Archive for the tag 'Kurt Vonnegut'

I Write Like…Who???

July 17th, 2010

Having read about the new website “I Write Like” (http://iwl.me/), which matches samples of one’s own prose with those of famous authors, I decided to have the site analyze some of the longer entries from my “memoir in flux,” and here are the results.

My recollection of the one time I met Arthur Miller was likened to the prose of Vladimir Nabokov. This was very flattering indeed.  I’ve read and admired everything Nabokov has ever written, most especially the novel Lolita; and, of course, his wondrous autobiography, Speak, Memory!

My account of the brief encounter I had with Kurt Vonnegut was said to be reminiscent of none other than…Kurt Vonnegut!  I’m not sure what to think about this comparison, since I am definitely not a Vonnegut fan, except perhaps for a couple of short pieces in Welcome to the Monkey House.

My story about Robert Anderson’s reply to a letter I wrote him when I was a teenager in the Philippines, asking him about possible interpretations of  his play Tea and Sympathy, was tagged as something William Gibson might have written.  Only problem is, there are at least two William Gibsons who are writers.  There’s William Gibson, the cyberpunk novelist; and there’s William Gibson, the playwright who wrote The Miracle Worker.  Surely, it must be the latter, because I’ve seen many of his plays, and because I know the former only by reputation.

One of my many entries about Sarah Palin was decoded and identified with Dan Brown, whom I’ve never read.  I did see the movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, which bored me to death, so I’m baffled by the link.  But, now that I’m thinking about it, I do see some similarity between Sarah Palin’s self-satisfied smirk of a smile with that of Mona Lisa. I may be the only person in the world who thinks that Ms. Lisa looks like a balding, overweight man in drag.  I’m sure this is what Sarah Palin will look like after the 2012 election.

My retelling of what happened the night I got the long-distance telephone call from Manila that my father had died, was, to my surprise, compared to the work of Stephen King.  In truth, though, my father did have a dog once who had rabies and was Cujo-like before it had to be put down.  And, I do like Stand by Me–the novel, the movie adaptation with River Phoenix, and also the song written and originally performed by  Ben E. King.

I tried three more entries from my website—one about my mother’s laughter, and two about my various encounters with William S. Burroughs.  Remarkably, all three entries identified me as another David Foster Wallace. Unfortunately, I had no idea who David Foster Wallace was, nor what he might have written. So I looked him up on the internet.

It turns out that David Foster Wallace was a novelist, short story writer, and essayist who was also a creative writing professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California.  He was the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.  The Los Angeles Times named him “one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last twenty years,” and his 1996 novel Infinite Jest was included by Time magazine in its All-Time 100 Greatest Novels list (covering the period 1923-2006).

This is great.  It’ll give me a good excuse to catch up on contemporary fiction. I’ve been immersed too long in theatre and dramatic literature.

By way of trivia, I also learned that David Foster Wallace was close to his two dogs, Bella and Warner, and that he had talked frequently about opening a dog shelter.  His friends said that “he had a special predilection for dogs who had been abused and were unlikely to find other owners who were going to be patient enough for them”

It gets better and better.  I really like this guy.  I’m going to buy and read all his books, see if we really view life and approach writing the same way. And then, suddenly, his name rang a bell.

According to a September 14, 2008 article in The New York Times, David Foster Wallace “died on Friday at his home in Claremont, Calif.  He was 46.  A spokeswoman for the Claremont police said Mr. Wallace’s wife, Karen Green, returned home to find that her husband had hanged himself. Mr. Wallace’s father, James Donald Wallace, said in an interview on Sunday that his son had been severely depressed for a number of months.”

Oh, God.  Now I’m depressed.

My Kurt Vonnegut Story

March 9th, 2010

Like many of my peers, when I was in college forty years ago, one of the writers whom we all admired was Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007).  I never thought I would actually meet the man but, during one of my trips to New York, meet him I did, sort of, and this is what happened. 

It was a Saturday afternoon, sometime in the early 1980s.  I don’t remember what play it was we had been seeing, or which theater on Broadway we were in, but during the intermission at that particular matinee performance, we were all mingling in the lobby, and there he was, standing right next to me, towering over me, a shaggy bear of a man—looking like something the cat might have cradled and then dragged in from the monkeyhouse—the great man himself, Kurt Vonnegut! 

I was still drinking in the power and the glory of the man when I saw two teenage girls coming up to him, shyly but bravely asking him for his autograph.  We all tried not to eavesdrop as the man cleared his throat, paused dramatically, and then spoke in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear.  “I’m sorry,” he said gruffly, looking at his watch, “but I never sign autographs at 3:30 on Saturday afternoons.” 

The champion could have had all of us for breakfast, and he did. The two girls shrank and turned to me in confusion, because I just happened to be standing next to the man.  “Sir,” they asked me haltingly, trying to cover their embarrassment, not knowing whether or not to ask me for my autograph, “are you anyone?”

“No,” I mumbled apologetically, fleeing from the scene, back to the safety of my seat inside the theater.  During the entire second act of the play, I thought of all the things I might have said to console the two girls but didn’t, to cut the great man down to size but didn’t; and I hated myself for not being quick-witted enough, for having been in awe of a hero, for wanting the same thing those two girls wanted, the man’s autograph. 

In the introduction to BAGOMBO SNUFF BOX, Kurt Vonnegut lists eight cardinal rules for anyone wishing to write short fiction.  Here’s Rule #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.” 

Perhaps, back in the lobby of that theater in New York, at 3:30 on that particular Saturday afternoon in the early 1980s, Kurt Vonnegut was being deliberately sadistic, leading his young fans into that familiar slaughterhouse, teaching us all a lesson in life, liberty and the pursuit of celebrities.