(This essay I wrote about Ray Bradbury appeared in The Beach Reporter on 5/31/91. Bradbury died in 2012. I have seen him speak at least a dozen times over the years. He used to come every year to speak to a group of writers I used to belong to: The Southwest Manuscripters.)
I just got my annual Ray Bradbury fix last night. When you hear Bradbury speak, usually you don’t go to sleep for about three days. You start writing that novel or screenplay or poem, or painting that picture, or figuring out how to get your life less boring. He is a man who challenges you to wake up, observe life’s details, and become an energetic participant.
I have been going to hear Ray Bradbury speak every year for about seven years, which is nothing when you consider that he has been speaking to the Southwest Manuscripters for about forty years.
The way he tells it, he used to take the Red Car to Hermosa Beach from L. A. to give his annual speech. You see, our group invited him to be a guest speaker before he was famous, and he returns the favor by returning every year. For forty years. That’s just the kind of guy he is.
Ray doesn’t know me well, although I did write a feature article on him a few years ago, and sent him a copy. He sent me an appreciative postcard acknowledging the article I wrote. He wrote that he had found it “vastly entertaining.”
The audience always loves Bradbury. He speaks to you, not above you. He challenges you to look at yourself and ask yourself whether you are living life or just existing. One of my favorite lines of his: “Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and said to yourself, ‘God, I’m boring.’ Well, if you have, then do something about it!”
He tells a great tale of how he came to work for the great director John Huston, writing the screenplay for Moby Dick. I have heard this story told seven years in a row, but Bradbury has never told it the same way. He always adds a new twist or nuance, and he does a spot-on imitation of Huston.
Bradbury is from the old school of science fiction writers, but he has fans that span every generation. He wrote Fahrenheit 451 while feeding dimes into a typewriter in the basement of the library at UCLA. I remember the day I read Fahrenheit 451. I was fifteen, and I checked it out of the public library in Golden, Colorado. As soon as I finished reading it, I reread it immediately, one of the few times I have ever done that.
Sometimes I wonder if maybe Bradbury isn’t two or three people sharing the same body. Either that or the guy doesn’t eat or sleep. He reads all the poems, essays, and books he can; he writes continually; he sees all the films he can; and he travels and speaks to groups frequently. He designs amusement parks, museums, architecture, and cities.
Next to him, you feel as though you’ve done nothing with your life. But somehow, instead of this filling you with despair, you are filled with hope. He challenges you to change your life. He tells you, “Read, read, read. Read everything great ever written. See all the great movies. Fill your head with wondrous things and wondrous things will come out.”
You don’t have to be a writer to benefit from Ray’s generosity. He speaks to the creativity latent in every human being. The problem is that most people are so caught up just living life and working at mind-numbing jobs that their creative self goes on the back burner.
To someone who has never heard Bradbury speak or read his book Zen in the Art of Writing, I probably sound like a member of a Ray Bradbury cult. Perhaps those of us who listen to him, read and love him are connected in some way. I think he’d like to think of that that way also.
I have a philosophy that the great human beings have a ripple effect upon the world. The crowds that attend his readings are always visibly moved when he reads from his work.
I’d like to tell you more about Ray, but I have to go read several hundred poems, essays, novels, and plays. I have to go visit art museums and bookstores. And then I have to write about it.