06 June 2012

All Summer In a Day

(Note: This may or may not mark my return to these fields. I have been mulling over, for the past year-plus, this blog and what I ultimately want it to be, how I ultimately want it to feel, where I ultimately want it to go, and how I ultimately want it to grow. I do want to have a more regular web presence as my writing life picks up again. This is hopefully a first step in that direction. I will keep at it and will try to pop in here from time to time with stuff, and we'll see how this evolves.)


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So . . . we lost Ray today.

He was 91, for the love of God. I shouldn't be sad. He lived one long life, one hell of a life. he had successes most of us don't even know how to dream of achieving, and he never stopped working, even when his health started to diminish. He stayed positive about his life and his work. Sad is the last thing he ever wanted anyone to be, and he would probably (if he knew me and were still here to talk to me), gently scold me for misplacing my sorrow.

“Death doesn't exist," he wrote, in Something Wicked This Way Comes. "It never did, it never will. But we've drawn so many pictures of it, so many years, trying to pin it down, comprehend it, we've got to thinking of it as an entity, strangely alive and greedy. All it is, however, is a stopped watch, a loss, an end, a darkness. Nothing."

But: What a loss. Yet: What a darkness. 

2012 has been a rough year. Half over and we've lost a lot of damned good people. Losing MCA hit me especially hard, because we were so close in age; I was reminded uncomfortably and suddenly, as so many of my generation doubtless were, about my own mortality. But Ray Bradbury . . . damn. 

Even though I knew how old he was and how frail he had become in his sunset life, I saw the news this morning and said to myself: "Son of a bitch. No." It didn't seem possible. Because Ray seemed indestructible, somehow. He persevered,year to year, moment to moment, story to story, word to word. Knowing Ray, he'd probably just finished a new story the night before, and was already thinking about the next one. 


You're going to hear a lot about Ray over the next few days. Biographical information, mostly. The dry, chalk-dust details of a man's life, facts and figures scrawled in a ledger, faded-ink dates in a well-thumbed datebook, a few quotes here and there when something particularly pithy or notable (as we defiine and redefine notability) was said. All of it added up is still less than the sum of the parts. All of it added up will still not bring you the man that was. None of it will explain Ray Bradbury to you. It's just numbers and moments.  

So let me tell you about Ray Bradbury.

Ray was magic. 


I don't use that word lightly or glibly. I mean what I say. Ray Bradbury was wild, un-bottle-able, lightning-like, impossible magic. Not a magician; magic itself. His stories were the best kind of illusion: the kind that, while you were in them, were visions of such crystal clear wonderment that they took your breath away and left you inhaling something purer, deeper, more wonderful than plain old air. They stopped your heart and filled it with a thousand different shades of joy and love and terror and fear and wonder, and a hundred other things in their purest forms, and left you reflecting how similar those feelings were even as you thrilled to hear the beat of your own heart once more. Ray could give you a pocket thunderstorm on a spring afternoon, or a moment of music in the silence of a desert, or a moment of silence in the cacophony of your own life, and leave you not only grateful for the moment but thirsting for more. And that's the best kind of magic there is.


Ray wrote about everyone, everything, everywhere he could think of. No situation, no character, no concept was too outlandish; no joke too corny; no tear too maudlin. Not for Ray. It was all part and parcel of the hilarious tragedy, the terrifying comedy, the heartbreaking triumph we think of as life. Ray wrote fantasy, horror, mystery, science fiction, comic vignettes, romances, slices of life--and transcended them all. Reading Ray at his best is like watching a benign eclipse unfold before your eyes: something blocks the sun and, instead of blinding you, it shows you things in the shadowed darkness you never knew were there. And that, too, is the best kind of magic there is. 


To read Ray Bradbury, to sit down and crack open one (any!) of his books, was to open the door on Oz and Wonderland and Barsoom and maybe a little Narnia and Middle Earth too, all rolled up chopped fine, and dusted across a world that was, in Ray's eyes, hardly mundane to begin with. And because he refused to see the world as anything but wonderful, he forced you to see it that way too. His grandson called him "The biggest kid I knew," and if you look at a picture of Ray at any age, that's what you see: A big grinning kid, bubbling over with delight at the possibilities of every single moment. And that Ray could transmit that glee across hundreds of pages, thousands of words, millions of miles, and infect your heart with that selfsame wonder, that selfsame bubbling soda-pop glee? Well damn it, that too is the best magic there is. 


In his best work--and "best" is a relative term when talking about Ray, because even his duds were a damn sight better than the "best" some other word-whittlers are capable of--Ray Bradbury took you to places you never imagined could be--and even if you didn't want to stay there, you were nevertheless grateful to have been transported to those places for the briefest of times. Places where five men pool money for one wonderful ice cream suit. Places where soft rains come. Where a tool of the system learns that all he needs to defy that system is the power of one word, after another, after another. Where a brief summer shower can transform a day into a diamond. Where the dust witch laughs and the merry-go-round takes the years, one by one, or gives them back in the same wise, and both burdens are too much for any lonely heart to bear. Where Mars can be heaven and hell and everything in between. Where two lovers can be Laurel and Hardy. Where an old woman can find lost love, even after decades, and where an old man travels back to warn his young self to treasure the love he has, lest he recklessly spend it to tragic ends. And where a pair of new sneakers holds in itself all the potential of summer, of running through fields like gazelles, like antelopes, and leaping from adventure to adventure, from the rising of the sun to the twinkling of the stars at twilight.


That is the magic of Ray Bradbury, most of all. His magic was--is--all of summer, in a day. His joyful heart poured out onto the page with every word he wrote. If you want to pay tribute to him, go out and read those words, and let that joy, that glee, that unbound wild magic of all summer in a day, fill you up to overflowing, and then pour it all out into the world. Let it color everything you see, everything you say, everything you do, every heart you touch. And try to touch as many hearts as you can, and show them all that summer wonder in turn . . . and in turning, ask them to show the same to others. 


No words, no works, could be a more fitting expression of gratitude to Ray Bradbury.


And now, I cannot be sad. Not in the face of all the joy, all the summer, all the magic, that he brought to my life. I can but smile, and say thank you. And if I cry, it is from the joy that overspills my heart, in gratutude  for all the wonders he has shown me. 


Thank you, Ray. So very much. For everything.