One summer when I was fourteen I picked up a book out of boredom. I remember because it was a book I had seen on my parents bookshelf literally for as long as I could remember. Because of this I had chalked it up as some sort of spiritually edifying text book and never paid it much mind.. But on this day I picked it up, glanced through the yellowed pages, scanned the back… well… it’s got aliens in it and there’s not much else to do.
This book was called “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury.
I consumed it. Then I went to the library and systematically found every other scrap of written word bearing this man’s name that I could get my hands on. Over the next several years his books topped my list of must reads. In high school I read ‘Dandelion Wine’, I was swept away into this town and its inhabitants. “The October Country” really got my attention. Ray showed me that sadness is necessary for happiness to have any meaning, that love can be found and lost, and found again… That true horror lies not with monsters and night terrors but within the human heart. Beauty and Shadows lurked in his mind and he gifted them to us, his readers.
‘Fahrenheit 451’ entered my world as required reading in my high school English class. While my friends moaned with chagrin at required reading, I welcomed the assignment. This would be easy, I said. It’s Ray Bradbury. My eyes opened to the possibility, no the inevitability that everything would not turn out okay. That story telling might someday not only die out but be snuffed out under the heel of oppression.
Today I have heard about his death. He lived well to the age of 91. But for some reason the news of his death makes me want to run into the nearest grassy meadow and scream. I want to scream until I can’t scream any more. I want to shake the trees until the leaves fall off. I want to shake the skies until the stars fall out. I want to read everything he has ever written, again. I want to throw a tantrum like my children do when the toothpaste is crooked. I. Want. To. Scream.
I don’t normally respond to the death of celebrities in such a way. But writers are different. The institution of story telling is as old as time itself. As long as there are two people living there will be stories told. Histories repeated, fantasies weaved. Once upon a time and sometimes now I have weaved those stories myself. For a while I joined a writers group to gain inspiration and accountability. I had myself on a rhythm, one short story a month. And I had a pretty good clip going. Until the day I logged onto my computer for the very purpose of printing out my collection of stories, and the darn thing blue screened. We sent the computer to every tech savvy friend and specialist within a twenty mile radius, but my stories were lost.
I haven’t written much since then. It broke me in a way. I had some really good stories there that I had been really proud of. Gone.
Just recently I had started back again, working on a little bit here and there. Then today I hear about Ray Bradbury. Apparently he wrote ‘Fahrenheit 451’ at a rented type writer at his local library for 10 cents a half an hour. Yeah, I have nothing to complain about. I am heart broken and inspired today.
So… dang it Ray. Here’s to you.