Monday, April 16, 2007

So It Goes

Note: I'm posting this for Amilynne, who has lost access to blogging at school. Let it be known I think she's the greatest.

Recently I have found myself irritated when people say they’re having a love affair with books, especially in reference to a tryst with a particular writer or genre, as in, “I’m currently having a love affair with Faulkner.” Not only do I find this trite, but rather cheap and inaccurate to boot. I’m fairly certain that the winter I spent a particular amount of time reading Mr. Nabokov’s novels, Mr. Hemingway and Mr. Garcia Marquez weren’t wracked with pangs of lover’s jealousy, and I made no point of hiding my affectation from them either--boldly I displayed Pale Fire on my bedside table, while Invitation to a Beheading plainly resided on the edge of my bathtub and Lolita rode openly with me to work and school, ready in the event that I wrangled a spare moment from my day. And when I made a point to read my Complete Works of William Shakespeare cover to cover, the Green-Eyed Monster veered not its ugly head when I spied a sweet-faced high school student grappling with Macbeth at the corner coffee house. On the contrary, I find that engaging in a tête-à-tête with a particular writer at a particular time leads not to the hurtful, surreptitious behaviors of an affair, but rather to generalized feelings of good faith and good will toward the human species. It’s more like that month you find yourself with a little extra money after all your bills are paid, so you end up giving several dollars to the quadriplegic veteran in the parking lot—you have something that brings warmth and comfort to your life, and you want to do what you can to ensure that everyone you encounter has something similar to turn to at the end of the day.


That said, for lack of a handier platitude, I had my love affair with Kurt Vonnegut in the late summer of 2001. I had become acquainted with Vonnegut the year before when my roommate Blake loaned me his copies of Mother Night and The Sirens of Titan. (Blake also, incidentally, introduced me to Jhumpa Lahiri, Tom Waits, and Nick Cave, and for my part I introduced him to Sifl and Olly and underage drinking—it is a deficit I fear I will never pay off.) That summer my life was lacking; my semester out of college had somehow stretched to three years, and after being fired from Barnes & Noble I worked a string of crap jobs: Waitressing at IHOP, selling knives door-to-door, working internet technical support at a call center. I found respite from the void in my life at the local library. My appetite for literature was voracious, and after working my way through the alphabetized shelves I eventually wound up with a Vonnegut novel or two every week. Incidentally, I wouldn’t be half the person I am today had it not been for the idle hours of my early twenties spent meandering the shelves of the Idaho Falls Public Library.

In Cat’s Cradle, his novel on the meaningful meaninglessness of interconnected events and lives, Vonnegut warns against finding false significance in coincidental similarities, what he (or rather, Bokonon) calls a granfalloon. And yet I couldn’t help but feel the threads of Vonnegut’s novels—incidents, characters, philosophies, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum-- intertwining with my own life, whether as part of the cosmic scheme of things or the Law of Attraction or a granfalloon or what have you. And so it was, on the morning of September 11, when the Twin Towers fell under attack while I was halfway through reading Deadeye Dick, it seemed to me a completely foreseeable, if not comprehendible, turn of events, as saturated as my mind was with Vonnegut’s world. I do not mean to imply that that day was not a tragedy, nor that I (or Vonnegut for that matter) was an insufferable cynic in the face of such massive loss of life. Merely, I wish to state that my understanding of that watershed day in American history--and all the facets of its political and cultural resonance, from the so-called “War on Terror” to the subsequent War in Iraq to the growing divide between liberals, moderates, and conservatives to that God-awful painting of the bald eagle shedding a tear as he overlooks the destruction of the Twin Towers--was unquestionably shaped by Kurt Vonnegut, for which I am eternally grateful. When people ask me where I was on September Eleventh, I can in all truth answer that I was with Rudy Waltz, pointing a Springfield rifle out the cupola window of his Midland City home.


