“Live Forever!”

In the middle of a particularly hellish day at work, my phone vibrated once in my desk drawer…a minute missive from the Associated Press announcing the passing of writer Ray Bradbury, on June 5, at the age of 91. I reflected…

I had just recently (in the last few years) discovered the staggeringly beautiful prose and brilliantly engineered short stories of Bradbury. My first thought was sadness, eclipsed shortly by amusement, upon envisioning Bradbury learning that news of his passing had been broadcast in real time across the airwaves through an opt-in text message alert service. People everywhere jumped on their compact “smart” devices, and accepted the news as it vibrated in (I admit, I also posted the alert on Facebook).

In reading obituaries and tributes, others have noted his regard for themes of loneliness and the universal presence of death. Ironically, I happen to be making my way through The October Country, a collection of short stories about mortality. Some are horrific, some are just sad, others are wonderful parables.

Perhaps the most poignant part of this collection is the preface where he explains the moment in his life when he realized how he would die:

“From the age of twelve I knew I was in a life and death match, winning every time I finished a new story, threatened with extinction on those days I did not write. The only answer, then, was: write. I have written every day of my life since my twelfth year. Death has not caught me yet. He will, eventually, of course…” (Bradbury 1999: xi)

That same year, Bradbury was inspired to write his first story after Mr. Electrico, a carnival magician, “touched [him] with the St. Elmo’s Fire sword and shouted sound advice: ‘Live forever!'”

And that he shall. Bradbury had an essay published in The New Yorker the week of his passing.


As an aside, in an interview for a documentary about Walt Disney, Ray Bradbury remarked that he was obsessed with The Skeleton Dance as a child. I think this made me love him even more.

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Photos: me reading The Illustrated Man this past spring… Reveling in the rain.

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turn it up.

I was late to discover the band “Muse.” Now, to be fair, I’ve listened to singles of theirs over the past two years and liked what I heard, but never investigated further. Over Christmas, I got their newest album “The Resistance” and have been listening to it ever since. This particular album just won a Grammy a few weeks ago, so I know I can’t be wrong. I’m not a hipster music snob—I will continue to explore their musical arts post-recognition— and here’s why:

I’ve been listening and analyzing their rock symphony “Exogenesis” for months. It’s obsessive, really….

For proper appreciation, this must be played at ear-shattering volume. I do like cranking up the volume when no one is around— I managed to get through college and living in a “quiet” apartment building above my landlady with no major interventions—I want these notes to spin around me, envelop me, and anchor me to the floor. I should be able to feel my hair tingle with the decibels and my heart break to let it all in (and yes, I cry at concerts). It’s no wonder I’m a little deaf…

I’m not sure what it is about this piece of music that makes me a little nuts. Upon the first playing, I thought to myself, that was one of the most genius things I’ve heard in a while. The other evening, I turned on my stereo to “stun” and blasted Exogenesis. My cat Cricket vaulted up to the footboard of my bed, craning her striped neck and flicking her ears. By the “third movement,” she was sound asleep on my bed.

I think the reason why I love this piece so much is because it reminds me of so many other musical works that I enjoy (Gershwin, Chopin, Howard Shore’s “The Aviator,” and Carter Burwell’s “Twilight” to name a few). Muse clearly did their homework—to create something that would play upon my subconscious knowledge. Just when I think I knew where it was going, a scale would twist and double back on me, dropping down a few more notes and out of my realm of recognition.

I’m reminded of my high school philosophy class… as I remember… John Dewey in “Art as Experience” says that “good art” allows the person who is experiencing it to feel greater sense of connection to the universe. Am I being overdramatic and vague? Maybe. Take a listen for yourself:

Exogenesis Symphony Part 1: Overture
Exogenesis Symphony Part 2: Cross-Pollination
Exogenesis Symphony Part 3: Redemption

___

PS- I’m not someone who gets hung up on intended meaning—I am more of a devotee of music that is musically sound (case in point here ). I did, however, look this up… the piece is a journey through the end of humanity, resulting in space exploration. Bellamy, the writer, cites his influences as Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Strauss and Pink Floyd (source) .

Confessions of a book hoarder.

“He [the writer] is careful of what he reads, for it is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know.”- Annie Dillard, “The Writing Life”

As cabin fever started to set in, my mom and I decided that today would be the day for brief errands. In addition to getting the fixings for a yummy quiche for later this evening, we stopped by our favorite used bookstore (run by our local public library). My grandma, who is in nursing care, was in need of “new” large-print reading material.

Our neighborhood road is still not plowed in places, with wet gnarled branches littering the snow banks on the sides of the street. The bookstore parking lot was empty except for our Jeep, but the shop light miraculously flickered to life as we ambled out into the cold.

I should tell you… I’m a book junkie. I’d say I’ve read about a third of the books in my collection, and I’m constantly picking up new things wherever I go. The bookshelves in my family’s home are bowed in the middle, packed horizontally and vertically, and braced with other stacks packed in front of the original row. For those of you out there who love the smell of yellowing pages and soft-thumbed corners, you know that there is no greater paradise than a “good” used bookstore.

As my mom went in search of large-print Reader’s Digest collections, I headed for literary criticism (a shelf I usually never touch) and poetry. Before long, I ended up with a short stack of thin delights: T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” Dylan Thomas’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog,” Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life,” and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “A Far Rockaway of the Heart.”

Old books= new friends.

Old books have the potential to yield stories not printed on the page. I once found a perfectly preserved maple leaf in a 19th century grade school reader. I discovered extensive handwritten notes on loose-leaf paper wedged in the back of my Ezra Pound collection. For those of you who frequently seek out used books, how often are you tempted to investigate the previous owner? I once read a magazine article that featured a woman who made an argument against used books. In so many words, she said, “I don’t know where they’ve been.” Seriously?

Perhaps I just have an overactive imagination, fueled by fiction about books (“People of the Book” and “The Shadow of the Wind” ). I like to speculate on the shelf history of my reading material. A crazy cat lady owned my T.S. Eliot and a young hipster college student shoved Dylan Thomas in his back pocket on a long bus ride to New York…. Perhaps this is an unhealthy habit, but it hasn’t killed me yet.

God bless used bookstores. They make it easy for me to continue my literary binges.

Enjoy the weekend and Happy reading!