HOW TO LOVE A DEAD AUTHOR, A CAT, SIT IN GLOOM, AND FAN THE FLAMES OF FIRE AGAIN—A TITLE NOT MUCH LONGER THAN THE ESSAY
A personal essay by Traci Musick
“Be madness maddened…possess a fever!”
Oh, how I do!
I possess a fever—hot flashes that blaze and burn. Within my heart, someone special ignites this conflagration. Today, I confess I reside in the midst of a love affair.
Yes, it’s true. I am not being faithful to my husband. I just can’t help myself. But for good reason: I am having an affair with a dead author. Yes, a dead author.
How can that be you ask? No one can have an affair with a dead person. Or might it be possible?
Who couldn’t fall in love with a writer surrounded by books, dinosaurs, toys, and a cat that slithered, slinked, and purred its way into interviews and pictures? Tell me. To this school teacher and lover of words, those books, dinosaurs, and cat boil my blood—it’s pure gold! It is a secret shot, a swerving river run, flocked with fire and light through this teacher’s heart.
A few years ago (yes, I am a late bloomer), I watched an interview with author Ray Bradbury, and fell in love with him as a writer and with his writing style. When I introduced my ninth grade students to him, I noticed they, too, felt the magic and fell in love. They became hungry to read his works. Because of this interview, I purchased his book, Zen in the Art of Writing, to further explore his writing style. What initially attracted me to the book began at the preface: “HOW TO CLIMB THE TREE OF LIFE, THROW ROCKS AT YOURSELF, AND GET DOWN AGAIN WITHOUT BREAKING YOUR BONES OR YOUR SPIRIT—A PREFACE WITH A TITLE NOT MUCH LONGER THAN THE BOOK.” Who couldn’t love that title? Just the use of all capital letters is eye-catching, but the message of the title alone is worthy of examination, infatuation, and admiration.
My love affair began.
But I discovered more reasons to love and admire this author—three reasons in particular:
Cats. Zest. Gusto.
Who would guess these three elements exist as essential instruments in a writer’s toolbox? According to author Ray Bradbury, these three elements represent the tools that shaped his writing material and “rush[ed] him along the road to where he want[ed] to go.” For the zest and gusto components, Bradbury believed that in order to be a good writer, one should first be excited and be a “thing of fevers and enthusiasm;” in essence, one must seize the hands of zest and gusto and dive headfirst into the pool of words. Without holding tight to these elements, one’s writing will sit lackluster, shrunk to bone, sitting sallow in shadow’s skin.
As for the feline component, Bradbury treated his writing in the same manner he treated his cats. He once stated the following:
‘You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you. If you try to approach a cat and pick it up, hell, it won’t let you do it. You’ve got to say, “Well, to hell with you.” And the cat says, “Wait a minute. He’s not behaving the way most humans do.” Then the cat follows you out of curiosity: “Well, what’s wrong with you that you don’t love me?” . . . In any event, I make the ideas come to me. I do not go to them. I provoke their patience by pretending disregard. This infuriates the latent creature until it is almost raving to be born and once born, nourished.’
This furry, feline notion now propels me to pound out the words that fill my empty pages. It is through my love affair with a dead author that I aspire to scale up my dreams through seizing words of truth.
As one who recently completed a MA in English and Creative Writing degree, I found myself leaning heavily upon my love affair. Through Bradbury’s literary works, interviews, and lectures, I soared upon his art as I plummeted into the abyss of thesis writing. Blazing and burning with hair pulling, I often shouted the battle cry, “Please, Ray Bradbury, please help me eek out 30,000+ words for this program!” as the deadlines of major writing milestones loomed large. He answered my wails that lay wrapped up in a shawl of lamentation. Like any magical writer, he beckoned me in “wave on wave full-whispering.” By reading his poetry, he commanded me “to rave in the clouds,” and then I felt him “tap my eyelids, tick my nose / and shape themselves with words for clothes.” He ignited the writing fire, he moved my hand, he filled my heart with song and verse that scaled up the rafters of writing ideas. My thesis sang its mighty soul-filled song.
And after that, the silence…
Silence and gloom entered the doorway of this writing heart.
Where did my magician go? Did he perform his illusions for my benefit to garner the needed applause and then exit stage left? Such typical behavior of a man caught up in a love affair.
After the completion of my master’s program, darkness descended, leaving me all alone with the blank page and a blinking cursor. Where to now, they clamored and roared at me?
