“…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?”Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
There are books that inform. There are books that entertain. There are books that motivate.
And there are books that catapult you from your perch1 to race in pursuit of passersby, tackling them to the ground to forcibly speed-read an entire chapter to their trembling ears.
In other words, these books are so powerful that they have a life of their own. This is obvious because they clearly have a reproductive cycle, as evidenced by them taking control of your frontal lobe to convey their literary DNA to other brains.
I mention this because I have recently come into possession of such a text2. I refer to Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. It’s a collection of essays, or chapters, or meditations on the act of writing and the art of living.
In many ways it’s classic Bradbury. His allusions and metaphors are all over the place. References to comics and carny-creepiness, check and check. Bradbury is a strange creature called “human,” with a skeleton inside and an angel on one shoulder; Lord knows what that is whispering in his other ear.
But there’s a contagion, a madness, and a hope that spills through each page and sentence. He’s seen what happens when life slips away. It doesn’t look very different from the space left when art slips away. Art and Life, the two of them, are beasts of a feather. We wouldn’t stop to listen if their voices didn’t echo each other, as well as a quiet third called Death.
They form a writer’s menagerie. Bradbury introduces us to them one by one like goats at a petting zoo. He guides us through with twelve chapters of tips on caring for these rare creatures – what they eat (poetry), where they live (the top of the stairs), and their ideal habitat (whatever you do, pretend to ignore them).
“And what, you ask, does writing teach us?
First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.
So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.”Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
Now, I’d stay to tell you more, but Buck Rogers just saw another passersby – so I have to get my running shoes.
1 Chair, tree, rooftop, etc.
2 Or, you know, it’s come into possession of me. We’re still working out the details of the relationship.
Works Consulted is a series in which I share writers and writing whose words change brains. Please share any suggestions! In the meantime, here’s Works Consulted, vol. I.