I must lead the creative life: my correspondence with Ray Bradbury

“Tom! Come see the play next Sat night. -Ray” Bradbury thought I was a guy named Tom which was perfectly all right with me.

Ray Bradbury died this week. and his death couldn’t have been timed more perfectly.  I had been out of the routine of writing every day because as most insecure writers feel, I did not know if what I think means anything new or important.

A quote by Bradbury flashed through my mind a few days ago.  Sometimes that happens before I learn of someone dying.  I don’t think it’s a sixth sense, it’s more kismet.  The quote is from Zen in the Art of Writing:

“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together. Now, it’s your turn. Jump!”

His routine was to write a thousand words in the morning (the landmine) then spend the rest of the day editing (putting the pieces together).

About 3 years ago I was mesmerized by an English teacher friend who had been corresponding with Bradbury for years.  I thought I’d give it a try and send him two of my poems.  He sent them back to me with this note scrawled:

“Tom!” AI (I think) Thanks! – Ray” I guess my handwritten name might have looked liked Tom to the 89-year-old Bradbury.

He included the next item which is my favorite piece.  It’s a brochure about Fahrenheit 451 in Spanish.  You can see the ragged edges, where he cut it to fit into the envelope I included with my poems:

“Tom! Love!”

Here is the play he invited me to, Falling Upward:

Although I included an envelope, I mistakenly forgot to include a stamp.  Luckily Bradbury had a stamp of Edgar Allan Poe, whom he referred to as “Ray’s Papa.”

In a story he tells on his website about how he became a writer, he talks about meeting a magician named Mr. Electrico at a carnival:

Mr. Electrico was a fantastic creator of marvels. He sat in his electric chair every night and was electrocuted in front of all the people, young and old, of Waukegan, Illinois. When the electricity surged through his body he raised a sword and knighted all the kids sitting in the front row below his platform. I had been to see Mr. Electrico the night before. When he reached me, he pointed his sword at my head and touched my brow. The electricity rushed down the sword, inside my skull, made my hair stand up and sparks fly out of my ears. He then shouted at me, “Live forever!”

It was then, Bradbury said, that he knew he must lead the creative life.  And through that creative life, he did exactly as Mr. Electrico commanded him.

happy anniversary, mom and dad

Courthouse in Hernando, Mississippi

Image via Wikipedia

Today, August 4, is my parents’ 55th anniversary.  They got married in a Hernando, Mississippi courthouse in 1956 after knowing each other for only 10 days.  55 years later, my dad writes this to his life-long partner:

Ode to My Wife Uva Nell Lassiter-Fortney

by Robert Fortney

A hammer and saw you cannot use

A shirt without buttons you avoid like the flu

For you a road map is shade

but as a Mother you take a back seat to none.

You care for your family and house like they are royalty.

Then you act like we deserve it.

Of course we don’t.

But MOTHERING is something you do.

You cook, clean, pet and soothe our hurts and fears away.

Most of all you love us one and all.

So you are already in the Mother’s Hall of Fame

and at age 76 you have not quit yet!

And as your partner through these years,

I count it an honor and privilege to grow old with you.

As it was in our vows,

“‘Til death do us part,”



jigsaw puzzle beach

The "Bikini girls" mosaic showing wo...

Image via Wikipedia

bikini girls

With charcoal pencils and sketch pad, I choose two bikini girls because their curves have such chiaroscuro.

Their legs shine and their backbones hide in darkness away from the sun.

A man with an Irish brogue approaches to talk to them.  I wonder if they’re interested, because if I was that young and hot I’d be.  He and his friend both wear casts on their arms; a bar fight gone wrong?

The girls smile but no real laughs. He must think they are the first Americans not impressed with his accent. Or they just don’t understand him.

image via flickr

vintage couple

They emerge from an H.G. Wells novel and sit next to us.  He wears navy blue shorts and half boots half shoes; so not into flip-flops.

“His hair was perfect,” as Warren Zevon sang — shaved in the back with a duck tail in front, highlighted with white Ray Bans.

His girlfriend is a pin-up with Betty Page bangs, auburn-dyed hair in a bun.  Black and white vertical stripes cover her top and black covers hips and bottom like suits did back then.

