Zen in the Art of a Kiss and a Dream

Today’s guest post is from everyone’s favorite regular contributor, Darrelyn Saloom. Follow her on Twitter.

Nineteen years ago, I read the nine essays of Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing and dreamed I met the legendary author. In the dream, Bradbury and I discussed a story I’d written called “The Last Housewife on Earth.” I’d not written such a story (only in the dream). But I knew the bored and restless housewife, because she was me.

As I read the Preface to Zen in the Art of Writing, Bradbury’s words ignited an inner slapping (not unlike Poe’s raven’s tapping). Bradbury described his nine-year-old self tearing up what he loved (Buck Rogers comic strips) due to criticism from schoolmates. But where did he find the strength a month later to “judge all of his friends idiots and rush back to collecting?” Bradbury writes:

So I collected comics, fell in love with carnivals and World’s Fairs and began to write. And what, you ask, does writing teach us?

First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.

So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.

Secondly, writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that.

Not to write for many of us, is to die

And instantly, I knew what to do. I’d go back to school and learn to write (no more amateur scribbling). But first I’d drive to Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, because Ray Bradbury was scheduled to speak. I learned of the lecture the day after I dreamed of our meeting. So, naturally, I had to go.
On a stage, Bradbury read from his Zen book; he spoke of his childhood, but what resonated for me was that he never went to college. Yet, impassioned, he expressed his desire to learn and to write, a yearning so intense he spent countless hours—years!—in libraries, educating himself.

After his lecture, an authority figure announced the author would not be signing books (apparently, the man in charge knew nothing of my dream) so I, and a score of others, sneaked behind thick curtains, where Bradbury was seated—and waiting.

And he did sign our books and answer our questions. Though I barely remember anything he said as I floated backstage in a state of awe (I’d just had this dream!) and here he was with his shock of white hair, his black-framed glasses.

When it was my turn to hand over my copy, his eyes met mine. And all I could utter was (oh, God, this is so embarrassing to admit) but all I could say was, “I love you.” There, I said it. I told him I loved him. And he signed my book (smiling), stood up, and kissed me on the cheek.

I didn’t tell him about my dream; I barely managed those three simple words. But he seemed to appreciate my declaration, because he only stood for one, mine remained the lone kissed cheek. Or, I made a total ass of myself—but it was worth it.

For after his lecture, I went to college and camped in libraries. In literature classes, I read the enormous books from cover to cover, not just the few assigned poems and stories. And I spent hours and hours in my car and studied (because my three children in the house were so noisy).

Worth it because my signed copy of Zen in the Art of Writing is one of my most treasured possessions. Peek inside the Preface and Bradbury reminds to “dive head first into your typewriter.” And then he ends his opening with a gift:

And now:

I have come up with a new simile to describe myself lately. It can be yours.

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!

So much inspiration! It’s why “I love you” rose and sprung from my lips. And I’m grateful for not squandering the opportunity. Because Ray Bradbury—more than anyone—inspired me to make that leap into my own “deep well” and onto my keyboard.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I’ve never washed that Bradbury-kissed cheek. (Okay, I exaggerate; it’s the writer in me. But I did resist for nearly a week.)

And the kiss—still lives—in memories and dreams.

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0 thoughts on “Zen in the Art of a Kiss and a Dream

  1. Amber J. Gardner

    When you described how you told Bradbury "I love you" and he kissed your cheek, my eyes teared up.

    I don’t know why. You speak with such honesty, such truth, it just inspires me so much and I don’t know what to say. Reading your essays remind me of how far I have to go. How much I don’t know and how I’ve been acting like I knew everything, like a fool.

    Dreams do come true, as your story proves, so I still have hope. I hope that I can learn something from you and your stories.

    Thank so much for writing them and I’ll be eagerly looking forward to the next one.

    @ambthecreative (on twitter and blogger)

  2. Jane Koenen Bretl

    Another beautiful post from Darrelyn, indeed my favorite guest contributor on this blog!
    Your writing inspires me to work hard, and listen deep. Every time I read your stories, you encourage me to dive in.
    Thank you for sharing your words and experiences and dreams.

  3. Jenny Kane

    Thank you Darrelyn for another inspiring post! I love that a dream led you exactly where you needed to be.

    You continue to inspire me to listen to the voice inside, encouraging me to write. Even if it means fleeing to my car!

    Just this morning, I looked up author signings in my local paper, because of your "Better Than Brad Pitt" post.

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. Jillian

    Good morning Darrelyn,

    I love exploding every morning and capturing everything on paper…so to speak.

    I guess it has taken me twenty eight…ok, forty five years to get to this time in my life where I am ready to write it all down and the words are spilling out faster than I can handle them.

    They say that our minds are very active in our sleep and dreams are a way for us to process all of our information that we take in during the day. My dreams seem to be transferring to my writing. What a concept!

    Loved your post. Thank you for reminding me to revisit the authors of my favorite books.


