Love What YOU Love…Words of Wisdom From Ray Bradbury

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!


The Art of Beauty; The Beauty of Art

I have been thinking about art and beauty the last few days; of music and dance, sculpture and paintings, films and poetry. Art is never something I have associated with myself, enjoying it, but not creating it. Even though I quit everything I ever tried along those lines, my mother kept signing me up for things throughout my childhood…tap, ballet, piano…I am grateful for that. She is also behind the family trips we made to the museum. I was blessed by growing up in a time when public schools still valued art and music and fieldtrips to the theater.

My paternal grandfather was an artist. He repaired furniture for a living, but he decorated furniture and painted as a sideline. The art gene skipped me right-on-by, but my love of art grew the more I was exposed to it in a variety of forms. I don’t think it’s any wonder that I fell in love with an architecture student, who matched my visual-spacial style of thinking (I as an engineering student), but was quite a bit more right-brained than me.

Our children all have some artistic talent, and we’ve encouraged them all equally up to the point when their own true passions took over, then we ran with that. My older daughter, however, has art in her blood and turns just about everything she works on into some expression of her creativity. My son wasn’t willing to put the work into his art that my daughter has, but he has a deep appreciation for opera, theater, art, and music that I like to think is because we exposed him to it all as much as we could. My younger daughter is only 11 and the world is her oyster. She loves theater and is blessed to have a friend’s father offer a professional theater program after school. Meanwhile, in summer camp at her school, she made this self-portrait in the style of Modigliani.

It has been one of my deepest values as a parent to provide the best education I can afford to my children. I know for some, far more patient and talented than me, parents do this through home schooling, but that was never a viable option for me. Instead, we were lucky to find schools that fit our children individually and were within reach financially. Sometimes, this has meant three children in three different schools which often led to episodes of me tearing my hair out trying to manage it all, but it has been worth it. When I’ve put one or more of them in a school that was not the best fit for them, but fit a suddenly reduced budget, I’ve learned how easily the fire can be put out in a young mind and juggled the budget and made other sacrifices to get them back where they needed to be.

I grew up with music and art classes in school, and so have my children. It’s a travesty that some public school boards do not value the arts, nor seem to have any understanding of the life-long value of arts education. My children have also had language classes at school, starting in Kindergarten for my older daughter, first grade for my son, and fourth grade for my younger daughter. I started language in high school, after my brain was so hardwired for English that picking up a new language was a struggle.

When I traveled with my family to a niece’s graduation near Washington DC a few years ago, we traveled to Mount Vernon for a tour, we toured the monuments in DC, we stood in a long line to view the Declaration of Independence (and marveled at one of the original copies of the Magna Carta being totally ignored by the hoards waiting to see the Declaration of Independence), and we ate in a tapas restaurant to try something new.

When my boss asked me about my trip, he declared that his kids would never put up with a trip like that, they would call it a field trip and say they wanted a vacation. He said something similar when I mentioned taking my family to the opera. To each their own, I guess, but I think his family missed out on something special.

So, as I work on my 50 by 50, one thing I’m trying to do is surround myself with more beauty. De-cluttering, ironically, is one of those things that help, although it’s discouraging in how difficult it is to keep up with the clutter and create oases of calm. It’s in choosing the music I listen to and the pictures I have around me. It’s in the places I choose to visit and the events I choose to attend. I am trying to nurture myself on beauty and art and willfully trying to push away negativity. It’s not an easy journey, but it is one that builds on itself. I feel less negative than I did when I started this journey and I hope to be in some sort of nirvana by the end, and I’m only slightly kidding! This is why, of all my recent projects, I most appreciate the butler’s pantry project…the lack of clutter, and the lovely piece of art made by my older daughter give me such peace…I’ve sneaked a peak of it two or three times a day since!

Now, this is not to say that I want to turn a blind eye to suffering and pain in the world, it’s just that in my down time, I need to nurture myself so that I am able to deal with the ugly part of life. I want to be a calming influence to friends in distress, a stoic when faced with adversity in the world…and I can’t do that if I burn myself out on the ugliness in ordinary life.

Find the Joy in the Journey, and absorb the beauty of humanity so that you can deal with anything.