Thirty-eight

All rise.

The funny thing about having a late December birthday is that it can conveniently hide behind other, larger events like Christmas and New Years Day. I guess it might be in the mix there with Hanukkah as well, but that wasn't on the menu where I grew up. December birthdays are the bass guitarist of birthdays; they're there, they're probably contributing somehow to the larger ensemble with the other birthdays, but they're hidden incredibly in plain sight. When you're young, this is a problem because the birthday gift + Christmas gift situation does not work out in your favor; when you're old, it's the same math, but the interpretation of it is more favorable.

I'm not going to do any proper year-in-review kind of post here. I have eleven days still to procrastinate on that front.

So why are we here?

...

There's no reason. I felt the urge, sometime this year, to begin using this space on my own website to write again. And I put some effort into taking the things I had written elsewhere, at least the ones I could remember how to find, and bring them back home. So kirkkittell.com is a reasonable avatar for Kirk Kittell, for good or ill.

Anyway. This is my party. And there is no agenda, no plan. We'll just place this here brick on this here accelerator and let the universe sort itself out.

When I think of birthdays, and how to write about them, I think of Kurt Vonnegut. ("Kurt is up in heaven now.") I think of Breakfast of Champions. This is, if you haven't read any Vonnegut, not the place to start reading. This is my second—no, third—favorite Vonnegut book, after Cat's Cradle and Mother Night. I probably don't like Mother Night better than Breakfast of Champions, but I think it might be his best or most important book, so it belongs in a prominent place.

Listen. Just leaving out the middle of the book, I could point at the beginning and the end and feel confident in myself that I've selected a Good Book. As it's birthday time, let's steal a few lines from the intro:

This book is my fiftieth birthday present to myself. I feel as though I am crossing the spine of a roof—having ascended one slope.

[...]

I think I am trying to clear my head of all the junk in there—the assholes, the flags, the underpants. Yes—there is a picture in this book of underpants. I’m throwing out characters from my other books, too. I’m not going to put on any more puppet shows.

I think I am trying to make my head as empty as it was when I was born onto this damaged planet fifty years ago.

I suspect that this is something most white Americans, and nonwhite Americans who imitate white Americans, should do. The things other people have put into my head, at any rate, do not fit together nicely, are often useless and ugly, are out of proportion with one another, are out of proportion with life as it really is outside my head.

That passage looks so pathetic out of context. But I've read this book several times, and the introduction—as is much of the book, especially the end—the product of someone who has dragged a rake along the soft parts of his life and gathered the debris into a pile to be carted away. I am sure that when I read this book 15 or 18 years ago that it seemed like a farce, but the older I get, the more I can recognize the catharsis of that unblinking assessment of one's own baggage.

But that all seems a bit maudlin. And that doesn't match with how I'm feeling anyway. But I can appreciate the feeling—of wanting to clear the junk from one's head, of wanting to find a bit of harmony inside and outside of my skull.

There's another thing though. There's this recording of Kurt Vonnegut reading a prototype version of Breakfast of Champions at the 92nd St Y in 1970 (below). It was unsettling to hear the first time. There's something about that Indianapolis accent that is similar to my dad's accent over in eastern Illinois, which isn't that far away from Indianapolis anyway, just a few miles off the Indiana-Illinois state line.

So: thirty-eight. It's not round, it's not square, it's not prime. Onward.

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