My fingers sat in stillness upon the keys. I looked around and whispered, “What next?”
Then the call of life’s responsibilities pulled me away from the conflagration that once blazed into thesis writing. I walked towards the classroom and left the words smoldering, smoking ever-so-slightly upon the screen. The magician disappeared and the flames of desires soon snuffed themselves out.
As wind blew dust, the writing ideas shivered like brittle flakes to the barren ground.
It is a funny thing about educational postpartum: depression follows the highs of giving birth to an instructional degree. After years of painful pushing, backbreaking breathing, and forcing colossal compulsion of ideas into a program of study, the aftershocks appeared. Tremors tamped down the emotional surges that once occurred in the midst of labor. I had given birth to a thesis that sat silently upon the desk of my soul.
For over two years, I had juggled motherhood, teaching, and learning in a master’s program. Working on a writing degree inspired me, breathed new life into my being, and I found myself soaring on an enraptured high lifted up on a “tumulting of heartbeat wing.”
But once the parchment arrived in the mail declaring, “You did it,” and once the deadlines no longer dictated my movements, the depression set in like a shivering shaken snow that frosts and freezes the warm earth.
It was a smother of Time…
That’s what my beloved Ray Bradbury calls it.
But then I heard a voice, some distant call.
My beloved arrived on scene.
He whispered to me, “Are you going to stay buried in the room of gloom? Or will you seize the tail of Time and dictate how it moves? Come forth, sweet love!”
That’s what I heard one snow day as I climbed the stairs to my writing sanctuary.
My cohort, my playmate, my idea Ghost grabbed my hand and guided me to where I belonged: in front of the keyboard. It is the cat, that latent creature, begging to be noticed, petted, and loved.
So by wooing my secret self, I ignore Doubt and tell him to sit with nose in corner downstairs away from me. He is not allowed in my upstairs sanctuary. He sits in time-out. I climbed these stairs with the now-discovered me and “let [my] body lead [my] mind.”
My Love struck a match to ignite the fire once again. The blaze bakes my vibrant soul. It is the only way to jump, dance, tap upon the keys to usher forth the words and ideas upon the page. I will prove my beloved Bradbury right that “doing is being.”
As I continue my finger tap dance, I apply my lover’s advice that “the things that you should do, should be the things that you love.” Because I cherish the zest and gusto of Bradbury’s writing style, I forge ahead into the writing jungle with scythe in hand, hacking and slashing at the mass of weeds whispering “you’ll never make it.” With devil-dance, I run with the linguistic styles of Ray Bradbury. Like any artist, athlete, singer, or surgeon, I wave and warm my hands above the magical bonfires because “the writer must let his fingers run out the story of his characters, who, being only human and full of strange dreams and obsessions, are only too glad to run.” Full of my own strange dreams, I run this writer’s race as best as I possibly can with Ray Bradbury and his cat by my side. Like his preface called to me, I continue climbing the tree of life after falling multiple time from publishing rejections, but my spirit does not falter. With my Love purring his sweet sentiments in my ear, I get back up and seize the tail of Time.
Through faithful admiration, my love affair continues.
Bradbury, Ray. The Complete Poems of Ray Bradbury. Random House, 1982.
—. Zen in the Art of Writing. Joshua Odell Editions, 1994.
“NEA Big Read: Meet Ray Bradbury.” YouTube. National Endowment for the Arts, 7 June 2010.
Web. 27 Aug. 2016.
Treating Ideas Like Cats. 27 Mar. 2013. The Buzz…About Books, Tortonto Public Library. N.p.:
n.p., n.d. N. pag. Web. 27 Aug. 2016.
Victor, Thomas. Ray Bradbury Photograph. 1996.
Traci Musick is a writer, adventurer, and high school English teacher. She lives in the foothills of Appalachia and loves to write essays on topics she contemplates from her front porch or hiking around her farm. In addition to writing, she has dipped her toes in the waters of being a Harley chick, a martial artist, a cowgirl, and wannabe jogger; all to no avail. Each venture left her sore and walking funny. So, she sticks to writing, which is a little less painful. She received a BA from Marshall University in Huntington, WV, and a MA in English and Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. Currently, she teaches in southern Ohio where she prefers her log cabin country living with her best friend, David, and border collie, Holly. While she works on a memoir about teaching in Appalachia, feel free to follow her writing at https://twitter.com/MusickTraci or www.linkedin.com/in/traci-l-musick-a75a14bb/.