Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Ray Bradbury’

04 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Ray Bradbury on Libraries, Space Exploration, and the Secret of Life: The Lost Comic-Con Interview

By:

“Don’t think about things, just do them; don’t predict them, just make them.”

Of the many things that made Ray Bradbury one of the greatest creative spirits of our time, his remarkable passion for life stood out not only as an inspiring echelon but also as a necessary antidote to our all-too-prevalent cultural trope of the tortured genius, the mythology that in order to be creative and successful, we must on some level be miserable. Reader Juan Kafka points me to a fantastic lesser-known interview with Bradbury, one of his last, conducted by Bradbury’s official biographer, Sam Weller — who collected many of his conversations with Bradbury in Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews — at Comic-Con 2010. It was recorded by Jeff Goldsmith, maker of the free storytelling app Backstory. At 90, Bradbury is as full of zest as ever, brimming with a love of life as he discusses space exploration, libraries, technology, and the importance of doing what you love. The full Q&A runs over an hour, but I’ve excerpted and transcribed the most salient parts below — enjoy.

On prediction, purpose, and making things happen — a complement to Bradbury’s prior passionate case for doing what you love:

SW: How did you predict all of this stuff, Ray, how did you predict all of these technologies?

RB: The secret of life is being in love, and by being in love, you predict yourself. Whatever you want is whatever you get. You don’t predict things, you make them. You gotta be a Zen Buddhist, like me: Don’t think about things, just do them; don’t predict them, just make them.

On public libraries:

SW: Of course, you have been, really, the patron saint of the American public library system … You love public libraries — tell us the story of your love affair with libraries.

RB: When I left high school, I had all my plans to go to college, but I had no money. And I decided then, the best thing for me to do is not worry about getting money to go to college — I will educate myself. I walked down the street, I walked into a library, I would go to the library three days a week for ten years and I would educate myself. It’s all FREE, that’s the great thing about libraries! Most of you can afford to go to college, but if you wanna educate yourself completely, go to the library and educate yourself. When I was 28 years old, I graduated from Library.

On space exploration, for which Bradbury has ardently advocated before:

SW: One of the technologies you have been in favor of is space exploration. Why is space exploration so important to you?

RB: Because we are gonna live forever, if we go out in space, if we go back to the moon — we should’ve never left the moon — we should go back and build a base, we should go back and build a base on the moon and go on to Mars and we should put a civilization on Mars and then, 500 years from now, move out into the universe, and when we do that, we have a chance of living forever. That’s why I believe in space exploration.

Further in the interview, he revisits the subject with equal parts endearing fantasy-world outlandishness and very real policy concerns:

SW: What should we be investing in for the future, to assure our future? What should we focus on for tomorrow?

RB: We’ve gotta reinvest in space travel. We should’ve never left the moon. We’ve gotta get back to the moon and build a firm base there, so that sometime in the next 40 years we can take off and go to the planet Mars. We’ve gotta become the Martians. I’m a Martian — I tell you to become Martians. And we’ve gotta go to Mars and civilize Mars and build a whole civilization on Mars and then move out, 300 years from now, into the universe. And when we do that, we have a chance of living forever. So our future is investing, right now, in space travel, and money should be given to NASA sometime next year to build the rockets to go back to the moon.

He later brings this same blend of fantasy and civic engagement to gridlock and the monorail dream:

We’ve gotta build monorails all over LA and California … The freeways don’t work, but monorails would do the job for us. Get rid of the goddamn freeways and build the monorails.

On loving life and living with joy:

SW: If you could time-travel to a moment in your life, what moment would you go back to?

RB: Every. Single. Moment. Every single moment of my life has been incredible, I’ve loved it, I’ve savored it, it’s been beautiful — because I’ve remained a boy. The man you see here tonight is not a man, he’s a 12-year-old boy, and this boy is still having fun. And I remain a boy forever.

He then takes the question of growing up head-on:

SW: We hear this term, ‘grow up.’ Do you feel like you’ve ‘grown up’? How have you been able to stay connected with your inner child over the years, because a lot of people lose touch with that?

