Kurt Vonnegut’s Last Speech

Kurt VonnegutFor those old enough to bemoan the youth of today, but not quite old enough to be their elders, a recent speech by American author and living cultural legend Kurt Vonnegut may be enough to inspire hope; far from being satiated consumers of dis-interest and the apathetic, Ohio State University students in their thousands queued to attend—about 2000 were successful, at least that many more were turned away.

It would be his last speech for money, the greatest living American novelist explained, but it was soon clear that his passion and concern for the world were far from at an end:

“I’m trying to write a novel about the end of the world. But the world is really ending! It’s becoming more and more uninhabitable because of our addiction to oil…people are in revolt again life itself.

“While the economy has been making money” he continued,“all the money that should have gone into research and development has gone into executive compensation. If people insist on living as if there’s no tomorrow, there really won’t be one.”

Vonnegut switched from the politcal to the personal without breaking stride:

“As the world is ending, I’m always glad to be entertained for a few moments. The best way to do that is with music. You should practice once a night.

With his audience rapt, Vonnegut broke into song, performing a tender rendition of“Stardust Memories.”

Now they were reverential.

“To hell with the advances in computers,” he said after singing.“YOU are supposed to advance and become, not the computers. Find out what’s inside you. And don’t kill anybody.”

Now argument there from this web-developer come meditator.

Back to the political again:

“There are no factories any more. Where are the jobs supposed to come from? There’s nothing for people to do anymore. We need to ask the Seminoles: ‘what the hell did you do?’ after the tribe’s traditional livelihood was taken away.”

Answering questions written in by students, he explained the meaning of life:

“We should be kind to each other. Be civil. And appreciate the good moments by saying ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’

“You’re awful cute” he said to someone in the front row. He grinned and looked around.“If this isn’t nice, what is?

A soliloquy about the joys of going to the store to buy an envelope:

“One talks to the people there, comments on the ‘silly-looking dog,’ finds all sorts of adventures along the way.”

Any suggestions for great writing?

“Never use semi-colons. What are they good for? What are you supposed to do with them? You’re reading along, and then suddenly, there it is. What does it mean? All semi-colons do is suggest you’ve been to college.”

And…

“Make sure that your reader is having a good time. Get to the who, when, where, what right away, so the reader knows what is going on.”

Back to life, and isn’t a writer just a more observant reporter of life than most?

“Live one day at a time. Say ‘if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!’

“You meet saints every where. They can be anywhere. They are people behaving decently in an indecent society.”

And to conclude:

“The greatest peace comes from the knowledge that I have enough. Joe Heller [Catch 22] told me that.

“I began writing because I found myself possessed. I looked at what I wrote and I said ‘How the hell did I do that?’

“We may all be possessed. I hope so.”

I hope so too.

But please don’t tell Kurt I’ve been using semi-colons…

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