April 16, 2008

Ray Bradbury, The Lover

Last night was a special sort of treat for the Antelope Valley: a lecture given by none other than Ray Bradbury. The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 were both big influences on me as a young man, the first for the rich, intense imagination that went into them, and the second for the terrifying vision of how people would voluntarily close their minds from knowledge and self-awareness in favor of lazy pleasures.

He drew a good crowd for the Antelope Valley, too; there were at least 500 people there and my estimate was more like 700; I had to stand in back because there were no seats left. Most of the crowd sat in rapt attention the whole time, although there were a few late-teen types who had obviously been forced to attend by their teachers who did not want to be there and listened to their iPods or text-messaged their friends; I say, they should have stayed at home. But there were also plenty of late-teen types who seem to have actually read some Bradbury and therefore gave a hoot about what he had to say.

He spoke about love. "Do what you love, love what you do," was the only piece of advice he gave the audience. For instance, he said that he fell in love with dinosaurs when he was six years old, and never stopped loving dinosaurs. His love of dinosaurs became a bunch of stories published in The Golden Apples Of The Sun. He fell in love with John Huston and Ray Harryhausen and Federico Fellini long before he got to meet them and how the love in his books made them love him. He wasn't talking about romantic love, of course. He was talking about what some people call "passion," perhaps because they are afraid of admitting "love."

To be sure, he had some interesting anecdotes, like writing the final reel of John Huston's film of Moby Dick in one night after it occurred to him that Melville had really just re-written Shakespeare's Richard III, or the way he sold The Martian Chronicles to a publisher at a time that science fiction writing was a ghetto corner of the publishing industry. But mainly, his big suggestion was to do something life for the love of it, not for the money it will bring. Do what you need to do in order to make the money you need to survive, but after that, do the things you love to do. Success and achievement will flow from the love and soon enough, the money won't be a problem, either.

I wanted to ask him if he thought that the world was becoming the world of Fahrenheit 451, but he did not take questions. And the question is more than a little depressing, on reflection -- and my suspicion was that he would have said that the rejection of books that he wrote about was going on when he wrote the story and simply hasn't changed all that much in the fifty-five years since he wrote it; we just see more technology pushing the intellectual opiates that the book urges the reader to eschew. As individuals, we choose whether to use our minds, or to instead fill them with meaningless distractions, and we at least still have that choice. One thing that was apparent was that for Bradbury himself, the novel was really about books specifically moreso than just ideas; he called his books his "children" and said he had no favorites.

But going back to the theme of his speech -- making what you love the work of your life -- I left feeling content. I have always loved things like solving puzzles, learning new information, and then teaching that information to others. That's how I approach my job. Every case is a puzzle to be solved. Every case makes me learn something new. Many cases require that I teach what I've learned to others. When the practice of law is done well, it is to find solutions to problems, through the combination of a study of the accumulated wisdom of the ages and adapting that knowledge to the problems of today.

This may be why I feel such an affinity for the ethos of the Renaissance, too -- in the Renaissance, the thinkers and leaders and problem-solvers were not content to simply re-learn the teachings and writings of the ancient past. They took that knowledge, the ideas of their predecessors, and adapted them to their contemporary problems. Thus Florence became a republic, not like the republics of Rome or Athens, but a new sort of political structure -- taking the ideas of the past and molding them into something good and useful for the present.

I also thought about how I could do these things in a non-legal setting. What else do I love? I do love the study of the ancient world, the doings of its leaders, the cleverness of its engineers, and the powerful endurance of the legacy that our ancestors have bequeathed us. That, and I love good food and good wine, both making and serving it. At one point, several years ago, my father talked about putting together a touring company to take Americans around Europe, to see historical sites and tour wineries. I thought being a guide on such a tour would be a really enjoyable job. I suppose Bradbury's message to me would be to not be afraid that such a job would mean not making as much money as I do now -- if that's the thing that inspires love and joy, that's what I should do, and the money will come naturally as a result of the passion for it.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

You are soooo lucky! I love, Love, LOVE Ray Bradbury's work!!!! My first was the Martian Chronicles, I remember being completely enchanted as I read, and felt as if I was in the story somehow.....Man I wish I could have been there.