Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I Thought He'd Live Forever

I saw Ray Bradbury speak once, you know.

I was twelve years old. It was at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan - where I also took Tai Kwon Do lessons - walking distance from my school. Bradbury was... ancient isn't quite the right word, though he seemed that way to my adolescent self. Bradbury was venerable. Wise. One. Something he said really summed up the sense of peace and acceptance that he carried like an aura: "Because I am afraid that I won't be able to read once I have died, I am rereading all of my favorite books so I can carry them with me." This is why although I am sad to live in a world without Ray Bradbury, I am certain that he is doing just fine.

The second thing he said during that talk has really stuck with me is actually something he didn't say. Bradbury was the first author who didn't feed me that old BS about how writing is such a terrible profession, and if you can find it in yourself to do something else, you should. He had war stories to tell - stories of slaving away at his typewriter on the kitchen counter while his children tried to get his attention, knowing that if daddy came out to play there wouldn't be anything for dinner next week - but he never presented writing as anything other than a profession, a career, and a choice.

The works of Ray Bradbury have meant a lot to me over the years.

Personally, I think I am still living in Bradbury's definition of good and evil:

"Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smile, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin. There are smiles and smiles; learn to tell the dark variety from the light. The seal-barker, the laugh-shouter, half the time he's covering up. He's had his fun and he's guilty. And men do love sin, Will, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors, and smells... On the other hand, that unhappy, pale, put-upon man walking by, who looks all guilt and sin, why, often that's your good man with a capital G, Will. For being good is a fearful occupation; men strain at it and sometimes break in two."

And good men? They're always concerned. Always careful. Always trying to do their best. This idea spoke to me, and I think it always will.

Professionally - creatively - Bradbury has had a greater impact on me than I can say. I learned about goodness from Something Wicked This Way Comes. I learned about sacrifice from The Halloween Tree. Nothing I have ever read about fear and madness has taught me more than The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl. I have never read anything sadder than The Fog Horn or There Will Come Soft Rains, or anything sharper-eyed than Fahrenheit 451 or All Summer in a Day. The Sound of Thunder will always send cold fingers up my spine, and no time travel story I've ever read has measured up to it. Not one.

I don't think my work will ever have Bradbury's poetry. I'm not that kind of writer. I like plots and settings too much, and I'm apt to hide my allegories behind more layers of gauze and trickery. But sometimes, in the moments when I stretch, I think I recall a little of how it feels to read Bradbury.

I'll miss him, but probably I shouldn't. After all, Bradbury has left so much of himself behind.

I should go soon. There are a few works of Bradbury's I haven't gotten to, yet. As I don't know if I'll be able to read once I'm dead, I should hop to it.

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