Kurt Vonnegut’s humorous humanism had a profound effect on me in my teens. Cat’s Cradle and Wampeteers, Foma, & Granfaloons, in particular, shaped my view of the world. I think I may have read everything that’s he’s published in book form, all but his most recent book of essays. Years later, a Ben Folds Five song, Alice Childress, struck the same chord that Vonnegut played in me: “…the world is full of ugly things that you can’t change. Pretend it’s not that way… that’s my idea of faith. You can blow it off, and say there’s good in nearly everyone; just give them all a chance.” It’s that message that raises hope in me, that informs my take on how to get through life: people are basically good. We don’t need someone looking over us, we can look out for ourselves and help each other along. He told me how you don’t need to believe in God to try to be a good person, an idea which isn’t very fashionable right now.
In high school, my circle of friends read (and frankly idolized) Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan. Brautigan, the off-Beat poet, had that same deceptively simple profundity that mattered more than what was contained in the words. Later, several of us fell deep into the twisty big world of Robert Anton Wilson, who had the same sort of message, but delivered it in a much bigger package, wrapped in layer after layer of paper. The world is complex: be simple.
Brautigan talked about the beauty of life and relationships in his books of prose and poetry. He took his own life, alone, in 1984, the same year Vonnegut tried to do the same. The same year I was getting acquainted with both, though I didn’t know that then. So it goes.
Wilson died earlier this year. He liked life, and helped me like life. Before he died, his fans sent him donations to cover his medical debts; he asked them to buy his books instead. So it goes.
Vonnegut spent his life in a cynical, hopeful string of books. He talked about morality and mortality and how we shouldn’t treat other people. He fell down, and damaged his brain. He died yesterday. So it goes.
He’s in heaven now.
God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.