The Creator

The first book I ever bought with my own money was Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. It was a Bantam Pathfinder paperback with a black framed cover. In the middle was a painting of a man entirely covered with tattoos. I think it cost 50¢, which was 2 weeks of allowance.
I always loved speculating about the stars and the planets and aliens. So when one day, a family friend started talking about science fiction, I was on the lookout. In the little bookstore in Middletown on the corner of Court and Broad Street, I found the tiny Sci-Fi section and struck gold.
Two things really surprised me when I began reading Bradbury’s short story collection. One was how instantly accessible and enjoyable his writing was. The second was that, well, he was breaking the rule my English teachers always gave before any writing assignment: “Write what you know.” I was 10 years old, but I was certainly old enough to know that from the very first story, Bradbury was creating images entirely out of his imagination. I liked that so much!
We are all creators, inventors of narratives that we hatch deep in our unconscious. That’s what it means when the Torah says that we are created in God’s image. Of course it’s not about body type or skin color or the ability to procreate. We are like God because like the Holy One, we create narrative. We are storytellers, just like God.
“From all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive.” Hemingway wrote that, and I trust Hemingway to tell the truth about fishing, women, war, and writing. The great short story author, Bret Johnston once wrote, “Stories aren’t about things. Stories are things. Stories aren’t about actions. Stories are, unto themselves, actions.”
Ray Bradbury, who died last week at age 91, taught me to appreciate my own creativity and that of others, too. His best short stories took me into other worlds: flying to Mars, trying to stay sane in the rain forests of Venus, dealing with the loneliness of space, and more. Reading his work, like listening to great music, is entering another person’s universe and luxuriating, like all the people who lined up to enter John Malkovich’s head in the movie, Being John Malkovich. It’s all about amazement and wonder.
One night, at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge, I saw the late, great Michael Brecker. He was playing a tenor sax solo that was truly extraordinary. Deep, rich, complex, captivating, searching, weeping, exalting – it was all those things – and more. In the middle of the 7 minute solo he paused for a breath. I will never forget that moment. As he took his breath he opened his eyes and looked at his horn – his own horn – looked with amazement and awe. He was creating something new and profound that was beyond him. And he was the one creating it!
None of us will ever play the horn like Michael Brecker. None of us will probably ever write with the insight of Ray Bradbury. But each of us has the sacred power of creation. Each one of us, created in God’s image, can create a universe in our art, our sport, our appreciation. We can create space: supportive and loving space for our children, our partners, our friends.
Ray Bradbury once said, “Do what you love and love what you do.”
Amen. Goodbye Ray.

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