The Things We Hold On To

I have been fortunate to meet and get to know quite a few writers who have had a profound influence on me and my work. I’m grateful for each and every exchange. (I once received a phone call from poet Louise Glück that left me shaken in the parking lot of the grocery story because I was so taken by surprise to hear her voice.)

I believe in telling the people in my life whom I love and admire how much they mean to me, and I also believe in telling the writers and artists I admire how much their work means to me. Kyle Cassidy has written repeatedly about this in his blog, and I agree with him.

When I am on the receiving end of an email or tweet about my work, I am so appreciative and touched. So much of the time we write alone. To hear from the “audience” is a rare gift.

Photograph: Sophie Bassouls/Sygma/Corbis

I sent Ray Bradbury a fan letter back in 2010. I wanted to thank him for his stories, for the joy and inspiration, for the thrills and magic.  After talking with a friend and fellow-Bradbury fan, I included a copy of my much-loved and tattered copy of Dandelion Wine. I was reluctant to part with it, but excited at the possibility that he might sign it.

The problem was that I forgot to include my self-addressed stamped envelope. I didn’t realize this until I returned from the post office and saw it sitting on my table. I quickly drafted another letter and stuffed the envelope inside.

He never returned my copy. I suppose it was tossed aside due to its lack of SASE. However, a few weeks later, I did receive this:

Although sad to be missing my beloved Dandelion Wine, I was pleased to know that he had read my letter. I hadn’t read his story, “Juggernaut” at the time, and sought it out immediately. (You can read it here.)

I was a little upset when I saw the envelope, however. I thought that my youngest daughter (three-years-old at the time) had scribbled all over it. I nearly threw it in the trash. I’m not sure why I kept it.

I put it aside in the “to be framed someday” pile. I still haven’t gotten around to that large pile, and after Ray died, I went back to it. I looked more closely at the paper, which must have come from his printer. I liked the thought that it came from his working space, from the place where he created his amazing stories.

Reading another essay about Ray at the time, someone mentioned the doodles he often drew to accompany his signature. Curious, I googled and found a few examples. Like this one:


and this one:

That’s when I realized it had not been my daughter’s scribble, but Ray’s!

Many who knew Ray Bradbury have written beautiful, heartfelt tributes:

By his biographer and friend, Sam Weller.

By his friend Neil Gaiman.

Mark Evanier, recounting his meeting with Ray as a teen.

My grandmother is dying, and because I cannot yet bring myself to write about her, I’m writing about Ray.

I like that I have this envelope and printer sheet of Ray’s, a small link to him and his work. I need to purchase that paperback of Dandelion Wine again. I’d like to reread it, but I want the same edition. I’ve grown attached to the cover.

When someone dies, we often want to keep the connection somehow, to remain tethered in some way. We do it with photographs, letter, articles of clothes. We do it with books and art, with songs and videos. We use the tools they used: a wooden spoon, a pen, a guitar pick, a thimble. We put on their perfume or drink their favorite beer. We try to remember. It’s hard to let go.

I guess I’m not just writing about Ray.