The Bradbury Encounter

Someone at work just told me at 8:13 am that Ray Bradbury died. I’ve been dreading this day for a very long time. I knew it had to happen, but really you never knew with Bradbury. He was before his time in so many ways so maybe, the hope was eternal, that he could transcend it all together and arm wrestle Father Time palm down.

I met him in a Tacoma church in early 2001. Maybe May 15, 2001 or 2000. I can’t remember to an exactness, though I have the pamphlet for the free library-sponsored event. I sat in the balcony, round NASA playing card in one hand and a copy of the Martian Chronicles in another. Bradbury simply talked about his life, his films, his arguments with director John Houston. As on the page, his words enthralled, there was very little interruption or tangent and he just kept going.

Bradbury had just recently had a stroke then, and remained in a wheelchair. There had been an announcement at the beginning of the evening that because he was “weak” he would not be autographing anything but people could still come up to meet him and shake his hand. As he sat on the small stage, raised just about a foot over the seats, Bradbury did look tired, as if he had a job to do, an audience to please, and then he was done. I respected that and I walked away, telling everybody for days and weeks after, that it’s not every day you get to meet one of your inspirational heroes.

I was in my mid-20s; the first book of his I had read was Illustrated Man as a pre-teen. Somehow a copy had found its way into my circle, into my hands and like the Leo I am, I had devoured it. Such a different approach to anything I had read. Such efficiency with words, such a painter of scene and picture. All commanded and intertwined together, masterfully and beautifully. Seemingly effortlessly.

Later, in college, I attened a creative writing class and the teacher, Richard Adams had told me my writing very much reminded him of Bradbury, and that he normally recommended against the narrative style in writers, but that I pulled it off and should keep it going. That cemented my relationship with Bradbury. I respected everything he did. I found Fahrenheit 451 next, then the Martian Chronicles. I, amazingly, have not read everything he has written but will. Golden Apples of the Sun, Something Wicked This Way Comes, I have read both of those, too.

There’s so much knowledge of human nature in what Bradbury writes; his vision is simultaneously both enlightening and dark. Even he could not truly know how the competing interests and natures of humanity would play, but his tales told of the internal struggles of the brain and how that propelled action.

On my bookshelf now is a dog-eared copy of The Martian Chronicles. It’s the same copy that I took with me to hear him speak, to be in his circle. And it’s dog-eared because, as I listened, I flipped through the pages, and as inspiration took, I folded down the corner of a page. With that direct connection, I will write a story, using just those words on those pages. That’s been the plan all along. Seconds, and minutes and years sing by. Before you know it you can see The End of time. The knowledge of that end of the future changes everyone.

I write this with thankfulness and a heavy heart. Love you Ray, you changed everything I have ever done.