So I met Kurt Vonnegut once years and years ago while a freshman at a small college in the ruralest of rural Kentucky, and I had no idea who he was. At the time, if it was not about a horse, I didn’t care. But there he was in the campus cafeteria either before or after some benefit that he was attending for the school, and he was as charming as you might imagine. Meanwhile, there I was, standing in a circle with him, a professor, another student. I just laughed and chatted along like he was anyone else. I had turned 18 only weeks before and knew absolutely nothing about the world at all. Then I went on, and it was years before I learned who he really was or understood what I’d had the serendipitous, momentary fortune to experience.
A couple of years later I had the similar idiot’s fortune to meet Octavia Butler at a lunch in that same cafeteria organized by my English teacher. I knew who she was. Sort of. I knew who she was insofar as I’d seen her name on the covers of science fiction books at Waldenbooks that I hadn’t read yet. When I saw the regal black woman in her prim blue dress, I assumed she was just a nontraditional student until the conversation began. I think I was probably wearing a manure-stained t-shirt and flip-flops at the time. I do not think she cared for me much. She cannot be blamed.
It was a strange little all-women’s college in the central Kentucky bluegrass, and I was so angry at the time over the frustrations of chasing an impossible dream that I know there was much more like this that I must have missed. Never doubt the power and mystery of the unranked liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere. I do wonder what it might have been like to go there as a normal college student without an all-consuming ambition. I would have undoubtedly gotten more out of it. Success is overrated.