I was in love then

by Ray Bradbury

I was in love then with the monsters and skeletons and circuses and carnivals and dinosaurs and, at last, the red planet Mars. And from these primitive bricks I have built a life and a career. By my staying in love with all of these amazing things, all of the good things in my existence have come about.

In other words, I was not embarrassed at circuses. Some people are. Circuses are loud, vulgar, and smell in the sun. By the time many people are fourteen or fifteen, they have been divested of their loves, their ancient and intuitive tastes, one by one, until when they reach maturity there is no fun left, no zest, no gusto, no flavor. Others have criticized, and they have criticized themselves, into embarrassment. When the circus pulls in at five of a dark cold summer morn, and the calliope sounds, they do not rise and run, they turn in their sleep, and life passes by.

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I did rise and run. I learned that I was right and everyone else was wrong when I was nine. Buck Rogers arrived on the scene that year, and it was instant love. I collected the daily strips, and was madness maddened by them. Friends criticized. Friends made fun. I tore up the Buck Roger strips. For a month I walked through my fourth grade classes stunned and empty. One day I burst into tears, wondering what devastation had happened to me. The answer was: Buck Rogers. He was gone, and my life simply wasn't worth living. The next thought was: Those are not my friends, the ones who got me to tear the strips apart and so tear my own life down the middle; they are my enemies.

I went back to collecting Buck Rogers. My life has been happy ever since. For that was the beginning of my writing science fiction. Since then, I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.

Sometimes I am stunned at my capacity as a nine-year-old, to understand my entrapment and escape it.

How is it that the boy I was in October 1929, could, because of the criticism of his fourth-grade schoolmates, tear up his Buck Rogers comic strips and a month later judge all of his friends idiots and rush back to collecting?

Where did that judgement and strength come from? What sort of progress did I experience to enable me to say: I am as good as dead. Who is killing me? What do I suffer from? What's the cure?

I was able, obviously, to answer all of the above. I named the sickness: my tearing up of the strips. I found the cure: go back to collecting, no matter what.

I did. And was made well.

But still. At that age? When are we accustomed to responding to peer pressure?

Where did I find the courage to rebel, change my life, live alone?

I don't want to over-estimate all this, but damn it, I love that nine-year-old, whoever the hell he was. Without him, I could not have survived. 

Part of the answer, of course, is in the fact that I was so madly in love with Buck Rogers, I could not see my love, my hero, my life, destroyed. It is almost that simple. It was like having your best all-round greatest-loving-buddy pal, center-of-life drown or get shot-gun killed. Friends, so killed, cannot be saved from funerals. Buck Rogers, I realized, might know a second life, if I gave it to him. So I breathed in his mouth and, lo! he sat up and talked and said, what?

Yell. Jump. Play. Out-run those sons-of-bitches. They'll never live the way you live. Go do it.

- from Zen In the Art of Writing.

6.19.12

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