I just read Ray Bradbury’s “I See You Never” five times in a row, and I guess it’s time to try to explain–if only to do so in sympathy with the rest of you–why this loss matters so much.
It’s a three-page story. Three. What, 750 words? And in it he breaks every possible rule. In three pages he changes point of view twice. There are absolutely no speculative elements in it at all–but every sentence is pure poetry. Every single line is worth ten from a mortal scribe. And yet it sums up the problems of the Here and Now; it shows–NOT TELLS–what this moment, these two minutes on a front porch, mean to everyone involved. For some it means nothing at all, and they eat their steak. But for Mr. Ramirez, it means everything. For Mrs. O’Brian, it means a great deal, though it’s not in her best interest to say so. For the reader with a heart, it deserves to be read, back to back, five times. At least.
I always feel awkward writing about what other people have said, but sometimes it’s so important I just have to.
Ray Bradbury opened the Santa Barbara Writers Conference every single year for more than three decades. Last year, 2011, was the first he’d had to cancel–his health was simply too poor. His talk went from an hour to half an hour, to fifteen minutes, to ten minutes after his strokes, but by god he showed up no matter what, and just condensed his talk into what he thought was most important. I got to meet him twice, through SBWC–once at a reception at a local winery, and once at his signing table, after the conference had done a Tribute evening in his honor.
The Santa Barbara Writers Conference has some pretty big people attached to it: It’s owned now by Monte Schultz, son of Charles, and has had such luminaries as Thomas Steinbeck, Christopher Moore, and Fanny Flagg as participants. When the conference held the Tribute to Ray Bradbury a few years ago they added David Brin to the roster. There are two things–apart from getting to speak to Ray himself–that I have not forgotten from that night.
One was David Brin’s talk, in which he stood up for SFF in a room full of lit writers, stuck a flag in Ray and his work and claimed him For Our Own. I cheered, and when I got to talk to Ray at his table I told him that I was with David on this one: He belonged with us, dinosaurs and all, and I was so goddamned grateful for it.
The other was an anecdote that Thomas Steinbeck told. STEINBECK. That’s clear, right? His father used to take them on vacation every summer, he said. And every evening the family would gather round and his father–John Fucking Steinbeck–would read to them. He read to them year-round, he said, but during the summer he always read Ray Bradbury stories. Summer, for the Steinbecks, meant Bradbury.
So he would be reading, and the family would listen attentively, caught up in the magic that Ray was so adept at weaving–and then his father would stop, and read a sentence aloud again. And, perhaps, again. And he would fall silent for a long moment, before he continued on.
At some point Thomas asked his father why he did that. Why did he stop, and read the same line over and over again?
“Jealousy,” said John Steinbeck. “Jealousy.”
I don’t feel jealousy when I read him. I am reading Everest, the unattainable summit, the unreachable peak. That’s what I feel when I read “I See You Never,” despite the utter lack of rocket ships and Martians and dinosaurs. He’s everything I have ever aspired to, and will never attain, and I’m so grateful to even know it.
This has been hard to write. It’s 2:37 a.m., and honestly, I feel very exposed. There’s another post for the future, I think, about fandom and what it means, and this one skates perilously close to its edge. But this was huge, and we’re all talking about it, because he meant so much to each of us.
I see you never, Mr. Bradbury. And it absolutely breaks my heart.