Neither venture in the water, why would they mess up their great looks while the sun shines on the sea like a place setting on a glass table?

image via flickr

image via flickr

motel smell

It seeps must like ghosts out the windows worn down with peeling paint. Maybe 50 years ago it was a nice stop for families who wanted a spot for their beach vacation.  A few more steps and the odor gives way to smoke and meat grilling.

cherries and cheeseburgers

I taste the cherries I brought; my maroon treats my only snack as I smell grills whipping me with cheeseburger aromas.

image via flickr

jigsaw beach

Little pink/orange houses with triangle roofs line up on the coast like Lego’s. With all the rainbow beach umbrellas this scene looks like a perfect jigsaw puzzle.

image via flickr

image via flickr

thunder waves

The surf sounds like heavy approaching Midwest thunderstorms that rarely arrive out here; my only reference to the sound where grass beaches accessorize lakes.

rocky beach

With my boogie board I walk out to the crest of a wave and turn around to fly towards the rocky shore.  I walk over stones like hot coals wondering if I’ll ever find smooth spot, and I do.

the tie, unbound and binding


Image via Wikipedia

July 12 is my dad’s 79th birthday.  To celebrate it, I’m posting a poem he sent me to edit.  Here is what he asked me to do:

Dear Terri,

Now is the time to pay me back for the cost of your education.  See what you can do.

Love, Dad

The Tie, Unbound and Binding: a Tribute to Ray “Buddy” and Joyce Underhill

The life span of a man is like a vapor

you see it then it vanishes

They met as schoolmates

the only date either had was with each other

married young

Unlike the other young people of that impoverished area

who fled up north to big cities bright lights and such.

They chose to stay “home” and Farm the lands

they started small but hard work and long days of “can ’til can’t”

they worked the land

and made a living for themselves and their two boys.

They were married 48 years but

time and toil took its toll.

His body just wore out

Doctor’s offices, Hospital stays, procedures, pills and such

Finally the doctors said

We have done all we can do.

So they set down to gather as was their way and made their final plans.

When they agreed on all the details, he added

No neck tie

I never wore one in life so why in death?

Very softly she said,

I think You are so Handsome. I want people to see why I fell in love with you

when we were just kids.

So he agreed if it made her happy.

That’s what love is: giving yourself away to someone you love.

When the time came She delivered the suit and shirt and yes, the tie

to the funeral director who knew what to do

That night the family had a private viewing

As she approached the casket, she viewed the man she held and loved for many years

tears and memories flowed like a river.

When She first saw him or should I say heard his big booming voice

he could not speak softly.

She admitted to herself, “I like him.”

It was hard those first years

they lived with his widowed mother, “Miss Orlene.”

They had barely more than the clothes on their backs

but farmers they were.

The first crop barely paid for the seed they planted

But as years roll, on larger fields they plowed and yields grew too

They bought more and bigger machinery and the two boys born of their union came on board now.  There was four in the crewand they grew.

Soon without applying they were inducted into a select club known as BIG FARMERS.

For recreation they could have gone on a cruise or visited distance lands but tractor pulls and Weekends at the Wrangler camp close to home suited them fine.

With the marriage of their two sons came a grandson to spoil to their hearts’ content

they were never seen without him by their side.

While she dwelt on these memories

She gently reached into the casket, untied the tie and slid it around his neck and unbuttoned the collar of her man.

Love means giving to the other what will make them happy even if you differ.  This is the tie, unbound and binding.

Copyright Robert Fortney June 11, 2011

hobos: a poem

our fluffy who isn't so fluffy

My daughter says a Maltese is combination wolf and bunny rabbit.

She named him Fluffy though I wanted

Falcon – my clever play on words.

Or Henry, the name I wanted for a

boy though I had two girls.

Or Boo-Boo, my nickname for my brother

whose passing made me stand there with Fluffy

in my arms that day.

One day he brought home Missy, a Cocker

Spaniel whom he laid at my feet while I washed

dishes.  I jumped to see a brown lump of fur who

looked like Lady in that Disney movie.  A

pedigree, he said.

Before that it was Baron who hobbled

around on a broken leg.  Before him, there was

Blackie who stood with paws on my brother’s

shoulders as he waved his hand in front of

his face symbolizing rank breath.

In our lives for just a few moments like

travelers hopping off trains, asking for food, then

on their way to the next destination.

humor me for a bit: my top ten qualities

Free Public Library, corner of Bent & Macquari...

Image by State Library of New South Wales collection via Flickr

Knowing libraries are still relevant.

Volunteering makes me happy to not get paid.

Through a plethora of doctor appointments for my daughter, God shows me my purpose.

I’m never bored because my brain needs exercise .

My favorite time of the day: reading books to my girls at night.

After all these years, I finally appreciate my parents.

Knowing time and apologies heal all wounds.

I never let a little titanium in my body get the best of me.

I can find poetry in anything.

My siblings rock.

Powered by Plinky