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Bradbury's Death is a Lonely Business

From Chris Wayan's journal, 1994/1/12


No, I'm not stalking Ray Bradbury. "Death is a Lonely Business" is Bradbury's most recent book. It claims to be a mystery, but it's a veiled autobiography. Ray Bradbury is a young man, poor and very lonely; his girl's in Mexico while he's stuck in LA, writing stories for a few bucks each, stories that'll later make him famous.

It opens "Venice, California, in the old days, had much to recommend it to people who liked to be sad. It had fog almost every night and along the shore the moaning of the oil well machinery and the slap of dark water in the canals and the hiss of sand against the windows of your house when the wind came up and sang among the open places and along the empty walks..." and I shivered, realizing that Mars was real, it was Bradbury's yard: when he wrote THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, he was talking about home. I grew up with those stories, and the book shows where they all came from, the desolation and strangeness of a city of refugees from Hollywood--from America. Martians. Those who don't fit. And this eager puppy with his eyes open...

There's consolation here for me. I think I'm cut off from life because I have environmental illness. I live quiet as a hermit. I have to, or die. Yet... I too live in a great city of refugees, as beautiful and tragic as his lost Mars. This book shows me that I have all the resources he did BUT health, the strength to go sniff around... except in dreams.

When I was a kid, authors were gods to me. Still are, I guess. But Bradbury was no god--not even a mature, whole man. Nor were any of the writers or thinkers I respect. We're small animals in burrows, making up stories to tell round the fire, not even knowing quite why. Even the smartest of us, Einstein or Hawking--just making up stories that fit our particular tastes. (OK, some of us are more diligent at our fact-checking...)

I've always waited to write, or at least publish, waited till I've grown up, grown well, lived... As if Godot ever comes!

I've waited to write about love till I've loved. Waited to write about life till I've lived. Waited to write about death till I've died.

Slight problem there.

But writing about what I don't have, is how I create it. Visualizing it, describing it clearly, observing it in others... that's the hardest step, harder than physically attaining it later. Telling stories summons things! Not just for me--you get the futures you work for. Well, maybe you don't always... but writing didn't prevent it. Ever? Is writing about your heart's desire ever counterproductive? Maybe, if you write epics, if your art eats your life. Aren't there writers who write too much?

My dream habit is like that--a drug that takes a lot of time and passion... though it gives back plenty. I can't yet express my dream-life in this world, in any way BUT by telling dreams. My dreams are like Emily Dickinson's lilies: 'THESE are my introductions.' People know me by my dreams. It's the only way I can open my heart to others.

Too bad it's such a solitary art. If, sometimes, when it's very very good, a lasting art.

Do I like being lonely, is it part of the path my soul chose, as Bradbury's work is infused with melancholy? Surely it's not coincidence that I'm isolated by environmental illness and that I'm obsessed with dreamwork, a difficult path requiring much time and solitude... when I live in one of the world's great cities, the haven where America sends its misfits, intellectuals, radicals, and dreamers. (And here I am, all four of me!) But the fifth me--my illness--keeps me from going out to meet the other refugees. A cultural, spiritual, social feast that I can't touch! Only watch.

I watch the lions feed. Primal, terrible but beautiful--from a safe distance.

Or does my fasting feed me? A sad paradox, but, just possibly, a necessary one.

San Francisco, in the old days, my days, had much to recommend it to people who liked to dream...




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