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Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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Happy Birthday, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

November 11, 2015

By Jane O’Shields-Hayner

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Mother Night

Happy Birthday, Kurt.

This is the second letter I have written to you, and it comes twenty-six years past the first. Thank you so very much for writing me back, that long time ago, and thank you for the self-portrait. It’s a treasure.

You would have been ninety-two this November eleventh. The world has missed you for these eight years you have been gone, and so have I.

I was sick when I wrote you in nineteen eighty-nine, and didn’t know how much longer I might remain in this earth orbit, rotating, with you, around our sun.  Expressing thankfulness to the people who had encouraged and inspired me seemed a timely act. You were the first on my list and I didn’t get to number two.

I began reading your books after seeing you on the stage of Landreth Hall at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. It was my birthday in nineteen-eighty-four.  I was an art major earning a teaching degree with an English minor.  You wrote on a blackboard, diagraming the shapes of stories on a graph, and comparing to each other. Tall and lanky, you paced across the stage, pointing at the board with your long fingers protruding from the cuffs of your tweed jacket. You lectured like our English teacher, not the acclaimed Kurt Vonnegut, the “Primal Scream” of the Peacenik” generation. In conclusion, you demonstrated that William Shakespeare was as good at telling stories as any Arapaho. That was my first laugh at your sly, impudent jokes. A sharper wit never graced that stage, nor did a greater humanitarian.

I didn’t die. I learned to live with what would chronically ail me, and I went forward with life, with a growing family and the help of modern chemistry. You and I have this in common: the clear realization of biochemistry’s role in who we are and how we live.

Thank you for updating me on your son, Mark. I knew Mark, back in the days when we were crusading for orthomolecular medicine together and it’s use in treating mental illness as a disease, not an emotional state caused by bad mothers and such. Mark wrote a good memoir about his trip in and out of schizophrenia called The Eden Express. It was also a book about our generation, and personal to me, because much of his story was my story, too.

Mark believed that orthomolecular medicine saved his life, and I believed it saved my first husband’s life as well. We spoke in schools, prisons, even before state legislatures, asking that they take orthomolecular treatment to their populations. In the end, we all found it less of a Eureka phenomenon than we had once believed, but many people were greatly helped, and it got the psychiatric medical community’s attention, which led to major advances in understanding and treating mental illness. Continue Reading…

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