Sometimes there is a person who influences you as you are growing up and you don’t even recognize it until years later. Sometimes it’s a person you know and sometimes, if you are a bookish person like me, it is an author. When I heard the news that Ray Bradbury had died at the age of 91, I was both surprised and saddened. I had no idea that he was still alive and the idea that he’s been alive my whole life until now meant I’d missed knowing about his last 35 years or so…just lived my life without thinking about him.
With his death, I became aware of a certain note he wrote to a teacher in response to an enquiry about how he’d dealt with an obstacle growing up. The answer made me smile. Here it is, as noted on the website, letters of note:
most important decision i ever made came at age 9…i was collecting BUCK ROGERS comic strips, 1929, when my 5th grade classmates made fun of me. I tore up the strips. A week later, broke into tears. Why was I crying? I wondered. Who die? Me, was the answer. I have torn up the future. What to do about it? Start collecting BUCK ROGERS again. Fall in love with the Future! I did just that. And after that never listened to one damnfool idiot classmate who doubted me! What did I learn? To be myself and never let others, prejudiced, interfer with my life. Kids, do the same. Be your own self. Love what YOU love.
Oh, if only I’d learned this lesson as a child! Still, it is never too late to learn such a lesson. The tricky part, once one has grown up, is to figure out exactly what it is that YOU love. Part of my 50 by 50 is just such a quest, and writing is one of the answers.
Ray Bradbury was my first exposure to fantasy literature with his many short stories and even my first exposure to science fiction with Fahrenheit 451. Although my love has always been reading, I found in my readings a love of science and engineering and followed that path through college. Now I can learn another lesson from Mr. Bradbury as I read about his life in the obituaries. He tried to write at least 1000 words a day. That’s a nice goal and a bit more than twice what I average, but at least I am moving in the right direction.
Even though it has been decades since I’ve read a Ray Bradbury story, I still remember how it made me feel to sink into the warm background of the story, absorb the quality of the light, have the sounds trickle into my ears, taste and smell the surroundings. I remember, then, wrapping my mind around the strange things that developed as the story unfolded.
I was older when I realized that he took some of his titles from older literature giving homage to earlier writers such as Shakespeare in Something Wicked This Way Comes and Walt Whitman in I Sing The Body Electric. In turn, his titles were used in homage to him such as Rocket Man by Elton John in reference to R is for Rocket and perhaps the song, I Sing The Body Electric was in homage to Bradbury rather than Whitman.
After hearing of his death, I dug into the remainders of my library, ravaged by burst pipes during our renovation, and discovered five volumes. I picked up I Sing The Body Electric and dug into the first short story, The Kilimanjaro Device. I quickly traversed the 13 page story and realized by the third page, with just two references, to fishing in Michigan and bullfights in Spain, that it was a story about Ernest Hemingway. I am sure I had no idea of the literary allusions when I first read this story…yet I enjoyed it anyway. This time, I enjoyed it so much more. My third grade teacher was right…she told my mom it was okay for me to read beyond my “level”, that I’d get something out of it and when I was older, I’d get even more out of it. It was no reason to censor my reading.
Find the Joy in the Journey…and may we all live lives as full, joyful, and meaningful as the incomparable Ray Bradbury. Well done, Ray!