RB: You remain invested in your inner child by exploding every day. You don’t worry about the future, you don’t worry about the past — you just explode. So, if you are dynamic, you don’t have to worry about what age you are. So I’ve remained a boy, because boys run everywhere — they never stop running, they never look back, they never look back, they just keep running, running, and running. That’s me — the running boy.

Weller’s biography of Bradbury is a must-read, to be complemented with his recently released Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury.

Complement with Sartre on why “being-in-the-world-ness” is the key to the imagination and De Beauvoir on ambiguity, vitality, and freedom.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

22 AUGUST, 2012

Ray Bradbury’s Unpublished Poems and His Meditation on Science vs. Religion

By:

“It is a small thing, this dear gift of life handed us mysteriously out of immensity.”

On Monday, we took a trip back to the day before NASA’s Mariner 9 mission reached Mars in 1971, when Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury — whom we lost just a few short months ago — joined New York Times science editor Walter Sullivan in a remarkably prescient conversation about Mars and future of space exploration, later released as Mars and the Mind of Man (public library). Among the day’s many gems were three unpublished poems by Ray Bradbury, which he shared with the audience, alongside a poignant meditation on science vs. religion — a subject we have far from put to rest since:

In the last few years, I have found myself returning again and again to the problem of science and theology. This problem has thrust itself into the center of a series of poems I have written. I have for some time now thought that the conflict between religion and science was a false one, based, more often than not, on semantics. For when all is said and done, we each share the mystery. We live with the miraculous and try to interpret it with our data correctors or our faith healers. In the end, survival is the name of the game.

One upon a time we created religions which promise us futures when we knew there were no possible ones. Death stared us in the face, forever and ever.

Now, suddenly, the Space Age gives us a chance to exist for a billion or two billion years, to go out an dbuild a heaven instead of promising one to ourselves, with archangelic hosts, saints waiting at Gates, and God pontifical on his Throne.

This second* poem of mine is titled ‘Old Ahab’s Friend and Friend to Noah Speaks His Piece.’ It is written from the viewpoint of the whale speaking to future men, telling them they must build a whale and live inside it and go out into space in it and travel through time to survive forever. Here is the conclusion of the poem:

I am the Ark of Lie. You be the same!

Build you a fiery whale all white.

Give it my name.

Ship with Leviathan for forty years

Until an isle in Space looms up to match your dreams,

And land you there triumphant with your flesh

Which works in yeasts, makes wild ferment,

Survives and feeds

On metal schemes.

Step forth and husband soil as yet untitled,

Blood it with your wives, sow it with seeds,

Crop-harvest it with sons and maiden daughters,

And all that was begat once long ago in Earth’s strange waters

Do recall.

The White Whale was the ancient Ark.

You be the New.

Forty days, forty years, forty-hundred years,

Give it no mind;

You see. The Universe is blind.

You touch. The Abyss does not feel.

You hear. The Void is dear.

Your wife is pomegranate. The stars are lifeless and bereft.

You smell the Wind of Being.

On windless worlds the nostrils of old Time are stuffed

With dust and worse than dust.

Settle it with your lust, shape it with your seeing,

Rain it with your sperming seed,

Water it with your passion,

Show it your need.

Soon or late,

Your mad example may imitate.

And gone and flown and landed there is White Whale craft,

Remember Moby here, this dream, this time which does suspire,

This kindling of your tiny apehood’s fire.

I kept you well. I languish and I die.

My bones will timber out fresh dreams,

My words will leap like fish in new trout streams

Gone up the hill of Universe to spawn.

Swim o’er to stars now, spawning man,

And couple rock, and break forth flocks of children on the plains

On nameless planets which will now have names;

Those names are ours to give or take.

We out of Nothing make a destiny,

With one name over all

Which is this Whale’s, all White.

I you begat.

Speak then of Moby Dick,

Tremendous Moby, friend of Noah.

Go Go now.

Ten trillion miles away,

Ten light-years off,

See from your whale-shaped craft;

That glorious planet!

Call it Ararat.

