June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury - How You Saved Me

Some people don't handle endings well. I am one of those people. I hate endings. I mean, I really hate them. Often times I will stop reading a book during the last chapter just because I don't want it to end. "Aha," I say to the book, "I haven't finished you. That means you are stuck there, in my head, forever. Let's see you try and leave now!"

I'm not good at letting go.

 This applies to my own life as well. Whenever I finish one chapter of my life - like taking a class, writing a book, or cleaning out the garage - I mourn it. Sure, I may have grown from the event, experienced my own real-life character arc, but I am acutely aware that I can never go back. For better or worse, that story has been written. All I can do is start to work on its sequel.

Today I heard that one of my favorite writers, Ray Bradbury, has died, and it fills me with this horrible feeling that the world, no, the Universe, has forever shifted. I got 'hooked on Ray' when I was a teenager, reading The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes until the books were so tattered and dog-eared they were unreadable. For a kid in search of adventure, it didn't get any better than spending a summer with Mr. Bradbury. Ray took me to places that I had never been: from deep space to mystical midways, we made the journey together. Each adventure was a thrill ride and from the beginning he strapped me in and we made our way up the ramp and over the precipice, before slamming back into the world below. He left me wild and breathless and hungry for more. He knew how to write, and he knew how to make me believe, and he was an adept in doing it in only a few words, a skill I'm still aspiring to learn.

As I grew older and began writing myself, I looked to Ray to guide me. When I was twenty-two I purchased Zen in the Art of Writing. I thought, If anyone could teach me how to write (and to be Zen) it had to be Ray. I'm ashamed to admit, that at twenty-two, I just didn't get it.  I was looking for the magic formula that would make me a successful novelist, and instead all I found was a collection of essays. Essays? What good were these to a writer? Especially an impatient, young, Aries, female writer who wanted to know what to write, right now! If I had wanted parables I would read the Bible.So I tossed the copy aside, or maybe garage saled it, and went to other sources for wisdom. Workshops, manuals, conferences, any type of road map that would quickly guide me to success.

Then, About six months ago my world caved in. All around me things were changing: loved ones were dying, children I knew were being bullied, friends I loved saw their stories end. With each new horror I retreated deeper inside myself. The world was suddenly something much different than the world I thought I knew. In a forgiving world aunts didnt die, kids were safe and healthy, and true love lasted forever. In response, I stayed in my pajamas, ate ice cream, and gave up writing. 

"I need help," I finally said to my husband and I went to the one place in the world where I had always found salvation: The book store.I'm not sure what I was looking for but I paced the aisles of Barnes and Noble hoping to find it. For some reason I bypassed the self-help section and made my way towards the writing section. I shook my head as I entered the aisle. Surely, nothing there could help me. I probably owned every writing book they sold already. Even so, I closed my eyes and walked, dragging my fingers over the spines of the books, waiting for that magical lighting rod to strike that would tell me I was on the right track. Suddenly, I felt a spark in my fingertips and I looked down to see my hand resting on a small paperback wedged between two giant hardcovers.It was Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing.

"I think I'm supposed to get this," I told my husband, furrowing my brow. Why? I wasn't sure. Ray I hadn't been terribly helpful before and I seriously doubted he would come to my aid this time. And it wasn't just my writing that was plaguing me, it was my life. But it was only 7.95 so what the hell?

By the time I got home I was already reading passages to my husband (who is also a writer). "Listen to this," I said, excitedly flipping through the pages of the first few chapters, "Why do we write? Because if we don't write, if you are really a writer and you don't write, you will die! Ray says so."

My heart beat beat rapidly. It was true! Whenever I spent too many days away from a typewriter - or at the very least a pen and paper - I felt a part of me wilt and fade. As Ray says the poisons (of the world) would accumulate and you would begin to die, to act crazy, or both. I hadn't been writing and the funk inside my soul  had been growing like mold. Retreating from the world wasnt the solution, I realized. The world was full of horrors and I had to face them. But I was a writer. And to quote Mr. Bradbury...an hours writing is tonic, fighting back the horrors of the world and (keeping them at bay).

I didn't have to accept the world as it was. I was a writer. I could change it! My fully adult self was learning what my twenty-two year old self just couldn't know. There were bad things in the world but there were good things too, and if I couldn't see them I could at least create them. I had that power!

Ray revealed one final life-altering secret to me, a secret I never found in any other 'how-to' manual. Ray said that when you write you must write with zest and gusto. If you are feeling your words others will feel them too. It is your passion that will fuel others and spur them on to read. And to write with zest, you must live with zest. Live each moment, allowing the experience to course through you. Jump from that precipice into the great abyss, for it is only through embracing the unknown that you will live courageously enough to write courageously.

Since reading Ray's book again, I can say that the existential dread has diminished. I live each day with gust, love, joy, and zest, just as he suggested. Then I allow those feelings to seep into my writing and my words have  become more authentic.It's a circle...live, write, write, live. It's all entertwined for a writer, or for any artist. I write now because if I don't, I will simply wilt. And the world needs all our strength as it goes through its newest cycle of growing pains.

Ray, in a way, I owe you for saving me. You brought me out of a slump and back into the world. I can't control what goes on around me but I can experience it , write about it later, and even change the ending. I can show people the marvels of the world and point out the injustices as well. Words have that power. In my world, loved ones don't die anymore, they are cured from their ills and go on to do great things. Children aren't bullied, they stand up to their aggressor and become heroes. And stories don't end, the just...

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