I recently finished reading Kurt Vonnegut: Letters as well as his book of commencement and public addresses called If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? I have been a fan of his and have read nearly every word he has written over the years, but I must admit that these two are among my favorites because they were in his voice and spoke to us as if we were his children. He said, “Most letters from a parent contain a parent’s own lost dreams disguised as good advice…”. I don’t think many of us think about that when we are bristling under the weight of some unwanted advice after we’ve done something stupid, but perhaps we should (I have gotten a lot of this advice because I have done a great number of stupid things).
The reason I am writing this little post is because I learned from Kurt Vonnegut: Letters that from the mid-seventies on, Vonnegut lived just a few blocks away from me on East 48th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in Midtown Manhattan – naturally I went in search of it. His little townhouse pictured above is nestled between two more substantial apartment buildings and has a little angel perched on the lintel just above the front door. I am a small town kid at heart so I still get star struck when I realize that great men and women have lived normal lives in the same neighborhood that I live in – I live near the UN so the number of great (and downright shitty) people who have laid their heads nearby is staggering.
During his time in his New York house Vonnegut wrote seven or eight books, got remarried, adopted a young girl and almost burnt the house down due to careless smoking (I have also done this – didn’t get much advice after that one though, mostly just got yelled at for burning up a whole couch while I slept soundly upon it). He was known to sit out on the stoop and cheerily greet passersby, of which I wish I had been one. But there he also struggled with depression and his inability to write as he used to. Also, from the way it sounds, his second marriage wasn’t a cake walk either – it never is when you are married to an artist. He sustained his final injury falling down the steps there as well, but let’s not dwell too deeply about this since he once said he was going to sue Brown & Williamson tobacco company because the message on their packages saying that smoking kills wasn’t working fast enough for him – he was 82 and a lifelong smoker of Pall Mall cigarettes when he wrote that.
My favorite quote from his volume of letters turns out to be the last he ever wrote to be delivered to an audience, and seems quite topical in today’s weird world. It goes: “And how should we behave during this Apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another, certainly. But we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog, if you don’t already have one…I’m out of here.”
If you are looking for some uplifting advice from our old friend Kurt, read the two books above – I have read If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? numerous times. It comes in handy especially after friends die or when you are longing for advice from someone who isn’t here to impart their comfort and knowledge any more. My favorite quote from that one is: “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories.” Good advice indeed.
This fun adventure has inspired me to start looking for other places around here that were occupied or used by some of my favorite artists – either as their homes or perhaps where they made films, painted paintings, or wrote that one perfect book – also, we musn’t forget that this is a town famous for its underworld so I may go looking for the more unsavory spots as well. Do you, dear reader, have any places in mind that you think I should hunt for? Let me know in the comments and thanks for stopping by. You are loved. So it goes…
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