I’ll never be Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury leapt up from sleep with a story running electric through his body, racing to the typewriter just in time to let the sparks discharge onto the page, grounding the story out into this world. Ray Bradbury wrote every day of his life for over seventy years, never once uncertain of his way, or doubting that he was a writer. Ray Bradbury was in love with life and people and all the things of the world, dark and light, without stopping once to sneer cynically or wallow in self- doubt and pity. I’m not Ray Bradbury, and I probably never will be, and that’s okay.
Every writer is different. I know, I know, that’s so obvious its banal. I should probably say instead that every writer needs something different. Ray needed Buck Rogers comics and Lon Chaney movies and magicians at the carnival, and a single red gleaming speck in the night sky overhead, and that was enough. I needed Tolkien, and Bradbury and Wolfe and Howard and Gygax and Leiber, and then to be swallowed up by the world and politics philosophy religion drugs madness obsession and 10,000 other things, occasionally peaking my head up, taking a few sweet breaths, and plunging down again, sometimes for years, scouring the depths for something that I didn’t know, and wasn’t sure I’d recognize anyway.
I don’t know why we need things, but it seems like we do. I don’t mean things like air and water and sunlight and love. Those things are obvious. But why do we need special things like carnivals and stories about gods and magic swords and monsters and life on other planets? And we do need them, truly NEED them, or we wither and die. We die by inches, for these are the living things, the magic things, the points of light that break through the gray of our lives like twinkling motes of some other world that is also strangely this world and the real world. It’s the every day world of traffic jams and tax forms and reports and lines – that’s the fake world, the unreal world, the murky mud bottomed underwater world. We forget we’re in that world until we touch one of those magic things that is, for us, a gateway or a transporter – a hand reaching down to us from somewhere unknown, and then we’re in the real world again, the magic world, and we can breathe air and for days or even weeks afterwords we’re our real selves again, until we forget where we came from, and believe in ridiculous things like credit ratings.
Ray Bradbury’s magic things aren’t exactly the same as my magic things, or yours. They’re not even necessarily the things you’d want them to be, but they’re the things you need. They don’t have to make sense. They don’t have to “fit”. You don’t have to understand. The gods understand. You just have to trust them. My wife loves horror movies, monster makeup, gore drenched killers and the whir of chainsaws carving flesh. In her off time she likes to bake. Sometimes she plays bingo with her mother at the church. She’s also fond of Scrabble. Me? It’s swords and sorcery and full moons rising over alien hills, and gateways carved of jade, wizards and barbarians, and civilizations long since forgotten. Anytime a hero overthrows a dark regime, or dies a glorious death fighting for the just cause, the tears well up in my eyes, the hair on the nape of my neck stands up, my heart glows. Maybe my wife loves horror because of those first movies she watched with her high school boyfriend, years before she came into my life. Maybe I love mythic heroes because I read stories of the Greek gods at a young age, or because of Star Wars films, or because of my early love of Dungeons and Dragons. Or maybe our magic things were always ours before we knew they existed. Maybe they were just waiting for us, reaching out to us, and we took them up because we already loved them. Think back on it. The first time you saw one of your magic things, wasn’t it a feeling of recognition? Didn’t you already know what it was, feel what it meant? Wasn’t it a missing piece of yourself falling back into place, like finding something from a past life, and knowing it used to belong to you?
Adolescence is the worst time for magic things. We want to “grow up”. We want to be serious and be taken seriously. We’re still children, and we have a child’s view of what it means to be an adult. Adolescence is a different age for everyone. For me it was my twenties. Adolescence is anytime you want to put your magic things in a box in the attic and pretend you don’t need them anymore. Even Ray Bradbury had an adolescence. He was nine and he ripped up his Buck Rogers comic because his “friends” thought it was dumb. After a few days he realized these people weren’t his friends (they really weren’t), and breathed life back into the corpse of Buck Rogers, and woke him from his slumber; and Ray Bradbury suffered no more and was one with the magic things. We’re not Ray Bradbury, so we have to suffer longer. But everyone has to suffer a little bit in this life. You have to suffer because you have to understand that the magic things are only magic if you breathe life into them. If you give them some of yourself. You have to be strong enough to give. You have to meet them half way.
We do change as we get older, and sometimes the things that were magic for us then aren’t magic in the same way for us now. They’re still magic, but it’s a different kind: the magic of memory. You change as you grow older, and you have to let your magic things grow with you. You have to take them along for the ride and let them change shape as you go. You have to do this because they’re part of you and you’re part of them, and you have to change together – otherwise you’re out of balance and grotesque. Paradoxically this is the only way to keep the magic the same, by letting it change. Magic is like that, paradoxical. We all know someone who never did this, don’t we? Someone who stayed in the nursery, afraid to let his magic things grow, stifling them, smothering them in childhood. Real adulthood comes when we realize we don’t need to try to “grow up” but have already done so and now we’re free to be who we like. We turn then, once again, to find our magic things, the things we truly love that love us in return, like monsters, and Buck Rogers, and gleaming swords, and gateways of jade on moonlit nights.
Whatever it is you love, go do it, and if you lost your magic things go find them. It’s not as hard as you think. You already know what direction to travel, you just have to set off and you’ll find your way. The hardest thing is setting off, letting go of the fear, the fear that you’ll get lost; but listen to Ray Bradbury and you’ll be alright. He said, “Stand at the top of a cliff and jump. Build your wings on the way down.”