.

KV, R.I.P.