Kurt Vonnegut and I share a birthday... November 11. Veteran's Day.
I wrote him a letter once. I was in middle school. I had read 3 of his novels and was on the way to reading pretty much every one of his books (I think I lost track of the last couple). I was fully caught in his smart, smart-assey, sarcastic, wonderfully human spell when I wrote that letter as a young kid. I typed it out on my mother's typewriter (which is now my typewriter, over there, in my living room under the picture of that canyon on the wall).
The letter basically said this: "We have the same birthday, you and me. I love your books. I wish I could meet you and talk with you some day. Sincerely, John"
I never got a reply. But I don't hold that against him. I'm sure he got a lot of letters just like or very similar to mine. I never met Kurt Vonnegut, but I remember how I met Kurt Vonnegut's writing.
I was wandering the stacks of the public library in Pensacola, Florida one hot summer afternoon. My mother had gone there to return some of her books and I walked away from her, out into the stacks of books... shelf after shelf waiting there for me in the air conditioned silence.
I slowly walked down the aisle, guided to modern fiction by the different way that the book covers were designed... their fonts didn't seem quite so asleep somehow. I instiinctively pulled a book off the shelf that said "SLAPSTICK: OR LONESOME NO MORE!" I opened the book and started scanning the first several pages to see if the writing would catch my eye...
"The gravity is very light today. I have an erection as a result of that. All males have erections on days like this. They are automatic consequences of near-weightlessness. They have little to do with eroticism in most cases, and nothing to do with it in the life of a man my age. They are hydraulic experiences -- the results of confused plumbing and little more. Hi ho."
Not only had I found a new favorite author, I officially stepped out of "children's literature" that day. What a perfect writer to be that bridge... what a perfect adolescent discovery.
Kurt Vonnegut died today. I never met him. But I feel like I knew him somehow. Isn't that what great writers do? They show you the world through their eyes.
Another quote from Kurt:
“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’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.’ ”
John Common and Blinding Flashes of Light at Red Rocks.
CAN YOU HEAR ME
by John Common and Blinding Flashes of Light. Directed by David Dyster/Umbrella Brigade.