Kurt Vonnegut: Letters

I had Kurt Vonnegut: Letters for Christmas and got through it in short order. I’ve only read two of his stories, Player Piano and Slaughterhouse-Five, but they made a big impression. His letters reveal a blunt human being, who occupies a space that encompasses someone who simply uses their skills to make a living and someone who is devoted to the art and craft of their work. He shows that the two aren’t necessarily incompatible. I want to share some bits that I thought were interesting.

To his daughter, Nanny Vonnegut (p.176)

Kurt wrote this while trying to repair his relationship with his youngest daughter, after he and his first wife (Jane) had parted.

You’re learning now that you do not inhabit a solid, reliable social structure – that the older people around you are worried, moody, goofy human beings who themselves were little kids only a few days ago. So home can fall apart and schools can fall apart, usually for childish reasons – and what have you got? A space wandered named Nan.

And that’s O.K. I’m a space wanderer named Kurt, and Jane’s a space wanderer named Jane, and so on. When things go well for days on end, it is an hilarious accident.

You are dismayed at having lost a year, maybe, because the school fell apart. Well – I feel as though I’ve lost the years since Slaughterhouse-Five was published, but that’s malarky. Those years weren’t lost. They simply weren’t the way I’d  planned them. Neither was the year in which Jim had to stay motionless in bed while he got over TB. Neither was the year in which Mark went crazy, then put himself together again. Those years were adventures. Planned years are not.

I look back on my own life, and I wouldn’t change anything, not even the times when I was raging drunk. I don’t drink much any more, by the way. And a screwy thing is happening, without any encouragement from anywhere –  I  am eating less and less meat.

I wish someone had told me this when I was in my teens. It would have made things a lot easier if someone had let me in on the secret that all these adult shaped people are just as potentially rudderless as you are. It’s something that’s embodied by the trend of ‘fully grown’ people saying ‘I don’t want to Adult today,’ as though Adult is a verb. It’s a neat recognition that adulthood; taking responsibility and direction for oneself is as much a performed role as anything else. Despite that, maturing into that role doesn’t suddenly negate the chaotic nature of life; we’re not smart enough to be able to predict and control life on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes changes happen that we can’t avoid, like getting TB, or discovering that less and less, without any encouragement, you are eating less meat. So it goes. Continue reading