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Ray Bradbury saved my life
When I was a clinically depressed, suicidal ten year old in undiagnosed chronic pain with undiagnosed skeletal deformities including scoliosis and right side hemi-hypoplasia, physically incapable of completing any of the President's Physical Fitness Exam exercises, flunking gym and math every semester along with whatever class or classes came after gym because I passed out during them, I read Ray Bradbury.

I had refused Confirmation at age eight when all the kids who had First Communion at seven memorized the dogma. I understood it. I didn't agree with it. I was lucky enough to have an honest priest who didn't try to talk me into taking a false oath and disrespecting their religion. Freedom of Religion was something I believed in as passionately as he did in Catholicism.

Between being a cripple in the nineteen sixties and a non-Catholic incarcerated in a Catholic school, you can imagine how I got bullied. The school called it "The Bullying System." They explained it was "For the good of the many" and "How the future leaders of society sort themselves out, it's human nature, if a few kids at the bottom get chewed up that's a small price to pay for everyone knowing their place in society."

I read Ray Bradbury. I read about Martians who were dark with golden eyes. I read about a man with green wings and neglected kids who fed their parents to magical lions. I read about Jim Nightshade.

I wasn't the golden boy. I never was. I was ugly and my mother dressed me funny, she never forgave me for not joining her religion and had many problems of her own. Those children in grade school diagnosed everything that was wrong with me with brutal accuracy, though not all of it is "wrong" with me because I do still use big words. I do still read a lot. I am bisexual. It's not right to call people fags or sissies any more than it is to use the N-word or any other insult by category.

Jim didn't die. Jim didn't lose his soul. He had a friend. He had Will, the protagonist. I sure was nothing like Will. No one - literally no one wanted me to grow up to become a writer. Most of them, I think, were afraid of the heresy but there were numerous other reasons. Some were categorical - blue collar anti-intellectual grandparents who were kind about most things but disapproved of books and reading. Others were honestly well meant, thought that I'd go out of my mind and torture myself trying to write and shatter at the first rejection slip.

I've had lots. The rejection slips don't say the things that hurt. "This doesn't fit our current needs" and "Please submit again" do not tell me that I'm something worse than a drug dealer for daring to write it at all. Naw. Those just say "Not quite my flavor, mind trying for raspberry?" Sometimes editors even came out and specified what flavor they wanted. I got rejection slips young writers would pull teeth to get - the kind where all the beginner mistakes on the checklist have zero checks and the editor did a two page critique explaining why it actually didn't fit the magazine and apologizing for not buying it? Come on. That is so not a rejection.

The rejections were the ones at home from people I depended on for my life and later on to have any love in my life.

What I hung onto in many dark nights was that I could do what Ray did someday. What I hung onto was the idea that writing stories with heart, not necessarily fact-dripping and chemistry-focused but heart-stories that were speculative and drew attention to the cruelties of the world in ways that heal them - that I could be a good guy like that. Ray Bradbury was always Will.

I knew from "Something Wicked This Way Comes" that he would have been my friend no matter how weird I was and no matter how hated. If we'd been the same age at the same time we would have been best friends swapping stories and sharing interesting new words from the monster unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. Yeah, I'd have been the dark one, with that bit of Lovecraft streak to his stuff but also a whole lot of Robert E. Howard and just the whole grand glorious pulpishness. We both were into dinosaurs.

He was my imaginary friend. Best of all unlike Dickens or Shakespeare or Poe or Sam Clemens, my other childhood friends, he was still alive and real. I could tell him someday what he means to me. He kept me alive. He passed the torch. He made me want to do this thing and on the nights when I hit Pain Level Ten, the point the animal body wants to crawl under a bush and die... on those nights I couldn't die because I hadn't been published yet and I hadn't gotten to meet Ray Bradbury and tell him Thank You.

Then in my thirties, when I was in the last decaying years of a bitterly dysfunctional relationship and had lost all of who I was to trying to hang onto the only love I had, working the Pain Robot years on two hours a night of sleep, I still went along with this idea that got beaten into me that there was nothing physically wrong with me, so had no pain medication and some pretty bizarre adaptations to sorta-function and ignore the elephant in the living room. My ex was trying to get away and routinely left me in a ferocious fight four or five times a year. Oh, and did I mention "bankrupt" due to the fortunes shoveled into trying to make up while supporting my ex? Finally did College, finally got the 4.0 average throughout that I was supposed to as a kid - and then fell apart because I could not face grad school and that work schedule.

I had no time to write except in brief intervals after getting jilted, right before my ex came back. Every breakup I'd get two or three weeks of writing a lot of stories and sending them out, then no time or energy to do that after the reunions.

