Archive for November, 2012

Image Lullaby

A story in images only:

The color orange. The sound of the drum. The moment before impact. The outstretched fingers. The nails on the back. The yellow teddy bear lifted from the rubble. The smell of whiskey. The night of the fire. The music blaring from the barn. The candle. The scream. The bark. The gravel. The teacher. The white light. The radio. A field of wheat. A shadow of the moon. A pair of overalls. An ice machine. A dumpster. The phone cord.


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Ray Bradbury in Paris


I read Ray Bradbury for the first time at fifteen.  The picture of the burning book on the cover and the title, Fahrenheit 451, intrigued me immediately. Like any book assigned over the summer, I approached it at first with a sense of dread until I was about five minutes in. Then, I opened the windows in my small sunlit room, let in the Ohio summer breeze, and sprawled out on the carpet to finish the book without even a bathroom break.

Reading it was like looking at my philosophy – the ideas in which I deeply believe but did not have the language then to articulate – laid out eloquently on the page. The book made me feel proud to be a nerd, to care about books and to seek other people who shared passion for knowledge. As I matured (as if I were a grape, don’t you love that expression, ‘as I matured”) well, as I matured, parts of the book came to me at pivotal times in my life.

When professionally I became a marketer, I remember resisting simplifying a message because I did not want to insult people’s intelligence. I did not want, essentially, to deliver a happy and fun message to the happy and fun masses. This made me recall Bradbury’s lines in Fahrenheit 451:

 Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I’ve tried it; to hell with it.

I no longer see the division between those who want a life wresting with complexity and knowledge and those who want a life of entertainment and simplicity as so different from one another. How many friends I have now who are brilliant scholars who strive for simplicity, and how many other fun loving friends deal with the most complex personal lives. I’ve learned what matters more, and where the real difference resides, is whether people have a desire to reflect and examine their lives, as opposed to swamp discomfort with distraction.

Some books are like a virus that lay dormant in your blood, the ideas becoming alive later in your life without your intention. Mr. Bradbury’s work had this impact on me.

So it was with great excitement that this morning I discovered an old interview of Ray Bradbury in the Paris Review. If you have never been to the Paris Review website and you care about literature, you must go. There you will find hundreds of interviews with the finest authors in the world available to you at no cost. These interviews are a gift to humanity and offer intimate advice and reflections.

You can read Ray Bradbury’s interview in the time it takes to enjoy a good cup of coffee. The interview itself has a brief introduction. There’s no need to summarize it again here other than to say that the Paris Review conducted a partial interview of Bradbury 40+ years ago; this interview is its continuation.

Several of the passages evoked my past memories and experiences, while others present new methods of writing and living that I intend to examine and use to enrich my writing and life. Let’s have a look at these passages now:


Paris Review:  In Zen in the Art of Writing, you wrote that early on in your career you made lists of nouns as a way to generate story ideas: the Jar, the Cistern, the Lake, the Skeleton. Do you still do this?

BRADBURY “…the old days I knew I had to dredge my subconscious, and the nouns did this. I learned this early on. Three things are in your head: First, everything you have experienced from the day of your birth until right now. Every single second, every single hour, every single day. Then, how you reacted to those events in the minute of their happening, whether they were disastrous or joyful. Those are two things you have in your mind to give you material. Then, separate from the living experiences are all the art experiences you’ve had, the things you’ve learned from other writers, artists, poets, film directors, and composers. So all of this is in your mind as a fabulous mulch and you have to bring it out. How do you do that? I did it by making lists of nouns and then asking, What does each noun mean? You can go and make up your own list right now and it would be different than mine. The night. The crickets. The train whistle. The basement. The attic. The tennis shoes. The fireworks. All these things are very personal. Then, when you get the list down, you begin to word-associate around it. You ask, Why did I put this word down? What does it mean to me? Why did I put this noun down and not some other word?”….. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are. 


Style is truth. Once you nail down what you want to say about yourself and your fears and your life, then that becomes your style and you go to those writers who can teach you how to use words to fit your truth. I learned from John Steinbeck how to write objectively and yet insert all of the insights without too much extra comment.


 After Hiroshima was bombed I saw a photograph of the side of a house with the shadows of the people who had lived there burned into the wall from the intensity of the bomb. The people were gone, but their shadows remained. That affected me so much, I wrote the story.


One day in Tucson, Arizona, when I was twelve, I told all my friends I was going to go down to the nearest radio station to become an actor. My friends snorted and said, Do you know anyone down there? I said no. They said, Do you have any pull with anyone? I said no. I’ll just hang around and they’ll discover how talented I am. So I went to the radio station, hung around for two weeks emptying ashtrays and running out for newspapers and just being underfoot. And two weeks later I wound up on radio every Saturday night reading the comics to the kiddies: Bringing Up FatherTailspin Tommy, and Buck Rogers.

These excerpts only hint at this interview’s brilliance. See more at the Paris Review, and if you do, please leave a comment with your observations here.


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A Difficult Translation

A skyfull of missies.

On the news this 24 year old mother who  just lost her 2 and 4 year old children says, through a translator, her life has just become difficult.

Difficult. That word stuck with me throughout the day. Difficult. Maybe because it was translated poorly, or maybe it was translated correctly.

How casually I use the word difficult to describe everyday things: Opening a stuck jar, parallel parking in rush hour, finding the perfect word, these can be difficult; not losing your children. So the word stuck with me, and with it, the grief of this beautiful woman.

A skyfull of missies.

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The Splash

There’s something wild and unpredictable beating inside…is that how you want to start? Start as the romantic? Start in this classic, and in my opinion, very boring way? Sure, let’s start this way.

So there’s this wild and unpredictable beating inside-inside this house is this man lacing up his polished brown shoes on a dusty floor, everything is wood, mirrors on the wall, a few windows and gardens when you look through. There’s no music here, just a man putting on his Sunday best brown shoes, when she enters. It’s the perfect entrance…you know the moment when an animal notices another animal is near? It’s that entrance. First, her straight black hair. Next, her tiny ankles. Finally, her face, he doesn’t know how to look at it without staring, without falling deeply into it like a village boy falling into a well. And thus he falls, tumbling, as they say, head over heals, into the cold water with no one near him to hear the splash.


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