  5. lustforlanguage

    You’ve inspired me to get Ray’s book off the bookshelf once again and have another squiz. Really enjoyed reading your post and am glad that Ray inspired you to "dive head first into your typewriter" because now we all get to enjoy your writing. I also read your piece on Twitter and I couldn’t agree more. It’s my experience exactly. It took me a while to get used to Twitter – I had no idea what it was about, but as soon as I started connecting with other writers from all over the world, I knew I’d stumbled across something very special. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to future posts.

  6. Carolyn Patin-Jones

    I enjoyed reading about this wonderful experience in your life. What a wonderful and fond memory. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    You are an inspiration to "us" non-writers, as well. Looking forward to next months story.

  7. Charlene Ann Baumbich

    Wowie. Exactly. Bravo!

    When I wrote the dedication page to my latest nonficton book, Don’t Miss Your Life!, I thanked a handful of writers who have gone before me, given me courage, inspired me to follow my heart. Ray Bradbury is among them, and the book you mention is why.

    The fact you could open your mouth at ALL is amazing. I once heard Madeleine L’Engle speak. In my hands I carried "Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith in the Arts." When, after her lecture, I finally stood in line long enough to have her sign, I opened my mouth … and started CRYING! Through tears and snot I barely whispered (not sure I even did), "Thank you." She wrote the most wonderful note in my book … I shall never forget.

    Thank you for writing about Ray Bradbury, and for doing it so very well. You spawned fun memories, touted the glories of his masterpiece, and your words resonated deep within the writer soul of this old gal.

  8. Barbara @ Hole In The Donut

    Your post wrapped itslef around my heart like a warm, fuzzy blanket. I loved reading that Bradbury had never gone to college. Upon graduating from high school at age 16, I dutifully headed for university. In the flower-power hippie era of the 60’s, the world was in upheaval. What was happening on college campuses across the country mystified me; I was simply too young. Besides, all I wanted to do was get out into the work force and begin my life. I did eventually go back to college in my mid-30’s, weaving night classes around my marriage, my 80-hour per week job, and myriad philanthropic commitments for five long years, in the end earning an associates degree. I did it not because the lack of a college education had held me back socially or economically – it had not. Pure love learning drove me; certainly I appreciated the education much more than I would have at age 16. But nearly three years ago, when I chucked corporate life to write full time, I wondered if the lack of a degree would be a hindrance. Apparently not for Bradbury, I was encouraged to learn. And, based on your story, probably not for me, either. Thank you!

  9. @latta

    clarification: ray carver was not a typo. he is known for sitting in his car and writing, to sneak off and have some quiet. thanks, though, to the person who inquired. glad to set the record straight1


  10. Larry Sides

    Your feelings of the deeper truths about writing, which you again confirm and illustrate through this touching story, are truly powerful Darelyn. We all need to be reminded of the importance of what you so eloquently, and at the same time so simply, convey in this remembrance of an important moment in your life. Thank you for writing about it, and for sharing this personal experience.


  11. @latta

    darelyn, thanks for another lovely post. i think [and hope] that each of us has one person, regardless of their fame, who has given us encouragement in such a way that it lingers and is sustaining in our darkest hours; perhaps the hand that strokes us is also the hand that gives us a good swat when we need that, too.
    i am thinking of you channeling ray carver and camping out in your car to get some quiet time, and it reminds me of my own ‘secret spaces.’
    of course your meeting was more than mere serendipity: you can find "ray" in your own surname!


  12. Debra Marrs

    What an inspiring tribute! And such a good reminder to all writers: Follow your heart; listen to your intuition.

    The synchronicities: the dream, the restlessness, the opportunity to meet Bradbury, telling him you loved him, finding and reading just the right words at the right times in Zen in the Art of Writing… every one of them came across to me as a reminder as a writer to:
    – get out my own way…
    – do what you’re drawn to do
    – write what you believe in
    Darrelyn, there’s a reason you’re the most popular guest contributor on There Are No Rules. All your days spent in the car, all the hours you studied and read, all of it shows up in your stellar writing abilities in this essay right here.

    Warmly, @DebraMarrs (on Twitter)

  13. TheLady22

    I always love your posts Darrelyn because they inspire and encourage at the same time. It’s rare to have BOTH those qualities in a writer. You can always read some amazing person’s story and think…wow, my life isn’t so bad, or look how strong they are…but to read something that helps you believe that you CAN write, that you CAN make something others might love as much as you do. That is a special talent. As for "I love you" – very sweet, and totally something I would say. Not embarrassing at all. Try telling Hank Aaron that you just heard of a baseball that sold for $100,000 you met him because you couldn’t think of anything else to say. (My face was red for a week and I was SO mad at myself for not telling him how brave I thought he was blah blah blah…)

  14. cynthia newberry martin

    Darrelyn, what a wonderful post. I love that the book led you to the dream and then you made the dream happen, that all you could say when Ray Bradbury looked at you was "I love you," that he knew what that meant and responded–oh that’s great–that you studied in your car because your kids had taken over the house. One writer’s beginning–so amazing. Thanks for sharing the autograph too.


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