What Bradbury Said

Status report: I’m very tired. But I’m doing very good work. As of today, I have the introduction and Chapter 1 revised and in final form. Tomorrow I will work on Chapters 2 and 3, and the bibliography. It might take me until Thursday to finish everything. Then, I will put the entire dissertation together. And then, I will read it one more time, make any final corrections, print out five copies, and give them to my committee members. It’s strange, being so close – and feeling so tired. But it’s a good feeling too, like being close to a finish line. Which I am, of course.

I’ve been thinking about that finish line. For along time, it felt like a cliff, as though once I got there I would somehow drop off. But I realized something. When I finish this project, I will have finished the last academic degree I ever want in my life. A JD and PhD are enough, thank you. (Where would I go from here, anyway?) I will have built the platform I need to do anything I want. So when I get to that cliff, I’m not going to drop off. I’m going to fly.

Anything I want to do will be possible. And what’s more, I know exactly what I want.  I want to teach literature and writing. I want a little old house with a large garden, with white gauze curtains in the windows, paintings on the walls, comfortable old furniture throughout. Lots and lots of books. I want the people I love around me. I want to surround myself with writers and artists and creative people in general. And I want to write, to tell the stories that are in me. I want one of those lives that are joyful and creative and individual, filled with beautiful things.

I think it’s doable.

Today I had to go into the city, which meant the subway, so I brought along Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. I’ve only read a couple of chapters, but I love this book. I’m going to tell you some of the things Bradbury says. I think you’ll find them as useful as I do. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

“And what, you ask, does writing teach us?

“First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded to us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.

“So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.

“Second, writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that.

“Not to write, for many of us, is to die.”

Bradbury is saying that art is a way for us to manage reality. I think that’s true, and I know writing functions in that way for me. Writing is a way to process reality, which quickly becomes overwhelming. I walk around each day with a sense of just how overwhelming it is: all the people, all the things they’re thinking and doing. The good and the bad of it – the cruelty, the darkness, the fear, as well as the brightness. Writing helps me sort it all out, figure out what is important. Here’s what Bradbury says next:

“We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory. Remember that pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audience would know.

“A variation of this is true for writers. Not that your style, whatever that is, would melt out of shape in those few days.

“But what would happen is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

I love that last line. And you know, I think there’s a lot of truth in what he says, melodramatic though it is. I don’t write stories every day, certainly. But I do something related to writing every day, whether it’s writing, revising, whatever. I think even writing this blog has saved me, this year.

Work that interests me, a house I want to live in, the people I love. And writing my stories.  Those are the things I want. That’s doable, right?

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5 Responses to What Bradbury Said

  1. sarah says:

    May I quote Miss Tick? “If you trust in yourself, and believe in your dreams, and follow your star, you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”

    (That’s Pratchett, by the way.)

    Seems to me you’re *making* your wants happen. So that means it’s not doable – it’s in the process of actually being done.

  2. Shveta says:

    So when I get to that cliff, I’m not going to drop off. I’m going to fly.

    Sing it, sister! ♥ May we all fly with you.

  3. Jeff P. says:

    VERY doable. Kudos for you for propelling yourself there.

    Thanks for the Bradbury reminder. I have that book but haven’t read it in a long time. Guess I need to take it off the shelf.

  4. Gary Hayes says:

    Loved this post. The Bradbury quotes make me feel . . . good about being a writer . . . and determined to work bravely onward. And yes, I love the last line, but also the one before it. If I do not write, I can feel the Crazy creeping in.

  5. Thanks, guys! And I think that’s why I love Bradbury’s book: sometimes it’s over the top, but it makes me feel a certain way about being a writer. As though it’s a genuinely important enterprise.

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