(The poetic picture of the phoenix-whale Bradbury paints is reminiscent of the beautiful Whale Fall cut-paper animated short for Radiolab.)

* Bradbury shared another poem, which remains his best-known, earlier in the discussion:

IF ONLY WE HAD TALLER BEEN

O, Thomas, will a Race one day stand really tall
Across the Void, across the Universe and all?
And, measure out with rocket fire,
At last put Adam’s finger forth
As on the Sistine Ceiling,
And God’s great hand come down the other way
To measure Man and find him Good,
And Gift him with Forever’s Day?
I work for that.
Short man. Large dream. I send my rockets forth
between my ears,
Hoping an inch of Will is worth a pound of years.
Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal Mall:
We’ve reached Alpha Centauri!
We’re tall, O God, we’re tall!

Lastly, in the “Afterthoughts” section of the book, in which the panelists revisit the subject a year after the Mars mission, Bradbury shares one final poem, touching once again on the subject of the mysterious:

THAT IS OUR EDEN’S SPRING, ONCE PROMISED

What I to apeman
And what then he to me?
I an apeman one day soon will seem to be
To those who, after us, look back from Mars
And they, in turn, mere beasts will seem
To those who reach the stars;
So apemen all, in cave, in frail tract-house,
On Moon, Red Planet, or some other place;
Yet similar dream, same heart, same soul,
Same blood, same face,
Rare beastmen all who move to save and place their pyres
From cavern mouth to world to interstellar fires.
We are the all, the universe, the one,
As such our fragile destiny is only now begun.
Our dreams then, are they grand or mad, depraved?
Do we say yes to Kazantzakis whose wild soul said:
God cries out to be saved?
Well then, we go to save Him, that seems sure,
With flesh and bone not strong, and heart not pure,
All maze and paradox our blood,
More lost than found,
We go to marry stranger flesh on some far burial ground
Where yet we will survive and, laughing, look on back
To where we started on a blind and frightful track
But made it through, and for no reason
Save it must be made, to rest us under trees
On planets in such galaxies as toss and lean
A most peculiar shade,
And sleep awhile, for some few million years,
To rise again, fresh washed in vernal rain
That is our Eden’s spring once promised,
Now repromised, to bring Lazarus
And our abiding legions forth,
Stoke new lamps with ancient funeral loam
To light cold abyss hearths for astronauts to hie them home
On highways vast and long and broad,
Thus saving what? Who’ll say salvation’s sum?
Why, thee and me, and they and them, and us and we…

And God.

He concludes with this exquisite meditation on mankind’s timeless quest for immortality. (Which leads one to wonder whether today’s singularity set is any different from history’s religious cults, grasping at promised lands underpinned by little more than the very human and very vulnerable fear of mortality, of ceasing to exist and refusing to believe in nonexistence.)

The universe is full of matter and force. Yet in all that force, amongst all the bulks and gravities, the rains of cosmic light, the bombardments of energy — how little spirit, how small the decimal points of intelligence.

Dumb, sometimes — yes. Awful, quite often. Dreadful apish brutes on occasion following occasion. That’s how we things that represent intelligence seem to ourselves, and quote often truly are.

And yet I would not see our candle blown out in the wind. It is a small thing, this dear gift of life handed us mysteriously out of immensity. I would not have that gift expire. Crossing the wilderness, centuries ago, men carried in covered cows’ horns the coals of the previous nights’ fires to start new fires on the nights ahead. Thus we carry ourselves in the universal wilderness and blow upon the coals and kindle new lives and move on yet once more.

[…]

Why, sweet Jesus, what’s the use of looking at Mars through a telescope, sitting on panels, writing books, if it isn’t to guarantee, not just the survival of mankind, but mankind surviving forever! Good God in heaven, we were born to live, and live in mystery, which crowds all about and would smother us if we let it.

[…]

Some of you will immediately say we go to pollute Mars. You are the people who see a partially filled glass as half empty.
I see the glass as half full.
I say we go to save Mars from itself.
And do ourselves favors, meanwhile.

Paradoxically stated: what is not polluted is elevated. I live inside the last word.

