Thursday, April 12, 2007

My close encounter with Vonnegut

The world lost a great author and an exemplary human being last night. Kurt Vonnegut is dead. Perhaps that explains the riotous weather around the country, as a spirit as large as his own left its earthly confines. Being a product of the sixties of course I read every one of his books. It was practically required reading in my set, but I didn't begrudge the task. I loved his work and looked forward with anticipation to every new release.

I always thought I might meet him at cocktail party somewhere in the Happy Valley when he was teaching as an artist-in-residence at Smith College in Northampton. He had family in Amherst and we had friends in common, so it was a possibility, but I never did. I used to see him on the street now and again in that year but he always seemed to be just out of reach. It was years later that I finally had my Vonnegut moment.

It was a sunny afternoon in lovely downtown Noho and I was walking down Pleasant St. absorbed in my own thoughts when I looked up and there he was - heading right towards me. We made eye contact. This was my chance but what do you say to your literary hero? I could have told him what an inspiration he was to me or how much I loved his work, or a hundred other things. I had too much to say, so I said nothing.

Instead we both slowed our gait and our eyes held until we were parallel on the concrete. He could clearly tell I had recognized him. We both paused for just an instant and everything that could be said, we exchanged with a broad smile and a warm glance instead of words. We simply nodded at each other and walked on. Somehow it felt just right and I made my way back to the office, humming a happy little tune. I had "met" my hero and the moment had felt meaningful.

Today the sun is shining and I can almost feel his spirit in the unusually stiff wind that bangs my unlatched screen door at oddly timed intervals. I think perhaps he's lingering for one last look.
"I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge, you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center." ~Kurt Vonnegut
Rest in peace, Kurt Vonnegut. I'm going to miss you.

Libby Spencer

[cross-posted to The Reaction]

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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10:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Libby, that's a great story. As a frequent visitor to NYC, I'd always hope to have a Vonnegut sighting, but alas it never happened. Now it never will. [sigh].

I think that to celebrate his life, I'm going to go and read his most recently published essays. I'd stopped reading after Timequakes, an excellent, but bittersweet book.

10:25:00 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

I haven't read a book since my eyesight started failing. I do most of reading on the internets but I was just thinking I would like to catch up on the later volumes I missed as well.

He was a great writer.

11:40:00 AM  

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