A LESSON FROM KURT VONNEGUT

I attended a Kurt Vonnegut talk at Albion College in Albion, Michigan a few years ago. My daughter was going to college there and was a member of the Honor Society which was sponsoring his appearance. It was a great day. I was invited, by way of my daughter, to a private meeting with a true cultural icon, and one of my main literary heroes.

Vonnegut was as irascible in a small intimate setting as his reputation indicated he would be. A true curmudgeon and a committed Humanist, he tweaked almost every American cultural conventionality there was to tweak and didn’t bat an eye nor apologize for his salty and direct language and demeanor. He endeared himself to me even more than his legend had me believing he would.

Anyway, to make a long story short, after having a semi-formal dinner with Vonnegut and bank of dignitaries, we all made our way to the college chapel where the famous author was speaking on the topic, “How to a Get a Job Like Mine.” In spite of its title, it was not a how-to in the traditional sense. It was a humor-filled, insightful, examination of much of what Vonnegut stood for as a artist and as a man.

The main thing I still cherish about his talk was his series of diagrams and explanations about drama, how it comes about, how it is written about, and why people have such a need for it in their lives.

He said, “People have been hearing fantastic stories since time began. The problem is, they think life is supposed to be like the stories. Let’s look at a few examples.”

He then drew an empty grid on the board, like this: