Today, August 22nd, 2020, is the 100th birthday of Ray Bradbury, one of the greatest writers of modern times, and a dear friend.
It is difficult to believe that he passed away over eight years ago. Time is like that, of course…It sweeps us steadily forward, so you hardly realize until you stop to think about it just how far away from shore you actually are. But his influence also remains incredibly strong, so there is a fine and positive reason why Ray still feels so present, too.
Ray speaks to us now through what he left behind. And what he left behind, in addition to the memories of those privileged to know him personally, is a life’s work of immensely powerful creativity spanning eight decades, in multiple fields and just about every imaginable genre. Through it, one can still kindle a deep connection with the powerful, brilliant, quirky, hilarious, serious, angry, kind, optimistic, inquisitive, dedicated, and caring mind of a truly singular human being.
On my final visit to see Ray, in April 2012, just six weeks before he passed, the day had come to an end, and night had fallen. Ray was very ill and totally bed-bound, but we’d enjoyed a good, quiet day together in between his periods of rest, watching Looney Tunes (a favorite), talking, and reading…When friends came to visit during that last year or so, we would read to him, either his own works or the works of his favorite authors — a routine he loved.
As I was packing up to leave in the den adjacent to his room, I heard Ray’s evening caregiver ask him about his day. “Oh, it was wonderful,” Ray replied. “I had a wonderful day.”
I learned so many lessons from Ray Bradbury…about writing, and about living. But the lesson perfectly encapsulated in the final words I ever heard him say in person is perhaps the most profound: Life is worth celebrating, even when the limitations are great. Ray once told a mutual friend, “Every day is a good day.” That’s not to say certain days aren’t filled with great tragedy, loss, anger, illness, or hurt. But they are our days. We are here. And that in and of itself is a gift that should never, ever be taken for granted.
And for as long as Ray’s work continues to be read, he will teach others that same lesson, along with many more. Here, then, are ten other things I’ve learned from him over the years…just a few from the wondrous pile, and in no particular order, some in my words, some in his:
1. Celebrate your existence. We are, as Ray said, the eyes and ears of the universe. That is an extraordinary gift.
2. If people ridicule you for what you love, let those people go; cut them right out of your life. Ray said, “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows, or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”
3. If you love what you’re doing, see it through. Get it done. No matter what obstacles and detours are thrown in your path, no matter how long it takes, every challenge that matters to you, big and small, should be met with vigor. Ray said, “You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”
4. As a continuation of #3, Ray also said, “I have two rules in life: to hell with it, whatever it is, and get your work done.” When I would call him, or he me, I’d naturally ask how he was doing, and he invariably replied, “I’m getting my work done.” If he had a setback health-wise, or in some other way, he’d mention it briefly, then add, “Well, to hell with it,” and chuckle. The setbacks did not deter him from pursuing his goals. He had things to do, and life to live.
5. Intuition is the key to creativity. Ray used to keep a sign posted above his typewriter that read, “DON’T THINK!”
6. “‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said, ‘live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that,’ he said, ‘shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.’”
7. We stand on the shoulders of those who taught us, loved us, and believed in us, both here and gone. Our success is therefore partially their success, and in that way their lessons, their love, and their belief in us blossoms, and they live on in us.
8. “Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.”
9. Enthusiasm is the vehicle by which we challenge ourselves, triumph over adversity, and find our happiness. And love is the engine that powers it…the only thing that truly matters.
10. Never be afraid to say, “I love you.”
Ray’s greatest wish, he once told an interviewer, is that one night, in some future year, a child will read a copy of The Martian Chronicles in bed, under a blanket, with a flashlight…on Mars. Today, exactly 100 years after his birth, I remain absolutely convinced that his wish will eventually come true.
He is still very much with us. He always will be. What a gift that is. And what amazing things love can do.
Happy Birthday, Ray.