Thursday, April 12, 2007

April 12 is.... Nostaligia Day!

Last night on the late news, the prim, coiffed reporters announced to the world that Kurt Vonnegut had passed away.

I’m sure this is already all over the internet blogs, and everyone has heard the news. Regardless, it’s a sad thing. His website offers a poignant, fitting send off:

Beyond the scope of losing a great thinker, writer, and, yes, quirky philosopher, I find that the end of Vonnegut’s life resonates with a different sort of loss: the loss of a time, a place, and a certain sort of idealism.

It seems funny to make that statement about someone who had such a cynical, often pessimistic view of the world (pooteeweet, anyone?). I remember reading my first Vonnegut novel in high school. Mr. Jackson passed out 30 paperback-sized hardcover copies of Cat’s Cradle. He filled our brains with Ice-9 and people who pressed their feet together in order to say “I love you” (among other things). We sucked it down and filed it all away. At that point, the world didn’t seem like such a bad place. Horror and terrorism and cynicism were more just theories than anything real.

It’s funny to feel nostalgic for a theory of cynicism and pessimism. In high school I read 1984, A Handmaid’s Tale, Slaughterhouse Five, and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” among other things. And I understood them on an allegorical, theoretical level. Bad things happen. Here are some bleak ideas of the past, present, and future. But at 16, none of the problems in the world, none of the moral dilemmas facing these authors were substantial for me. It was my responsibility to educate myself on what had gone wrong in the past and what people thought about that, but I wasn’t in a place to do anything about it. The most I had to do with the terrible side of humanity was learn about it.

Life feels so different now. Shuttled from the theoretical phase of my life and into the pragmatic phase, suddenly the problems of the world belong to my generation. The horrors taking place, the bad things that authors write about, those are our problems to fix. If our society does bad things, promotes ridiculous values, or makes asinine judgments, by default--by being a functioning adult in this era—I share the responsibility for those actions. The world is weightier. The problems no longer belong to someone else.

Kurt Vonnegut’s death reminds me of that fact. His passing moves him from the realm of “now,” in which the thinking and worrying and criticizing belong to him and his generation, into the vast eternity of “was.” His role of social jester—pointing out the flaws and falls of the world—now becomes our job. There’s no longer the security of knowing that someone like Vonnegut is there to shoulder that responsibility for us.

I’m already nostalgic for a time when all I had concern myself with was education, rather than battling those dragons on my own.

Andrew Larson on writes a nice epitaph for Kurt Vonnegut:

“Vonnegut had an incomparable way of mixing bleak pessimism with avuncular warmth. He could inspire even in the moments when he was underlining, highlighting and italicizing just how fucked up and criminally insane the world really was.”

Read the rest of the article here. It’s a good one.

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In other news (and speaking of nostalgia, progress, and responsibility), they started tearing down the old Jasmine Tree restaurant on 4th and Harrison yesterday. I took some pictures from my office window.

Though it wasn’t a place I went often myself, I appreciated knowing there was a kitchy old Tiki bar in downtown Portland. Now we have to go to NE for our fruity drinks and 60’s atmosphere. It always tugs at my heartstrings a little to hear about an old stand-by closing up shop in the name of “progress.” The Virginia Café is another case in point. I know that I’m the sort of person who closely affiliates places with people and places with emotions, so it makes me sad to see places that I had great times in get bulldozed for glassy, shiny, metallic “new.” You may be doing good for the world, and I’m all about green, eco-friendly building, but it’s hard to replace character once you’ve torn it down. New construction just lacks the grit and grime and quirk that give a place its soul.

Anyhow, if you’re interested, here’s the info from the Portland Development Commission on what’s happening down in the South Park Blocks and beyond. The Jasmine Tree site is considered block #153, and they have big plans in store for the area, including housing, grocery stores, and more light rail brilliance.

Here’s the planning site:

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