Thursday, April 12, 2007

So it goes, I guess.

At the end of seventh grade Mr. Winston, my English teacher, pulled me aside after class. All year his classroom had been one of the only places that I felt any attachment to, my only safe house amongst the insecurities and fear that I battled with everyday at that withering appendage of Oakland’s crumbling public school system. His curriculum was one of my few sources of confidence. He was new there, formerly a high school teacher. He skirted around teaching grammar and other bullshit that was required of him, and instead focused on creative writing, on self-expression. He showed us how to manipulate sentences into delicate works of art, spelling tests focused on mind-numbing words like vociferous or dichotomy, he showed us how to extract meaning from between the literary lines with Bradbury’s 'Dandelion Wine' – I ate it up, worked fervently to become adequate at expressing myself in a way that could make someone’s stomach churn. It laid the foundation for me to be doing what I’m fortunate enough to call a job now. I wanted it then, and Mr. Winston saw that.

So that afternoon, after he wept before us in pride, as the class was shuffling out the door towards summer vacation, he pulled me aside. In my pudgy little hands he placed Kurt Vonnegut’s 'Welcome To The Monkey House' – a collection of short stories that, at twelve, I was just able to grasp, I didn’t laugh as much as I would reading it now, and I’m sure I stopped and pondered the lunacy of our world much less, but I scrutinized every page of that brown paperback book that summer. That encouragement, that belief in me as a someone with a heart that could be stretched out across pages or poured into someone’s ears, providing comfort in a cold and apathetic world, it still drives me today – And Vonnegut has remained a symbol of that, not to mention that I have always digested his writing effortlessly (unlike most writers), as he managed to be profound and entertaining simultaneously. He rarely took sides in his novels, he just told it and let the characters work it out for themselves. I wrote my big end of high school thesis comparing elements of Vonnegut’s work – it was a cop out, none of it felt like actual work.

When I was living in New York City before starting tour at the beginning of the year, I reread 'Slaughterhouse-Five' on the subway platform as I waited for trains. It was comforting for me amidst the rush and clamor of the station, the strangers, the dirt, the anxiety. Having that book in my hand and those words in my head granted me a sort of sentimental security. Amongst the anonymous masses I could feel special.

Now I’m curious if Kurt Vonnegut still felt what he wrote in 'Slaughterhouse-Five'. Would he have wished his death to be shrugged off with the knowledge that in the course of a life, he just happens to be at an unpleasant point, that there are so many other nice moments to focus on? Clearly I have too much sentiment reserved for the guy - I cant quite do it. But I am pleased that his death will undoubtedly breathe new life into his works, will find new fingers turning his pages, new generations being exposed to his perspective. – I would like to assume that into death he carried with him that Tralfamadorian notion…

So in his honor please disregard everything I just wrote and take with you only this -

Kurt Vonnegut is dead. So it goes.