Ray came out with "Death is a Lonely Business."

Somewhere in that mess of the 80s, I bought it hard cover because I had the Good Job my ex wanted me to get. I had no life any more than I did in grade school and it still cost me five times the body energy to stand, walk, ride a bus, cook or clean up or do any physical activity. I still kept getting too many sick days but I made up for it working 18 hour shifts. I remember once doing a 48 hour work day.

I read that book on my breaks. I used to go off into the alley and cry quietly if we'd been fighting, or just when the pain got to be too much. I had fibromyalgia too but that hadn't even been discovered. So not only did I have a body that got four miles to the gallon so to speak, I had the two gallon gas tank to go with it and still thought everyone else in the world was going through that much effort just to get through a normal day.

Pain Level Nine is when the tears come whether I want them to or not, in fact, whether I'm sad or despairing or scared or not. I'll cry at that level even if I'm in a good mood. The body cries. I cry over soppy kitten pictures at that pain level, then I laugh at myself for it.

That book hooked me on life. It also reminded me who I was. Will was there again in the main character roaring his joy at getting published - and telling the detective character to get on his butt and get it done.

"Vomit in your typewriter every morning. Clean it up at noon."

Words to live by.

When I didn't have the right diagnoses and kept getting turned down for Social Security, but was too broke-down and worn out to do anything for a living any more, I hung on to that book. I had it with me in the shelter. I was in a homeless shelter for three and a half years. I disrupted it a lot because on the second day it dawned on me, at last I could get some writing done.

My, it confused people in the lunchroom when I had a good morning and slammed out a wonderful chapter, came down to lunch bright-eyed and happy about it. That's not how homeless guys are supposed to feel about being disabled and unable to work without any actual diagnosis. Why wasn't I a drunk? Why wasn't I mentally ill?

An orthopedist explained that all physical activity took me five times the body energy and said "No wonder you've got chronic fatigue." So I had the start of grounds to stand on, some understanding that the first graders were better diagnosticians than all the GPs and therapists I'd ever seen. The kids called me Spazz and Cripple and Gimp, they imitated my lurching walk - I have a good lurching walk. When I'm not trying to hide it I look just like Boris Karloff in "The Mummy."

Oh and Crybaby, but no one then understood that pain level nine sets off tear ducts whether you're angry or despairing or just ow in a lot of pain. Poke your septum with a needle. You'll cry no matter how much boys don't cry. Some pains make tears. One of the biggest jokes in the whole thing is that I was anything but a crybaby - I wouldn't talk about the pain or vomit for anything no matter how many allergic foods I was forced to eat. That stoicism cost me a number of sports injuries secondary to the short leg problem. Hip, knee, ankle got the kind of pounding pro athletes give them.

Writing is good sit down work you don't need to even leave the house to get it done. The impossible and horrible if you succeeded profession was actually the most sensible of all the things I wanted to do as a little kid. Astronauts needed good eyesight and reflexes. Truck drivers need stamina. Welders need strength. Professors of paleontology need to stand up to give lectures.

Writers? Stay in, sit in a squashy armchair and pound keys. Once I had a computer it was even easier. Cut, Copy and Paste have saved me a lot of trash. I had a $200 half-dead laptop with me in that shelter and I literally wore out the machine. By the end I was losing keys and copy-pasting in all the E's, C's U's and a number of others from a separate file that had the alphabet pasted in. Slow but it worked till I swapped some stuff to another resident who had been given a hand-me-down Windows 3.0 machine from the back of a relative's closet and hated it because she couldn't figure it out. I gave her plenty of trade goods, good stuff she enjoyed.

I had nothing and I was happy because I was finally being me instead of trying to live a life I couldn't keep up with. I got in trouble for it sometimes. Did you bring enough good mood for everyone? How dare you have that kind of hope when you should be dreaming of working at McDonalds? Or just of getting the next drink or fix. My fix didn't cost me anything. It was story.

I wrote a lot of fat novels, by the fifth finished one I knew that I knew how to do it. I hit some pretty hilarious road bumps on the way to getting published, or rather self publishing. At one point with five series novels done an agent wanted full manuscript on all of them. I just literally didn't have the money to get the paper, cartridges and postage to print them, box them up and send them. One of those times it would have helped to have a friend with an actual job. Or be capable of holding one.

Then I did get a patron. A couple of them. A volunteer at the shelter put up $99 to get Raven Dance into print and the friends who visited me every week while I was in the shelter proofread the dang thing. Georgia liked the book and then asked "Who's Rick?" and caught the last instance of a drippy blond character replaced by a curly brown haired class clown guy. The last of Rick hit the cutting room floor.

