Friday, April 13, 2007

Those Who Believe in Telekinetics, Raise My Hand

So said Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who just passed away at 84. Maybe you missed it in all the publicity over Imus.

Mr. Vonnegut wrote a novel called Mother Night, where he suggested being careful who you pretend to be--you may just become that person. That's probably happened to many of us, though it worked out more happily for me, for example, than for his protagonist.

In 1984 I walked into a Bronx classroom and pretended to be an English teacher. I didn't fool anyone. But soon thereafter, when the Board of Education made me teach music, I had an AP, a brilliant musician to boot, who told me, "Fake it until you make it."

Maybe it's not the most profound advice in the world, but under his guidance, I came to learn that I could control large groups of kids (music classes run to 50), and actually make them learn.

Now I'm a teacher, and I started by pretending. I wouldn't recommend this course to anyone. But it can be done, it probably happens more often than we think, and Vonnegut knew it. He also knew where society at large was headed when he wrote Player Piano in 1952. He wrote a great collection of short stories called Welcome to the Monkey House, notably including Harrison Bergeron and Tom Edison's Shaggy Dog.

I haven't read a Vonnegut book in years, since Jailbird. But I'm very sad to hear of his passing.

He may or may not be remembered for hundreds of years. But he's a hell of a lot more significant than Anna Nicole, Britany, or Imus. Next time the TV tells you about one of them, reach for one of his novels instead.

Rest in peace, Mr. Vonnegut.
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