"We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out." --Ray Bradbury
I blame Gordon Loberger. He was one of the first professors I had when I started at Murray State, and he was one of the toughest professors I had. Luckily (or not so), I had him for not one but two courses during my first semester here -- Intro to English Linguistics and Standard English Usage. He looked like Robert Duvall, spoke like a Minnesotan, rode a motorcycle to work (and tucked his papers/folders inside his button-down shirt instead of carrying a briefcase, and had an office covered with photos of his miniature Collie, despite having a wife and four daughters. He was quite the character.
In our Linguistics course, he would recite lines from poems or novels and we would have to transcribe them into the phonetic alphabet and submit them for a daily grade. This was how I was first introduced to T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and Alastair Reid's "Curiousity," both of which remain two of my most favorite poems. This was how I met Ray Bradbury.
(Actually, I'd read Bradbury in high school: we studied Fahrenheit 451, and I remember reading "The Veldt," "The Pedestrian," and maybe one or two other short stories. But I was caught up in typical swords-and-sorcery fantasy at the time, so I didn't pay much attention to Bradbury. More on that in a minute.)
Dr. Loberger used an excerpt from Dandelion Wine, which has since become one of my favorite novels of all time. I don't remember the exact passage, I just remember that I was immediately entranced by the magic, the language, the rhythm, the mood created in just a few short lines of prose. I went out and bought a copy of the book that afternoon. It's one of the few novels I've ever read where I read it once, as quickly as I could devour it, and then immediately turned back to the first page when I finished so that I could read it again, but more slowly this time, savoring passages in all their deliciousness.
You see, while I enjoy Bradbury's science fiction stories, it's his Green Town novels and stories that appeal to me the most: Dandelion Wine, Farewell Summer, Something Wicked This Way Comes, From the Dust Returned (not Green Town but containing many of the same themes and ideas). His words are sheer poetry -- lyrical, magical, rhythmic. There's all at once an overwhelming exuberance and a permeating melancholy to his stories. Look up the word "nostalgia" in the dictionary, and you'll see Bradbury's work. I don't think it was until I was an adult myself, that I had the experience to pick up on this sense of being right on the cusp of something adult, something darker and foreboding, filled with loss and regret, that his books capture.
I spent the end of last week in Atlanta working on a curriculum unit featuring work by Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, and other science fiction writers. Bradbury was mentioned more than once. I came home and, after relating some of the conversations with my husband, added, "I will be so sad when Ray Bradbury dies. He's a national treasure. He really is. I love his writing, but even more, I love that what you get in his writing is what he is as a person -- it comes through in interviews and essays."
The world is indeed a sadder place without Bradbury in it; his exuberance for living, for soaking in all the wonderful magic that makes up life, his unique writing style -- at once so childlike and pure, yet full of the wisdom of experience and pain and death and loss.
Bradbury said, "If you don't like what you're doing, don't do it." Great advice -- not just for writing but for working, for living. I think his life was a wonderful example of living this advice, and today I celebrate the gift that Bradbury was. He was indeed a national treasure, and I know that my life feels immeasurably richer with his words in it.