I want to feel all there is to feel, he thought.
Let me feel tired, now, let me feel tired.
I mustn’t forget, I’m alive, I know I’m alive,
I mustn’t forget it tonight or tomorrow or the day after that.
―Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
On Wednesday I learned that Ray Bradbury died.
A coincidence of schedule found me in Barnes & Noble that evening; I had a list of books that I wanted to buy— to replace copies I had, in a tearful fit of pique, donated to Goodwill last spring.
As much as I would like to momentarily steer this post into a rant about the selection to be had at said bookstore and how that contributes to its inevitable demise: I won’t. I’ll say, simply, that the store held only two of the dozen titles I was looking for (none of which were all that unusual).
The shelves held no Ray Bradbury.
As much as I’d like to think this was due to a rush on Bradbury titles upon hearing of his death, I suspect this was not the case. Fahrenheit 541, perhaps, was sold out due to its listing on high school summer reading lists? But I was looking for my favorites, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dandelion Wine.
It wasn’t until I got home that it occurred to me that these titles may have been tucked away in Science Fiction/Fantasy, rather than the Fiction section I was perusing.
What utter nonsense. Bradbury defies genre. His stories are nothing but pure literature: poetry told in prose.
It was the face of spring, it was the face of summer, it was the warmness of clover breath. Pomegranate glowed in her lips, and the noon sky in her eyes. To touch her face was that always new experience of opening your window one December morning, early, and putting out your hand to the first white cool powdering of snow that had come, silently, with no announcement, in the night. And all of this, this breath-warmness and plum-tenderness was held forever in one miracle of photographic chemistry which no clock winds could blow upon to change one hour or one second; this fine first cool white snow would never melt, but live a thousand summers.
-Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
Ray Bradbury was a man of a million stories, each one fantastic and breathless and beautiful and crystalline. He spoke with nostalgia of times that never were, with perfect recollection and clarity of places that never existed. His words were seeds scattered on wind… taking root and growing twisting, flowering vines in the garden of your mind.
Last night I went into my office, just before bed. I was feeling restless; I had just finished reading a book practically in one sitting, a delicious indulgence on a Saturday evening. It was late enough that I didn’t want to start a new project, but not quite my bedtime.
I skimmed my bookshelves; the entire room is lined with books, the “few” that have survived the yearly culls (I’ve gone from, glory, easily five thousand books to about 750 or so now). I physically ran my hands down the stacks, my fingertips lingering on each title for a second or two.
Second shelf in, I found my copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes. Precisely where I swore I had looked half a dozen times before.
It gave me the creeps, to be honest, but I’m willing to chalk it up to being braindead most times these days.
Where ideas come from and how they finally arrive are the largest mystery in a life of writing… I knew that something amazing had struck me with electric fire and changed me forever. Within 8 weeks I had begun to write. I wrote every day after that, for the next 65 years.
-Ray Bradbury, afterword to Something Wicked This Way Comes
I was a very lonely child. Every summer, I would read every book on my bookshelves. I made it a race: whether I could reach the Zs (I alphabetized by author) sooner than I had the year before. I began with Alcott and Austen and Bradbury was not far behind. I couldn’t race through those stories, though; I savored them like dandelion wine. The spirit of summer.
Other people wax nostalgic about actual events from their childhood, or people they loved, and who loved them back. For me, the glory days were spent in books, in magical escape, and Bradbury was the epitome of that.
If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days.
And out of that love, remake a world.
As a writer, as a reader, my heart is heavy and my eyes are full. While I’ve always been aware of my love for Ray Bradbury and his wonderful worlds, I’ve never really taken stock of the influence he’s had on my writing. On my love of writing.
In your reading, find books to improve your color sense, your sense of shape and size in the world.
I was already planning to reread Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dandelion Wine before I heard of Ray Bradbury’s death. But now I’m thinking that this year, once again, June will mean my savoring of his stories: old favorites, and titles I never found my way to before.
But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn’t begun yet. July, well, July’s really fine: there’s no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, June’s best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September’s a billion years away.
Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes
I worry. I don’t know anything about Bradbury’s childhood, but such fully formed stories and ideas and places don’t just spring from nowhere. They are rooted in a life well-lived; fed by an imagination allowed to run rampant and a spirit allowed to bubble like water from a well. They are supported by a foundation of words and ideas erected from stories read and heard. And they take shape and bloom in the reflective space of free time.
I worry about our next generation of storytellers. Do our children have the freedom and the time to believe in the fantastic, to imagine new realities?
I don’t know. I don’t know the effect that videogames, the internet, an emphasis on brevity and “busy” will have on their ability to spin wonder.
I do know this: I have a tendency to be long-winded. Loquacious. Labyrinthine. Sentimental and unashamed.
I do not write for the internet. I do not do bullet points or keywords or conciseness.
I write for people, and I write for my children, and I write for me: because my heart fills up and I have no choice but to splash over onto the page, the screen.
I hope that, if like me you’ve been letting it fall by the wayside, you’ll take June and use it to read and to write and to notice and to feel and to just be alive. To fill up your cup until you can’t help but spill over.
Let you alone! That’s all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
This is me throwing a tantrum. Ray Bradbury can’t be dead, he just can’t be.
I won’t let ’em.
Side note: that photo is Cass, June 2008 (nearly 4 years old). I did go out today and look for dandelions to photograph, but didn’t come back with anything that more effectively captured dandelion and alive.