Kurt Vonnegut’s influence profoundly intertwined with my life for a second time this past week. After dealing with a Nineteenth-Century-heavy curriculum for most of the year, I’ve finally succeeded in bringing my junior English classes up to Twentieth Century American Lit, and after long consideration of which novels to include, I settled on teaching Cat’s Cradle in the hope that it will prove to be a refreshing palate cleanser as we come to the end of the semester. I began re-reading the book last week and, as I always do when creating a new literature unit, was on the lookout for supplementary material to round out my lessons, when on Thursday morning I tuned in to NPR halfway through a story on Vonnegut. At first I thought how fortuitous it was that Vonnegut was in the news just as I was preparing to teach his novel, but then I picked up on the realization that the anchor was referring to him in the past tense. My worst suspicions were founded; Kurt Vonnegut had died the evening before. I have found it difficult to express how saddened I am by his death without sounding overly sentimental, or worse, downright sappy. I wouldn’t know if this is how it feels to lose an old friend or loved one, as I have been lucky enough in my adult life not to have been through that experience. Suffice it to say that, when I entered my classroom on Thursday morning after hearing the announcement of Vonnegut’s death, and I saw the piled copies of Cat’s Cradle where I had left them the day before, in my heart I mourned for the loss of my mentor, the Postmodern prophet. Kurt Vonnegut was a great mind; he was one of us.

And I am still eternally grateful.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Amilynne's New Moment of Zen

How much does Amilynne love this ad for American Express starring the brilliant Wes Anderson? I'm sure she'll tell us. It was certainly one of the brilliant reasons to watch the Oscars last night. Even though it wasn't an official part of the show.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Good World

With Donald Rumsfeld out as Secretary of Defense and Harry Reid in as Senate Majority Leader, it almost feels like I'm the decider!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Happy Days Are Here Again

When I was very young, I was able to make my favorite Tom and Jerry episodes show on TV if I thought really hard about them a day or two earlier. When I was an adolescent and my heart broke I made it snow six inches one late April afternoon, a near-Gothic feat of landscape. And it was because of me that the Democrats took the house and (will take) the Senate in 2006. Let me explain.

About a week and a half ago I had a dream in which I was driving to work the morning after the election and NPR reported that there had been changes to Congress, but there was no specification what those changes were. Gleaning that the Republicans were no doubt implicated in the media hush-hush, I decided to infiltrate their base to learn just what had happened. And so I jumped aboard a subway to the Republican base, a gabled white country house with manicured lawn. As I was mingling, trying to fit in, I noticed that I had spilled tomato soup down the front placket of my blouse and, knowing that my sloppy dining habits would blow my cover among hardened Republicans, I went to my suite to change. Unfortunately, I had brought no change of clothes except for the flour sack pants Alan brought me from the Philippines, which are rather transparent and quite inappropriate. The strange thing is, as I was examining the pants to see if I could somehow make them work, I was able to see myself reflected in the skin of my leg. Hmm. Having decided that the pants would do, I rejoined the Republicans, who had taken the party down to a basement chamber, where blonde women were being kept in cages with SharPei puppies and wine was being served straight from the bottle. The atmosphere heightened with anticipation as President Bush’s arrival was announced, and at last entered the Commander-in-Chief, albeit barefooted, slightly hunchbacked and gangly of limb. I was reminded of Richard III. The crowd was hushed as the President stepped forward and made his remarks: “I present to you, Haiku for a Praying Mouse,” at which point he stepped on a small gray mouse, grinding its body into wet cement.

And then I woke up.

I recognized that the dream had significance even before I had recurring dreams all that week leading up to the election in which there was a motif of choosing an appropriate outfit. Need I point out the obvious significance that choosing the right outfit = choosing the right candidate? I was further able to decipher from my dream that Nevada would swing Republican, but that nonetheless the Democrats would take the House and the Senate, although by a very slim margin. See, it’s as plain as day. It’s almost as though I need to move to Delphi.

Still, however, I have not quite figured the significance of seeing my face reflected in my leg.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Happy Election Day, Republicans Excluded

We Bring Democracy to the Fish

By Donald Hall

It is unacceptable that fish prey on each other.
For their comfort and safety, we will liberate them
into fishfarms with secure, durable boundaries
that exclude predators. Our care will provide
for their liberty, health, happiness, and nutrition.
Of course all creatures need to feel useful.
At maturity the fish will discover their purposes.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


…and it was on this day in the year 1066 that William the Conqueror invaded England, giving birth to the greatest language the world would ever know.

Monday, September 25, 2006

O Cheese

Amilynne insinuated this evening that she would rather hear Garrison Keillor read this poem - somehow I just don't do well enough. But here is Donald Hall reading it, which must be the best way.