It is very difficult to write about a writer. First of all, there is pressure on your writing itself. You don’t want to mess it up. If you’re a dancer trying to pay tribute to Michael Jackson, you don’t want to trip doing the Moonwalk.
It is doubly difficult if it’s a writer you admire. Somehow, you both believe in words – heck, he inspired you to believe in their power to shape both the future and yourself. But at one point, I’m sure both you and he will agree that there are undiscovered countries whose shores no word has gone before. Like writing about someone you dearly idolized.
But I must write. And I hope it’s okay, Mr. Bradbury.
I first encountered Ray Bradbury in High School. Our teacher, Mr. Pagsi, would make it a yearly tradition to read an excerpt from Dandelion Wine. An English Teacher, he was all praises for Bradbury’s work, and would always tell us to buy him a copy of any of his books if and when any of us would go to theUS.
I tried my best to answer that challenge of Mr. Pagsi’s. But I could only confirm the rarity of his books. My guess was – he was so well loved, only a few would part with them and sell them to second hand bookstores. And second – the new generation can’t tell a great work when they see it and his publishers don’t market him like Harry Potter or Twilight or The Hunger Games.
But the question I had always tried to resolve was if he was still living. If Mr. Pagsi, who was then already 75, liked Bradbury so much, could Bradbury be somewhere around 90? (He was probably around 80 at the time, so I wasn’t that far off, after all)
Anyway, I got book after book from random book sales and book stores. My girlfriend gifted me with at least 4 previously owned copies, which she had to convince someone to sell. I have quite a collection which I’m proud of (especially now!) Then I found out that he was an influential figure even to the other people I looked up to. Mr. Pagsi was one. Then I found out Stephen King also looked up to him (then he added a few shits and damns and fucks to go with the word wizardry).
Last week, we were able to see the orbit of Venus around the sun. An occurrence, they say, that happens only once in a thousand years. A few days before that, the moon was larger than usual – a death star. Cosmic Coincidences? Maybe… But not in a Bradbury story.
And the weekend before that, I went on a “Bradbury retreat” – read his stuff, watched him talk through YouTube, posted it online. Then the usual wondering if he really was still alive.
Set up by cosmic circumstances and the continuing search for meaning in the mystery of death and life, Ray Bradbury died. For all I know, he probably hitched a ride on Venus. Or on the moon.
But I have never been more convinced than ever, that he lives.
When we look up at the magnificent blanket of mystery we call the night sky. When our jaws drop in cosmic awe and wonder. When we celebrate our summers, keep them in our memory, and preserve them for the fall. When we face our fears in October Country. When we finally embrace these fears, and live with them, like the skeletons inside our skin. When the sheer thought of book-burning terrifies us.
When we continue to dive into books and resurface on shores never before imagined. When we continue to write and write and write oceans upon oceans of stories. When we defy and go beyond genre and enjoy storytelling just because. When we enjoy what we honestly believe we were born to do.
In his novel, From the Dust Returned (this isn’t necessarily a spoiler), Timothy, one of the main characters, finally decides on something crucial. He was given to a family of immortal creatures, – of vampires, ghouls, spirits, ancient Egyptian living dead, and such. It had always been a question for him if he actually wanted to exchange his humanity and be like them. Towards the end, he finally decides. He does not want to be like them. The following is the back and forth between him, and one of the ancient family members. I just felt it apt to end this piece with one of Bradbury’s thoughts on life.
Timothy: “Well, are you all happy? I wonder about that. I feel very sad. Some nights I wake up and cry because I realize that you have all this time, all these years, but there doesn’t seem to be much that’s very happy that came of it all.”
“Ah, yes, Time is a burden. We know too much, we remember too much. We have indeed lived too long. The best thing to do, Timothy, in your new wisdom, is to live life to the fullest, enjoy every moment, and lay yourself down, many years from now, realizing that you’ve filled every moment, every hour, every year of your life and that you are much loved by the Family.”
You are yourself dandelion wine, Mr. Bradbury. And you are stored in bottles in the cellars of our imaginations.