ray bradbury

I discovered this morning that Ray Bradbury would have been 100 years old today, so I’ve been thinking about meeting him in the fall of 1994 near Los Angeles, in a moment I never forget and a lesson I never remember.

His talk at a college on why 1984 didn’t turn out like ‘1984’ (this seems quaint, now) was open to non-students, so I went early to be sure I could get a seat.  I walked into the auditorium lobby nearly an hour ahead of the event, and I was the only one there – it was during the day, during the week, had evidently not been well advertised to the public, and students were still in other classes.

Well, there was one other person there: Ray Bradbury, sitting alone at a table, with a pen and a milk crate of his books. I do not get starstruck easily, but … Ray Bradbury. RAY BRADBURY.  Ray Bradbury, who could say in ten words what I thought couldn’t be said with a hundred, or a thousand.  Ray Bradbury, who could somehow catch an emotion in a sentence, a life in a paragraph. As an older child, I ran into a field at dusk after reading one of his stories, caught a lightning bug between my cupped hands, and when I went to peek at it, saw the entire universe. (At least, that’s my memory of it.)  I was with THAT Ray Bradbury.  For at least a half an hour.

So, we talked. I wish I could share with you snippets of a fascinating, insightful and funny conversation, but I was 22 and not an interviewer and not prepared for a half hour with the one and only Ray Bradbury and I just hope I didn’t fanboy too badly and make a fool out of myself, although I probably did. He was of course as encouraging and as great as you’d expect, acted as though questions he’d probably heard a trillion times before were new, did not dismiss or talk down to the kid with those unoriginal questions, and spoke with the same enthusiasm with which he wrote. While I doubt he ever thought of that half hour again, I sure have, and I wish I could again say thanks.

His talk to the students never touched on why 1984 didn’t turn out like ‘1984’ but over the duration it became clear the answer, at least to him, involved perhaps endless optimism and hope, and I thought maybe, that should be my answer too.

The next day I was on a plane, and the in-flight magazine had a new short story by Ray Bradbury. A number of the moments in the short story he’d told during the talk at the college. This is the lesson I have trouble remembering: how you think, how you talk, how you write, can and maybe should be the same thing. But I felt I was missing something.  How do you fit a human emotion into a sentence? How does he make one word carry the weight of ten or a hundred? I can’t do that. It was intimidating to me, in a way no other writers were.

But if the writing is the same as the thinking, perhaps it begins with that endless energy, that optimism and hope, seeing the entire universe in a lightning bug.  Maybe the magic isn’t in the writing, but in the universe, and all one has to do is catch it in your hands, if just for a moment. Maybe how you see, how you think, how you speak, how you write, can and all should be the same thing.  I don’t know if I can do that, but I think perhaps I should try.  Thank you again, Mr. Bradbury.


This was published on 22 Aug 2020.
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