Nineteen years ago, I read the nine essays of Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing and dreamed I met the legendary author. In the dream, Bradbury and I discussed a story I’d written called “The Last Housewife on Earth.” I’d not written such a story (only in the dream). But I knew the bored and restless housewife, because she was me.
As I read the Preface to Zen in the Art of Writing, Bradbury’s words ignited an inner slapping (not unlike Poe’s raven’s tapping). Bradbury described his nine-year-old self tearing up what he loved (Buck Rogers comic strips) due to criticism from schoolmates. But where did he find the strength a month later to “judge all of his friends idiots and rush back to collecting?” Bradbury writes:
So I collected comics, fell in love with carnivals and World’s Fairs and began to write. 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 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, death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.
Secondly, writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that.
Not to write for many of us, is to die
And instantly, I knew what to do. I’d go back to school and learn to write (no more amateur scribbling). But first I’d drive to Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, because Ray Bradbury was scheduled to speak. I learned of the lecture the day after I dreamed of our meeting. So, naturally, I had to go.
On a stage, Bradbury read from his Zen book; he spoke of his childhood, but what resonated for me was that he never went to college. Yet, impassioned, he expressed his desire to learn and to write, a yearning so intense he spent countless hours—years!—in libraries, educating himself.
After his lecture, an authority figure announced the author would not be signing books (apparently, the man in charge knew nothing of my dream) so I, and a score of others, sneaked behind thick curtains, where Bradbury was seated—and waiting.
And he did sign our books and answer our questions. Though I barely remember anything he said as I floated backstage in a state of awe (I’d just had this dream!) and here he was with his shock of white hair, his black-framed glasses.
When it was my turn to hand over my copy, his eyes met mine. And all I could utter was (oh, God, this is so embarrassing to admit) but all I could say was, “I love you.” There, I said it. I told him I loved him. And he signed my book (smiling), stood up, and kissed me on the cheek.
I didn’t tell him about my dream; I barely managed those three simple words. But he seemed to appreciate my declaration, because he only stood for one, mine remained the lone kissed cheek. Or, I made a total ass of myself—but it was worth it.
For after his lecture, I went to college and camped in libraries. In literature classes, I read the enormous books from cover to cover, not just the few assigned poems and stories. And I spent hours and hours in my car and studied (because my three children in the house were so noisy).
Worth it because my signed copy of Zen in the Art of Writing is one of my most treasured possessions. Peek inside the Preface and Bradbury reminds to “dive head first into your typewriter.” And then he ends his opening with a gift:
I have come up with a new simile to describe myself lately. It can be yours.
Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me.
After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.
Now, it’s your turn. Jump!
So much inspiration! It’s why “I love you” rose and sprung from my lips. And I’m grateful for not squandering the opportunity. Because Ray Bradbury—more than anyone—inspired me to make that leap into my own “deep well” and onto my keyboard.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I’ve never washed that Bradbury-kissed cheek. (Okay, I exaggerate; it’s the writer in me. But I did resist for nearly a week.)
And the kiss—still lives—in memories and dreams.