In one of his seminal interviews with Bill Moyers, the famed mythologist Joseph Campbell observed that life is not, as many people believe, a search for meaning, but rather, the search for an experience of being truly alive. Recently, one of the great artists of the 20th century provided a living example of a life lived based on the pursuit of one’s passions, and how that pursuit provides a constant, inexhaustible power supply for creative expression. In the clean, well-lit auditorium of the Santa Monica Public Library, four generations of sci-fi/fantasy fans waited patiently in line for Ray Bradbury – the wheelchair-bound white-haired literary lion – to sign everything from weather-beaten, dog-eared copies of Dandelion Wine and Golden Apples of the Sun, to The Master’s latest volumes of poetry. Well in his eighties, Bradbury is anything but the taciturn intellectual one might surmise him to be from his spectacular body of work; indeed, Mr. Bradbury, a longtime resident of the Westside, is a vibrant, passionate artist who in his hour-long talk gave a blueprint for not only being a successful writer, but also living a satisfying life. For those of you unfamiliar with Bradbury’s work, suffice to say he is the world’s greatest living science fiction/fantasy author. His books have sold in the millions, and in addition to his many novels, he has written volumes of short stories, screenplays, plays and the aforementioned poems. He is probably the writer most responsible for elevating sci-fi from a pulp genre to a respected, innovative literary form. Mr. Bradbury, despite his physical infirmities, spoke with the ease and sparkle of a world-class raconteur. Young women who took a photo with Bradbury giggled as if meeting a rock star (Bradbury seemed to enjoy it, too). He held forth with self-effacing humor, often citing how bad his early writing was. Of his early plays, he remarked that his “plays were so bad, if you put them on the lawn dogs would roll in them.” His mind is razor-sharp, and he recollects in precise detail incidents from his life and particulars from his writing going back over 50 years. He constantly reiterated the evening’s central premise – he is a man who has been guided by his many loves, and he exhorted the audience, whatever their goals in life, to do the same. Bradbury’s life is also a testament to the notion that there are no “failures”; many of his lesser efforts and rejected writings led eventually to greater successes. One of the evening’s many poignant and moving examples involved a project with the great Gene Kelly. In brief, Kelly was interested in turning one of Bradbury’s stories into a film and asked him to generate a screenplay. Bradbury did so, but Kelly failed to raise the necessary funds to make the picture. Eventually Bradbury re-worked the film script into the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes (one of his best!), which years later was adapted into a terrific film starring Jonathan Price. To hear Bradbury tell the tale, because of his passion and love for the project and Gene Kelly, eventually everything paid off. If Ray Bradbury has lived a charmed life, his secret is a simple one. In his words, “You see how I’ve lived? You see how I’ve lived? It’s all passion! It’s all madness!” A few other noteworthy quotes: “Live by your ganglion, your guts – they will tell you how to live!” “Write what you love – not for the market, not for other people’s wishes, that’s all stupid, you write what you feel PASSION for!” “If you’re not loving what you’re doing, don’t do it!” And so on… Bradbury’s life is been filled with encounters and friendships with many of the legendary figures of the 20th century – John Huston, Bernard Berenson, Federico Fellini, Robert Heinlein, Norman Corwin, many of whom he credits as important mentors in his life. On writing, his advice was simple: write every day. On life, his advice was no less simple, but much more profound and can be summed up by the words of the Buddha: ”Follow your bliss.” It’s no wonder that great artists throughout the years, from Picasso and Matisse to Bradbury himself, live such long lives. When every day is an adventure, and life itself is a joyous process of discovery, why not stick around as long as you can? Millions of Bradbury fans, myself included, are grateful that The Master is still with us.
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