Well, Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. I’d make the “so it goes” joke, but everyone else already has.
When I started writing, there were a couple of writers that I worshipped, that got me rolling for a dead stop and toward thinking about writing fiction. One was Henry Miller, and the other was Vonnegut. I read Slaughterhouse 5 back in high school, when a teacher told me I should, but it didn’t really click. In 93 or so, I got back to Breakfast of Champions, then immediately found myself making trips to Morgenstern’s books to buy two or three of the paperbacks at a time.
Everyone called Vonnegut a science fiction writer, which I never understood. I guess there were some aliens and other weird things here and there, but I mostly identified with the fact that there was a guy from Indiana writing hilarious stories, but also creating these characters anyone could identify with, and very clearly laying out their wants or desires. He broke out of the typical structure of a story by becoming a lot more informal, a Mark Twain of the 20th century who became more of a conversationalist in the story, talking about the author more than the character, yet wrapping it all up into a neat little novel, a paperback I could easily digest and take with me on the way to school.
I never tried to write like Vonnegut, and I moved on to other writers that challenged me in ways more relevant to the writing I was doing. I always came back to his books and re-read them when I was bored. They’re the Chinese food of literature – you can plow through them fast, and then an hour later, want to read them again. I ended up buying all of his books within a year, and he’s one of the authors that takes up a good chunk of a shelf in my collection. (I think only Bukowski takes up more room.)
I saw Vonnegut in ’95, and for whatever reason, that pretty much ended up obsession. He talked at the IU Auditorium, and he seemed like an old man on the verge of death. I seriously didn’t think he’d make it to the parking lot, let alone another 12 years. Vonnegut himself was pretty coarse and random during the talk, but it made me realize he was done as a writer. He came out with the book Timequake two years later, but it was just as scattered as his talk. I guess back then, I categorized him as ended, and didn’t think much when he published his short stories, or last year’s book (which was largely just his lecture, cribbed into print with a bunch of fuck-bush screed added for sales effect.) Anyway.
It’s really cold today. I went to the Air Force Academy yesterday. Colorado Springs is deceptively far from Denver – it looks like a thumb’s width on the map, but the actual drive is like an hour. Maybe it’s not that long, but I forgot my iPod, and Denver is not a radio town, so I spent the whole time flipping through AM radio, trying to find some talk radio that wasn’t right-wing bitching about why Imus shouldn’t be fired, or NPR. (And I don’t know why people bitch about the horror of Fox News, because NPR is basically apocalypse radio; if you listen to it for ten minutes, they will give you 19 reasons why the world is totally fucking ending tomorrow.) Anyway, I went to the Air Force Academy, because there are some planes there I wanted to see. But about two minutes after I cleared the gate, it started pouring snow sideways, and got to total white-out conditions. So I only got to see their B-52 and do one quick lap of the visitor center. Pictures: here.
(Aside: I think I am ditching Flickr soon. At the least, I am letting my Pro account lapse. I still don’t know the value of using it. And it makes me have to do everything twice now. Actually, I do it three times, because I do it in iPhoto. That’s another huge project for another day.)
The visitor’s center was strictly propaganda related to the academic mission of the academy, and nothing about the Air Force per se. To me, this was very depressing, because these images of well-rounded people pushing themselves and doing all of this shit in a high-caliber institution make me want a mulligan on the last twenty years so I could do something of value. I wished someone would have pulled me aside at age 15 and told me to cut the shit and run five miles a day and learn Latin and memorize every calculus book I could find. At the very least, I wish they would have told me the horrors of technical writing. There are times now I wish I could go to medical school or law school or plumbing school or something, but now that I have the time and money to do that, I don’t have the drive. I keep thinking about applying to school and doing something, but I have pretty much fucked up my academic career up to this point to prevent any kind of graduate program, and most schools won’t let you re-bachelor, because they’d rather have the grad tuition in their pocket. And anyway, what would I study? Creative writing? Computer science? Home ec? I don’t know.
In slightly related news, I did get into cooking school. They called me last night and asked if I wanted to get into the next round of classes, after the ones I tried to get into. So in May, I take the knife class, and in June, the basic skills class. This is not a professional training course like going to CIA or whatever; it’s just the bored housewives class. They are hands-on though, so maybe I’ll learn something. Or maybe this will reinforce my current belief that I should stick to Easy Mac and sandwiches.
Still working on my story for AITPL #12. It is mostly done, except it needs a way to tie the middle to the end, and that has me stumped. I mean, it’s also a piece of shit and in very rough shape, but I will finish this pass, then let it ferment a bit and get back to it. I still haven’t started the damn book I planned to write on this sabbatical, which is getting me more and more irritated. I will get there. I just hope I don’t freeze first.