Tuesday, April 17, 2007

April 16, 2007.

I’m sure everyone has heard by now of the recent shootings at my alma mater, Virginia Tech. I have kept up with the news almost more than I’d like – I tried playing the radio for a few minutes yesterday on my drive home, but as I sat at a red light and had even a couple of seconds to think of it, I couldn’t help turning the station back to NPR. I’ve been largely stunned for the last day or so, but I feel compelled to say something about it now - if only for catharsis, as I’ve been more deeply affected by this than I would have imagined.

I don’t feel that I can comment on the person who caused this, not simply because I cannot fathom the cause of what he did, but also because I can’t yet bring myself to focus on what might lie beneath such a monstrous act. If I’m honest with myself, I also feel that the only people deserving of any attention at all right now are the victims and their families and friends; the rest will inevitably come soon. I’m not sure anyone will be able to attach reason to something like this - most of us are only beginning to understand the depth of its impact.

As an undergraduate I spent three of my happiest years at Tech growing into the person I am now, and part of my heart still remains in Blacksburg, Virginia. Though the story as it could have happened on any campus fills me with sadness, the part of me which loves the place itself is shattered. I really did not know how tied I was to that campus, or how much I had invested myself in the years I spent there, but it seems to me now that neither I nor the place I knew will be quite the same after this. Some aspect of that bucolic little town has surely been lost, along with my memory of it as such – but the students who experienced this firsthand lost far more than merely a memory. In all cases, what was lost cannot be replaced.

So I count myself among the mourners now, if perhaps from a distance, and place my heart with all the rest of those who were devastated by this tragedy. To my friends in Blacksburg, in particular, my thoughts remain with you – all of us from Tech share your grief and sadness. It’s clear that the community we shared is still alive and well, if deeply shaken, and all of us will continue to lend our support in the difficult days ahead.

If nothing else, I feel more acutely than ever the appreciation for the time I spent at Tech and the friends I met there – they’re the reason that Tech was such a marvelous part of my life. It was, and is, a wonderful place because of its people. As an undergrad I never believed I was much for “school spirit,” but I realize that’s because I didn’t really understand what it meant.

As silly as it might sound, I was, and will always remain, a Hokie.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

In Memory of Kurt Vonnegut

I suppose that it's only right that I devote some words to the man whose imaginary phenomenon comprises the name of my blog. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. died yesterday, April 11th, at 84. I can't understand how I took for granted that he was still here for so long, nor should I be a bit surprised at how deeply I feel his passing.

When we lose people, it is often a very personal experience, one that is difficult to share with others, particularly if they haven't lost someone of similar importance. But Kurt Vonnegut was famous, perhaps to his chagrin, and so many people have known him and communed with him in the same way that I have: through his written work. It's all I know of him, but just the same, I loved him for it. There is much to say about his novels and stories, not all good, but I can find little to impugn the intentions behind them, and that is quite something to say about any writer.

This is the man who wrote about the end of the world being delivered in a mad dictator's casket ("Cat's Cradle") and of the Trafalmadorans, who can see the world in "four dimensions of time" and enjoy observing caged humans ("Slaughterhouse Five"). And, of course, of Chrono-Synclastic Infundibula, those elusive places in the universe where opposing truths could be reconciled ("Sirens of Titan"). He wrote fifteen novels or collections of stories and essays, but in not a single one of them I've read did he treat his subject matter with dignity. Gravity and profundity, sure, but never dignity. I'm not sure he believed in dignity, or at least found it in places most of us can't.

I wish I'd written him at some point to tell him that a quote from his novel helped me meet and marry Val - it was just a coincidence that she recognized my little away message, but perhaps not entirely. It's amazing to me that one person can become such an integral part of a collective consciousness that a few of his words can connect two otherwise unconnected people. I feel lucky to have had his words all these years, and to have been able to share my enthusiasm for them with so many of my friends.

This is not a fitting tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, nor is it expected or intended to be. Others who knew him better and can better express something of what he left behind can do that - but here is my own expression of grief and appreciation. Mr. Vonnegut, you inspired me to understand and describe my absurd little world as I saw it, and showed me that the most serious things in life may still be taken in with a shot of humor. For those things, I will always be grateful.

"And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."
- "Knowing What's Nice", an essay from In These Times (2003)