The Illustrated Man
My dad foisted Dandelion Wine on me when I was young and still homeschooled. It was to be, appropriately enough, the first book in my list of self-imposed summer reading.
His copy was old, and falling apart, so we bought a new one that would be mine. Home from the Barnes and Noble, he immediately tore the book open to the second chapter.
There it is. Death. Read.
Bradbury’s reoccurring, loosely autobiographical protagonist, Douglas Spaulding finds himself in the woods, picking fox grapes, alive. Except something’s stalking him there: the awareness of his own mortality. life and death. It’s a painful mixture. Like conjoined twins neither one can escape the other, and they do not get along.
How anxious and painful and happy and sad and beautiful and tragic and terrifying it is to exist!
And now Ray Bradbury no longer does, at least not in the conventional sense, the biological union of mind and body. He died last night.
I tried to reread an anthology of his books recently, “Quicker Than The Eye,” and it did not go well. I write try because it was a struggle; often inspiring and sometimes laborious and ultimately unsuccessful.
His prose charged off the page with the fury of a passing locomotive. But they did not grab me. His stories were still pregnant with industrial grade dreams waiting to be plucked from the print by my buzzing imagination. But once plucked, my mind couldn’t help but examine them, poking and prodding until the specimen had all the magic and wonder of a old plastic trash bag still left in it.
I’ve forgotten how to dream and play; how to wander through the clouds and space and time. I’ve grown up. How unpleasant.
Thinking back to The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes, I see a boy who could drill the earth with stick and stone as if the mud heap beneath him held a treasure more priceless than platinum. My backyard as a kid was barely a quarter acre, but somehow I spent hours exploring every little nook and tree branch.
I dug a hole in the upward sloping hill that ran the length of our front yard. I don’t know why. In it I buried crystals I’d gotten some Birthdays ago; quartz and fool’s gold and obsidian. One of them was purple. I’m still looking for it.
But I didn’t fill the hole back in, much to my parents ongoing consternation. Instead I cobbled together a roof out of twigs and leaves and blades of grass and stuck it over part of the hole. I made little trails in the grass going from it and placed little piles of pebbles and bark. I stuck my Lego men inside and called it home.
Fahrenheit 451 is still my Manifesto. Dandelion Wine will always be my Bible. But they’ll never mean the things they once did. They can’t. My soul has grown into an awkward shape these past years and no longer recognizes them in ways it once use to.
Perhaps with time I can reform it. Or fashion a new one out of a cocktail of nightmares and daydreams, filtering out the impurities: the daily stresses, the personal vendettas, the pride and envy and hurt feelings that corrupt so much. Society is not accommodating though. It does not wait. The world spirit pushes on. We will see.
If this sounds like a sad post, that’s alright. It’s a sad day.