Or shorter than that.
Because as sentimental as I want to get, I know Mr. Ray B. liked us living, not mourning.
I haven’t read many of his works, yet he was a writing mentor. There comes a point as a reader when you’ve read enough to know who the special ones are. Sure, there are many authors whose works I enjoy, but not that many whom I’d read over and over, and anoint them as authors I would read as my birthday treat. My gifts to self for the whole year through: Ray B. and Joyce Carol Oates. That is how special he was to me.
And that is how powerful Something Wicked This Way Comes and Zen in the Art of Writing are. Just two books and he had me. His words electrified me just like Mr. Electrico did when he tapped young Ray’s nose with a magic sword and told him to live forever.
I’ve only read ‘Something Wicked’ once but I still remember the particular October night, Will & Jim - two teenage boys meeting the lightning rod salesman, Will’s janitor father who kept his dreams in the library, Mr. Dark and the illustrated freaks on his body, The Witch and her peculiar balloon funeral, the chilling carousel, the silly singing and dancing to bring Jim back after the carnival was out. (And there was an elderly neighbor/teacher turned into a girl crying under a tree in the rain. Somehow this image never left me.)
I’ve read his book on writing few times, always when my writerly self was caked with doubts. And always I would crack through and peel away those dirt cakes I didn’t need. Born a few times more because of Mr. Ray B.
It was few hours after learning about his death that I got back to work. To the work I love. To the work he told me to love or leave.
I’ll write with zest and gusto. I’ll explode – fly apart – disintegrate. I’ll read poetry, never mind if I can’t understand all of them. I’ll enjoy watching the words flow. I’ll always love libraries.
When he was nine, Ray was teased by his friends for his love with the Buck Rogers comics. He got so mad he tore up his strips. And was devastated. “Since then, I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”
I won’t fear to be seen in strange companies. Strange companies I choose. Ray had told me that that was okay.
I’ll work. I’ll relax. I won’t think.
I’ve brought back my version of Will and Jim, Will’s father, Mr. Dark and his carnival of freaks, and I can hear the faint cries of the calliope stirring again.
May you rest, my dear Ray B., and live forever.