Sunday, November 03, 2013

Who Says (Almost) Meeting Your Heroes Has To Be A Disappointment?


I don't remember exactly how, or even why, it happened.

Although I'm pretty sure it had something to do with my Dad.


I first read Kurt Vonnegut's 'Slaughterhouse Five' cover-to-cover the summer that I was twelve by flashlight enveloped in the orange glow of a pup tent cocoon.

And by the time I was fourteen I had read just about everything Vonnegut had written up to that point.

Including my still all-time favourite, that compendium of short stories/old-timey magazine sci/lowfi fiction called 'Welcome To The Monkey House.'



There are a lot of things I remember about reading Vonnegut as a kid.

But the thing I remember most was how it made me feel.

And I'm pretty sure it was exactly the same thing that a bunch of kids in Ms Lockwood's english class at Xavier High School in New York City felt when they received the following letter from a by then very frail Mr. Vonnegt after they asked him to visit their class to talk about his work:

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don't make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you're Count Dracula.

Here's an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don't do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, butrhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don't tell anybody what you're doing. Don't show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what's inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

Fantastic, no?

The feeling you just got from reading the above, I mean.


I think I've gotta go find me a pup tent and a flashlight and a book or seventy (no wi-fi required).

The letter came our way from the fantastic 'Letters of Note' via one of his readers, JT.
The image at the top of the post is the street sign for Schlachthofstrasse in Dresden...You can find recent images of the real #5 here....You know, the place where the young Billy Pilgrim waited out the bombing with his friends and later lived to tell about because it did all happen, more or less...The war parts, anyway.



Eleanor Gregory said...

What a wonderful letter to read on a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning after an hour's extra sleep.

I point out, however, that the instructions could be updated somewhat. Discarded paper shouldn't go into trash receptacles.

RossK said...


Luckily KV didn't tell them to smoke Pall Malls too.


karen said...

What a great letter.
Letters of Note is over there in your sidebar, whence quite a bit of my reading comes and I could easily spend hours there.
I wish I had seen instructions like this when I was 15. I'm going to share it with all the young people I know.

RossK said...


Got me thinking of that passage in 'Catcher' where H.C. says...

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.”


scotty on denman said...

Fantastic, Yes!

RossK said...


Times a million, billion, infinity yeses!