Hear Bradbury read in this short excerpt from the panel:

More than three decades later, Bradbury revisited the subject of space exploration in this rare 2003 audio interview.

Complement with Bradbury on doing what you love — some of the best life-advice you’ll ever receive.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

22 AUGUST, 2012

Story of a Writer: Ray Bradbury on Storytelling and Human Nature in 1963 Documentary

By:

“Man has always been half-monster, half-dreamer.”

Beloved science fiction author Ray Bradbury, a passionate advocate of doing what you love and writing with joy, was the subject David L. Wolper’s 1963 documentary Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer, in which he shares a wealth of insight on writing, some advice on perseverance, and his singular lens on the storyteller’s task. Enjoy.

Speaking to a group of students, Bradbury offers some priceless, timeless advice on the life of purpose:

The first year I made nothing, the second year I made nothing, the third year I made 10 dollars, the fourth year I made 40 dollars. I remember these. I got these indelibly stamped in there. The fifth year I made 80. The sixth year I made 200. The seventh year I made 800. Eighth year, 1,200. Ninth year, 2,000. Tenth year, 4,000. Eleventh year, 8,000 …

Just get a part-time job! Anything that’s half way decent! An usher in a theater … unless you’re a mad man, you can’t make do in the art fields! You’ve gotta be inspired and mad and excited and love it more than anything else in the world!

It has to be this kind of, ‘By God, I’ve gotta do it! I’ve simply gotta do it!’ If you’re not this excited, you can’t win!

On the vital role of subconscious processing in creativity:

The time we have alone, the time we have in walking, the time we have in riding a bicycle — [these] are the most important times for a writer. Escaping from a typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give your subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level.

I never consciously set out to write a certain story. The idea must originate somewhere deep within me and push itself out in its own time. Usually, it begins with associations. Electricity. The sea. Life started in the sea. Could the miracle occur again? Could life take hold in another environment? An electro-mechanical environment?

On significant objects as a storytelling device:

A writer’s past is the most important thing he has. Sometimes an object, a mask, a ticket stub — anything at all — helps me remember a whole experience, and out of that may come an idea for a story. So I’m a packrat — I’ve kept everything I’ve ever cared about since childhood.

On the practicalities of making a living with writing:

A story sells itself — but not when it’s sitting in the files. A writer needs an agent to go out into the marketplace and sell his wares.

On driving — which I, as a sworn lifelong non-driver, particularly enjoyed, and which Bradbury revisited four decades later in a rare 2003 audio interview:

I never learned to drive. As a kid, I saw too many fatal accidents and I grew up hating the idea. Automobiles slaughter 40,000 people a year, maim a hundred thousand more, and bring out the worst in men. Any society where a natural man — the pedestrian — becomes the intruder, and an unnatural men encased in a steel shell becomes his molester, is a science fiction nightmare.

On storytelling:

A story should be like a river, flowing and never stopping, your readers passengers on a boat, whirling downstream through constantly refreshing and changing scenery.

On the necessity of shifting mental tasks, taking creative breaks, and making “no effort of a direct nature” on the creative problem at hand:

Painting fulfills a need to be non-intellectual. There are times when we have to get our brains out in our fingers.

On motive, an alternative perspective on George Orwell’s four universal motives for creation:

I’m a storyteller — that’s all I’ve never tried to be. I guess in ancient times, I would’ve been somewhere in the marketplace, alongside the magician, delighting the people. I’d rather delight and entertain than anything else.

On the perils and promise of space exploration and our the relationship between technological progress and human nature in general:

We live in a time of paradox — man is confronted with a terrifying, magnificent choice: destroying himself utterly to the atom, or survive utterly with the same means. Man has always been half-monster, half-dreamer. The very real fear is that now he’ll destroy himself just as he’s about to attain his dreams. Today we stand on the rim of space — man is about to flow outwards, to spread his seed to far new worlds — if he can conquer the seed of his own self-destruction. But man, at his best, is a mortal, and from his beginnings, he has dreamed of reaching the stars. I’m convinced he will.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.