I held Raven Dance in my hands. It was fact. I stopped wanting to be a science fiction writer. I was one. Incontrovertibly. That's science fiction. It's got my name on it. It might be the lousiest science fiction novel ever put in print, but it is that genre and I made it up from scratch.

Thanks to Ray.

He was my best friend and mentor, the guy who kept me alive again and again without knowing it. I've got Social Security now. I've got in home support service home care so I don't wind up having to move every three months or live in unlivable filth - it wasn't laziness. If I had too many sick days I wasn't capable of catching up. I just had too many sick days over December and January and miraculously, even though I'm living on my own, my life didn't fall apart.

You knew me, Ray. You were there for me every time I needed you. Every kick in the teeth I ever had in this life you were there picking me up and reminding me why to keep going. When I needed a "Man up and do it" you were there. When I needed a hug and a "Lay down and rest" you were there with that too. When I was a little kid literally was hated by everyone in the world - even the people who loved me hated the real me and wanted someone that didn't exist - you were there saying it was fine to have green wings or golden eyes, that I should know in my heart that they were wrong. I could love people who were wrong - and not believe they were absolutely right about how worthless I was.

Ray gave me his sweetness. I would be a Kafka or something otherwise. Ray was the one pointing out that not all the good guys have white hats. Zorro counts. Big time. Swords are as good as guns and pens can be better than either.

Kafka understood me, had his own share of getting me through that long worst time of grade school. Ray was the one showing me light in the clearing and inner resistance. Ray was why I wasn't quite Gregor Samsa.

There was an unlocked gun room with over fifty firearms and enough ammunition to resist a Russian invasion for months right next to my basement room. It was never locked. I was forbidden to go in there. Constantly told too how disobedient I was and how I never did what I was told. I never went in the gun room. I never bought one as an adult either. Thanks to Ray.

So if his stories were there for you on a graveyard night for any reason, this is that dark thread. This is the survivors thread, those particular friends of Ray's who are around to post because he was around in print. He didn't have to know us personally to be there. Ray always knew what we were up against.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Robert A. Sloan,

Robert A. Sloan
Author of Raven Dance
WIP: Sabertooth
lives with his shaggy Siamese muse, Ari, who sheds Cat Hairs of Inspiration on you!
Posts: 5 | Location: United States | Registered: 07 February 2012Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Spectacular first post! Here's to the survivors!


This message has been edited. Last edited by: dandelion,
Posts: 7282 | Location: Dayton, Washington, USA | Registered: 03 December 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Thank you!

Love that graphic. That kid's got a better school than I had and that's a reminder the world is bigger and deeper and wider than they ever told me it was when all that was going on. Things change. Maybe an engineer making better-than-human running feet for amputees read about the Martians too. That's one cute Martian kid.

I glance over yesterday's post and whoops, yep, everyone can see I look just like him, at least in the prose. Grandpa Clemens is laughing at the resemblance too, I'm sure, while Grandpa Dickens gets on the piano for some Christmas music. My favorite picture of Ray is the one on the back of "Death is a Lonely Business" where he looks like he's nine going on whatever, a kid pretending to be a grownup with a happy black cat in his arms.

That photo is like he's saying "You can have a happy childhood anytime you want one, just get on the keyboard and do it." I love his black cat too. That's the whole message in so many of his stories. Some people would see a scary fiend with glowing yellow eyes ready to jump out at you. The secret is that if you love black cats, you get all the luck because being loved is the best luck there is.

Robert A. Sloan
Author of Raven Dance
WIP: Sabertooth
lives with his shaggy Siamese muse, Ari, who sheds Cat Hairs of Inspiration on you!
Posts: 5 | Location: United States | Registered: 07 February 2012Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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this is that dark thread

R.A.S. I would say this is a message of life and love! You have understood and reacted to Mr. Bradbury's works your entire life. You clearly love him. A wonderful gift for both of you to share in!
Posts: 2786 | Location: Basement of a NNY Library | Registered: 07 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Hey, Frank, is it good that this came up just after the high schoolers left so they didn't have it to latch onto, or bad as it might have shown them a thing or two? Seems like a case of perfect timing one way or another!
Posts: 7282 | Location: Dayton, Washington, USA | Registered: 03 December 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Robert, you are being awfully quiet. How are you doing? Are you reading the "Cheating on Ray" thread?
Posts: 7282 | Location: Dayton, Washington, USA | Registered: 03 December 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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