Dear Mr. Bradbury,
Thank you for touching my heart and opening my eyes. For seeing me in ways I didn't yet understand in my younger years. For showing me new worlds and new ways of seeing our world.
So many of your stories will be forever etched into my consciousness...
The tale of the man who drowned himself in the endless rain of Venus, "sitting on a rock with his head back, breathing the rain."
The April witch, Cecy, who could flit from being to being but longed to fall in love, even if it meant giving up her powers.
The mechanical house dying after a nuclear holocaust, shadows of its family etched against its blackened siding, calling out the date and time to no one as it burned.
The Martian -- the chameleon -- who changed to be who others longed for and died in the maelstrom of their conflicting desires.
And the Rocket Man who died when his rocket fell into the sun, just when he had promised his family to stay home with them after one last trip.
Heart-breaking. Truthful. Painful. Gorgeous. Raw. Philosophical.
Your passionate commitment to envisioning the future has changed many lives for the better.
Your words made me think.
They made me feel.
I thank you.
Photo taken by Will Hart, used with permission under Creative Commons licensing
I was reminded of a novel I read recently called Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi.
The book is a fun, lighthearted romp about a film agent who ends up being the P.R. guy for a group of ugly aliens wanting to be accepted by the earthlings despite their extremely off-putting appearance and odor. A highly entertaining read and clever story, to say the least.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Beyond the unusual plot line, what particularly endeared me to the book was that it was Scalzi's very first novel and one he wrote as a "practice" novel just so he could say that he had done it (and to impress his classmates at his 10 year high school reunion :) ).
Here's what he has to say about it on his website (where, by the way, you can read the whole novel):
"In sitting down to write the novel, I decided to make it easy on myself. I decided first that I wasn't going to try to write something near and dear to my heart, just a fun story. That way, if I screwed it up (which was a real possibility), it wasn't like I was screwing up the One Story That Mattered To Me. I decided also that the goal of writing the novel was the actual writing of it -- not the selling of it, which is usually the goal of a novelist. I didn't want to worry about whether it was good enough to sell; I just wanted to have the experience of writing a story over the length of a novel, and see what I thought about it. Not every writer is a novelist; I wanted to see if I was.
"Making these two decisions freed me from a lot of the usual angst and pain that comes from writing a first novel. This was in all respects a 'practice' novel -- a setting for me to play with the form to see what worked, and what didn't, and what I'd need to do to make the next novel worth selling."
The genius of this was that it freed him from the zeitgeist of perfectionism (a trap many of us, including me, know only too well) and allowed him to loosen up, have some fun, and get into action with Doing The Writing.
He made some attempts at selling it, but wasn't able to, so he ended up posting it online for donations from people if they liked it on a kind of "shareware" basis. (Love that!) He was later invited to do a limited edition hardcover release of the book in 2005 and then in paperback in 2008.
Build Your Confidence
Magically, he says, "...between the writing of this novel and the publication of [my second novel], five other books (Amazon referral link) slipped out of my brain, due in some measure to my confidence that I could write book-length works, be they fiction or non-fiction."
Love that, too.
Isn't it fascinating how simply doing the writing helps us to build the confidence we think we need "before" we can do it "for real." This clever guy found a way to do both at once.
There's nothing like finding small ways to get started to help build your confidence around new skills.
Image by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay
One of my all-time favorite science fiction books is The City and The Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke.
This magical story details the life of Alvin, a "Unique," who has never been born before.
In the fully enclosed city of Diaspar, everyone else has lived many lives -- they are reborn cyclically from the city's Central Computer banks -- and their memories of their past lives return to them on their 20th birthdays. Alvin has no prior memories.
Alvin's uniqueness has been deliberately designed. Because the city creators knew that the measures put into place to protect the last of the human race might someday no longer be needed (including behavioral inhibitions to keep everyone safe at home), they knew that a catalyst would be required to test the waters and breakthrough old paradigms when the time was right.
Over the billion years the city existed and of the millions of city inhabitants at any given time, only 14 other Uniques emerged to play this key role in the fate and future of the city.
Unfortunately for Alvin, as someone with such a unique purpose and role to play, he didn't fit in well with his co-inhabitants. None of the other people in his life were interested in seeing what was beyond the walls, or questioning why things were they way they were.
One day, Alvin met another unique character: Khedron the Jester. Although Khedron had lived before, he too was designed to play a key role -- the role of the artist and the saboteur -- with the purpose of shaking things up, stimulating discourse and debate, and catalyzing other catalysts (the Uniques) into action.
The city planners had chosen his role with care: They realized that a billion year old city would get downright boring and complacent without periodical upheaval, crime, disorder, and change.
Although the Jester had lived before, and had his own implanted inhibitions, he operated outside the societal norms and could help Alvin to claim his purpose and to act on it. Khedron became Alvin's muse, in a sense.
Ultimately, Alvin ventured beyond the city walls to discover the self-imposed secret truths that kept the human race cowering on planet Earth and fulfilled his purpose.
I share this story with you for a number of reasons:
- I love the demonstration of purpose — of how a single individual can have a lasting impact -- and how compelling that purpose can be. Alvin could not rest until he had fulfilled his purpose. Khedron fulfilled his purpose as well. Each had a role to play.
- I also love how The Jester —the archetypal fool — demonstrated the powerful role an artist in a society. Often creativity and art are thought of as gratuitous or entertaining, but this story caused me to see creativity as a powerful force for change, learning, growth, healing, and understanding. When I hear people debating or disliking an art piece (particularly a public art piece), I smile to myself, and think, "Good! That artist is fulfilling her purpose -- she's got people talking."
- I love the idea that not fitting the mold is not only "designed" but is the key ingredient for success. The discomfort both characters experienced as "different" parallels the lives of many sensitives and creatives as we navigate this world not well-designed for us. Precisely because of the fear of being different, or rocking the boat, many of us hold back. But as sensitive sages and visionary creatives, when we hold back, we fail to fulfill our purpose. We must recognize that not fitting in is part of our impetus to fulfill our purpose.
- I love the reminder that we require muses and supporters as we breakthrough the limitations imposed on us (self-imposed and otherwise). As my teacher Sonia says, "We cannot do this alone."
Image by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay