07 June 2012

Ray Bradbury Transits Venus

This is Tony Miksak with a few Words on Books...

Crazy things happening this week. People pulled out welding masks and stared at the sun to watch a small black dot move slowly across the blazing surface.

How is it so many people own welding masks? I personally have never needed or used one. But I'm not all that handy around the house, either. I figure Venus is out there pretty much every evening and I can go stare at it without special glasses any time I want. The sun, too, but I don't stare at it. I know we won't have this Venus transit thing again in our lifetimes, but really, should I care?

I saw a gentleman stop his vehicle, pull out yet another welder's mask, turn his face to the sun for three seconds, put the mask down and drive off. Maybe he was looking for a better small black moving dot somewhere down the road? Crazy things.

Ray Bradbury died this week, during the transit of Venus, thus breaking his own promise to live past 100 and write more books, stories, novels, novellas, operas, and whatnot. He did pretty well. He made 91% of his goal, anyway.

The Ray Bradbury fans website tells this tale: "Throughout his life, Bradbury liked to recount the story of meeting a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, in 1932. At the end of his performance Electrico reached out to the twelve-year-old Bradbury, touched the boy with his sword, and commanded, Live forever! Bradbury later said, I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped."

I met Ray Bradbury once, 20 years ago when he was only 71 years old, and he looked the same as in most of his photos – overbearingly big black spectacles, rosy visage, subtle plaid shirt and tie, and stacks of his latest hardcover propped on the table in front of him.

I took one of his books (this was at a national booksellers convention) and thanked him for a lifetime of great writing. Actually, I mumbled something and I doubt he heard. I was awed in the presence of greatness.

In the current New Yorker, purely coincidentally – or was it? – there is a brief reminiscence by Bradbury of a few days when he was very young. It's beautifully, compactly written, and you have to wonder just how much his recent stroke really slowed him down. Up to the end he was writing as well as he ever did, perhaps in smaller formats, but just as well.

"... it was the special time, the sad time, the time of beauty. It was the time of the fire balloons... Even at that age," he writes, "I was beginning to perceive the endings of things..."

Bradbury blames Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter of Mars series for beginning the process that eventually led to his own story collection, The Martian Chronicles. He memorized all of John Carter and Tarzan, and "sat on my grandparents' front lawn repeating the stories to anyone who would sit and listen."

The child was obsessed. In fact, Bradbury describes those autumns as times when "I went a trifle mad." It may take some obsession, that species of creative craziness, to create books as good as Bradbury's.

Here are a few more of Bradbury's own words:

"Looking back I realize that I never had a day when I was depressed or suffered melancholia; the reason being that I discovered that I was alive and loved the gift and wanted to celebrate it in my story."

"I do not use my intellect to write my stories and books; I have a gut reaction to the things that my subconscious gives me. These are gifts that arrive early mornings and I get out of bed and hurry to the typewriter to get them down before they vanish."

From his introduction to Dandelion Wine:

"It is hard for me to believe that in one lifetime I have written so many stories. But on the other hand I often wonder what other writers do with their time. Writing for me is akin to breathing. It is not something I plan or schedule; it's something I just do."


Ray Bradbury in a few of his own words.

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