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Tips on being a dancing animal

Today marks 17 years since rightly celebrated American novelist Kurt Vonnegut drew his last breath.

During a career spanning half a century, Vonnegut published 14 novels, along with three short-story collections, five plays, and five nonfiction works.

As is often the case, Vonnegut became ‘an overnight success’ after 17 years of largely unrecognised slog as a published writer when his sixth novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, was released in 1969 to great acclaim.

Based on his experience as a prisoner of war who survived the Allied forces’ 1945 bombing of Dresden [anyone under the misapprehension that what’s currently happening in Gaza is somehow ‘unprecedented’ in the annals of humanity’s inhumanity might want to look this incident up], Slaughterhouse-Five is as odd as its description as a “semi-autobiographic science fiction-infused anti-war novel” suggests.

It’s also a brilliant, deceptively simple book that this writer couldn’t recommend more.

Anyway, on the occasion of the anniversary of Vonnegut’s death, the following story he told in a 1996 interview about the importance of human contact in the face of technology’s increasing impact on everyday life seems more apt than ever – enjoy [and take heed]:

“I work at home, and if I wanted to, I could have a computer right by my bed, and I’d never have to leave it.

“But I use a typewriter, and afterwards I mark up the pages with a pencil. Then I call up this woman named Carol out in Woodstock and say, ‘Are you still doing typing?’ Sure she is, and her husband is trying to track bluebirds out there and not having much luck, and so we chitchat back and forth, and I say, ‘OK, I’ll send you the pages.’

“Then I’m going down the steps, and my wife calls up, ‘Where are you going?’ I say, ‘Well, I’m going to go buy an envelope.’ And she says, ‘You’re not a poor man.

“Why don’t you buy a thousand envelopes? They’ll deliver them, and you can put them in a closet.’ And I say, ‘Hush.’

“So I go down the steps here, and I go out to this newsstand across the street where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery. I have to get in line because there are people buying candy and all that sort of thing, and I talk to them. The woman behind the counter has a jewel between her eyes, and when it’s my turn, I ask her if there have been any big winners lately. I get my envelope and seal it up and go to the postal convenience center down the block at the corner of 47th Street and 2nd Avenue, where I’m secretly in love with the woman behind the counter.

“I keep absolutely poker-faced; I never let her know how I feel about her.

“One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it. Anyway, I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock. I stamp the envelope and mail it in a mailbox in front of the post office, and I go home. And I’ve had a hell of a good time. And I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.

“Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We’re dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go do something. [Gets up and dances a jig.]”

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