Monday, June 11, 2012

Ray Bradbury: Summer Noons & October Midnights

My first introduction to the work of Ray Bradbury occurred in school, I believe; we read his 1950 short story "The Veldt" (which is found in the collection The Illustrated Man). I remember absolutely nothing of the circumstances of why we read it, what class, or when, but I do remember that I was fascinated and am still haunted by Bradbury's creation of a nursery where the walls changed scenes with the children's thoughts. The story begins, "George, I wish you'd look at the nursery." We realize at the end that this seemingly innocent sentence is truly ominous. His work is infused with curiosity, particularly with moral and intellectual questions that are as relevant today as they were forty years ago, such as what happens when we rely too much on technology and forget to think for ourselves. 

He died last week, on June 5, 2012 at the age of 91. His death was a reminder that his work has always been an inspiration to me, particularly his numerous short stories. Although he has been classified mostly as a science fiction writer, if you read Bradbury's 1990 nonfiction book Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity you will understand that he writes more about humanity than gadgetry. Although sometimes set on another planet or in a different era, he writes about memory, love, fear, and relationships between people. This satisfying book is in part how he became a writer, part advice and suggestions, and all joyful enthusiasm for writing and reading. The preface is simply this, "How to climb the tree of life, throw rocks at yourself, and get down again without breaking your bones or your spirit." He relates his successes and failures, how he kept writing even when he faced obstacles like narrow-minded critics. He shows how his stories are based on childhood events and nightmares growing up in Waukegan, Illinois. He loved words, their sounds, and their poetic qualities. He was a passionate library supporter and a reader of Dickens, Lovecraft, Shakespeare, Poe, and the Bible, among others. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson was a catalyst for The Martian Chronicles. After reading these essays, your spirit will be rejuvenated. His joy is catching.
…Does creativity like loud or soft voices? The loud, the passionate voice seems to please the most. The voice upraised in conflict, the comparison of opposites. Sit at your typewriter, pick characters of various sorts, let them fly together in a great clang. In no time at all, your secret self is roused. We all like decision, declaration: anyone loudly for, anyone loudly against. This is not to say the quiet story is excluded. One can be as excited and passionate about a quiet story as any.…At the exact moment when truth erupts, the subconscious changes from wastebasket file to angel writing in a book of gold.
(Ray Bradbury; Zen in the Art of Writing, 46-47) 

When he was in his early twenties and exploring his own voice as a writer he, "…circled around summer noons and October midnights, sensing that there somewhere in the bright and dark seasons must be something that was really me" (Bantam Books Edition, 1992, p. 15). Through his explorations and by writing 1,000 words a day, he found a voice that continues to resonate and to delight and to touch our minds and our hearts.

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