Of course I didn’t actually have a conversation with Kurt Vonnegut. As much as I’d love to have I didn’t find a way to make that happen and he’s dead now since 2007. Thankfully his words are more alive than ever.
The guy who did have that conversation was Lee Stringer, a homeless and addicted dude living on the streets of New York City from the early eighties until the mid-nineties.
Lee eventually became an editor and columnist of “Street News”, those papers you see guys on the street corner trying to sell. This was the first job he got while trying to make his way back. He enjoyed the writing so much he ended up writing “Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street” and found a fan in the wildly more known writer, Kurt Vonnegut, who described him as the best writer since Jack London.
In October of 1998 in a New York City bookstore the two men found themselves in a conversation about homelessness:
KURT: “Your book should have political consequences, although you nowhere demand reform. This book should surly be a best seller in New York City at least, telling us what most of us really had no idea about: What the life of a homeless person is like. Nowhere do you mourn the existence of the homeless. But anybody reading the book is bound to say; My god, something’s got to be done about this.”
LEE: “Um, yeah, well… that’s a tough one. You know, man tried to be a sociologist all the time, but the truth is, you know, if you look around, we really suck at it. So I don’t know if there is anything to be done about homelessness. What, eliminate it? Move these people? Get them out of our faces? Feed everybody? I don’t know what can be done about it, except to find what your relationship is to it. I think that’s the only work. Not to eliminate what offends our sense of what should be, or who we are . Just to find a relationship to it. Just, when you pass somebody on the street, what is your relationship to that person? I mean, how as human beings do we relate to one another? Anything beyond that is bullshit.”
Find what your relationship is to it. Not just homelessness but within all things. I agree with Lee, that’s the only work. Once you find it, act accordingly.