It’s already happening. The lit bloggers are all writing posts titled “So it goes.” His website has an appropriately simple message. Remember this Phoenix piece, about MySpace as the virtual equivalent to flower-filled roadside memorials? It’s doubtful that Vonnegut actually maintained this MySpace page, regardless, his comments section will likely blow up by the day’s end.
Read the sad news this morning, and I thought “I should do something.” But what? A MySpace comment hardly seems adequate for a person who profoundly inspired countless generations of writers – myself included – not to mention, well, everyone else. Who hasn’t picked up a copy of “Cat’s Cradle” and thought “Whoa”? When I first read it, I stayed up all night devouring every word, then sought out more Vonnegut at the nearest bookstore, then searched for used book stores, and scoured their dusty shelves for lost Vonnegut gems. I remember looking up one day last fall, and happily realizing, as I sat amongst three of my four new roommates, that we were all reading Vonnegut novels simultaneously – a sign of a good living situation.
So, back to the original question: what to do? Read as much about him as possible? Retreating to Google’s comfortably all-knowing arms, I found this interview from 2000, between Vonnegut and some lucky Harvard student, during which he wonders “how the fuck” he wrote so many brilliant novels, and shares some (now bittersweet) musings on the afterlife. He also shares this notable thought:
If I were a religious person, my first question would be “Where the hell is God?” But I never expected him to be on the job.
Furthermore, Google says, the news sites are buzzing. The Times has essentially the same thing to say as the Globe: he was the king of countercultural literature, a modern-day Mark Twain, a curly-haired caricature of himself, a scientific messenger of the apocalypse, a self-proclaimed humanist, the original dark comic.
We knew all of this before today, but should we be celebrating it? Start referring to all mirrors as leaks, and alcoholic beverages as yeast excrement? Smoke Pall Mall cigarettes (“the classy way to commit suicide”)? Find out his favorite drink and make it? But Google didn’t know what his favorite drink was.
But wait! What does the hoi polloi’s voice of all reason and truth have to say? I’m speaking of Wikipedia, of course, which already includes an update on Vonnegut’s entry, in addition to his eight rules for writing a short story. A few favs:
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
In the end, I’ve decided to find solace in a Vonnegut quote from a 1973 interview with Playboy. Vonnegut wrote for and was interviewed by Playboy throughout his life, including a dual interview with Joseph Heller in 1992, though he once noted in an interview with Salon that no one ever reads Playboy. So here I am, reading Playboy, hoping he’s found his utopia, and thinking, “I don’t know how the fuck he did it either, but I’m glad he did.”
“Human beings will be happier — not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie — but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That’s my utopia.”