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Kurt Vonnegut on Writing Better
Merlin Mann | Jul 14 2008
The seven points, in all:
(Ask me about the time in 1986 that Kurt Vonnegut bought me breakfast.)
Tonight, I’m thinking about Kurt Vonnegut.
When I was about 17, I read Slaughterhouse-Five for the third or fourth time and, somewhere in there, the author unknowingly flipped a switch that would help make the difference between my going to college versus finding an apartment out by the airport, near the anonymous tan brick building where I could learn how to fix cash registers. (This is true. It was a very close call.)
A couple years after that, at a college that did not teach cash register repair, some friends and I arranged an independent project to read more than a dozen of Vonnegut’s books over seven weeks. Late in that semester, when the author came to speak on campus — and for which visit he collected the entirety of the school’s modest annual speaker’s budget — Kurt Vonnegut took everyone in our reading group out to brunch at the Hyatt. It was one of the best Saturday mornings ever. It was like Palm Sunday but with eggs and actual Pall Malls — with him carrying on about politics and madness and misunderstandings and annihilation. (This is true. He bought us all breakfast and he was really nice and generous and not just a little crazy.)
I’ve barely followed anything he’s done since Bluebeard, but Mr. Vonnegut’s humanity and sensitivity have always been a warm presence for me. He cared about the state of the sorry souls on the planet in a way that marks a lot of people as nuts, but, for this, I imagine he could give a good goddamn what people thought.
And, yeah, I’m sorry that I never got the chance as a grownup to buy him an omelette and say thanks for the words and for saving me from that tan cash register school out by the airport. I owe you one, Billy Pilgrim.
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