With the recent passing of Ray Bradbury, I’ve had all sorts of emotions stirred within me. I never truly appreciated his writing because my first glimpse of his work was forced upon me when Fahrenheit 451 was assigned back in 7th grade. I realize now, as a mature and liberated reader, that my choices are entirely my own and that somehow I have gravitated back to his work. It’s like growing up and realizing that Brussels Sprouts are quite delicious after a childhood spent grimacing at them.
In all the reactionary dedication threads by internet mourners, the most inciting moment was when I stumbled upon a short clip of Bradbury lambasting students for their hesitation: http://youtu.be/mH6FpvfU8yc. “If you want to be a short story writer, then Goddammit, go do it!” (Well, okay, he wasn’t criticizing THEM, but their hesitation.)
This led me to the nearest bookstore, where I had to find a copy of Zen in the Art of Writing. In it, Bradbury describes all sorts of experiences and motivations that shaped him and molded his craft. There is one short anecdote that really struck me:
When did it all really begin? The writing, that is. Everything came together in the summer and fall and winter of 1932… He arrived with a seedy two-bit carnival, The Dill Brothers Combined Shows, during Labor Day weekend of 1932, when I was twelve. Every night for three nights, Mr. Electrico sat in his electric chair, being fired with volts of pure blue sizzling power… When he came to me, he tapped me on both shoulders and then the tip of my nose. The lightning jumped into me. Mr. Electrico cried: “Live forever!” I decided that was the greatest idea I ever heard…
I went to see Mr. Electrico the next day… We walked down to sit by Lake Michigan where Mr. Electrico spoke his small philosophies and I talked my big ones. Why he put up with me, I’ll never know. But he listened, or it seemed he listened, maybe because he was far from home, maybe because he had a son somewhere int he world, or had no son at all and wanted one… Finally , he gave me some special news.
“We’ve met before,” he said. “You were my best friend in France in 1918, and you died in my arms in the battle of Ardennes forest that year. And here you are, born again, in a new body, with a new name. Welcome back!”
I staggered away from that encounter with Mr. Electrico wonderfully uplifted by two gifts: the gift of having lived once before (and being told about it) … and the gift of trying somehow to live forever.