Anatomy and Art

a blog by Sara Egner

Archive for the ‘thoughts’ tag

Wrapping My Head Around Corporate Christianity

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Bursting, painting by Sara Egner

A couple years ago, I painted this on a carefully selected canvas that I bought at Hobby Lobby.  At the time, I felt like a jerk for ever feeling suspicious that a Christian affiliated company might be more inclined to support unethical causes.  But I didn’t want any bad juju in my art, so I looked them up online and found out a little about what kinds of charitable donations they were making.  And I remember being relieved.  Having grown up in Texas, I’d seen some businesses that seemed nice turn out to be giving money to causes that I find abhorrent and those choices were always explained as being based in Christianity.  Now when I left Texas for a little over a decade, I found such impressions softened. Conversations about religion didn’t feel so political and even highly devout Christian friends just never felt like they were attacking for their beliefs.  They were just their beliefs.  And removed from the pressures of the bible belt they were often beautiful to hear about.  When I returned to Texas, I noticed that controversial nature of religion rising again.  When people were bussed in to the capitol to protest women’s access to abortion in this state, I saw that ugly threatening side of religion all over again.  And now, here’s this business that maybe leans a little heavily on cheap Chinese manufacturing, but across the board seemed to be pretty ethical and even really nice.  They put money into things like building houses for the poor.  And I bought this canvas there.  And I made this art that is largely a celebration of femininity and womanhood.  And then Obamacare goes through and Hobby Lobby becomes the poster child for businesses that want to claim a religious right to deny women their full health care coverage and yet not pay the taxes for not providing full benefits.  And then yesterday that actually passes in the Supreme Court.  And so this company, that was at one time kind of a symbol to me of religious influence in a corporation being just fine, and even doing good in the world, like the way I thought it was supposed to work when I was a kid, wages war against equal compensation for women for the work that they do.  And it does so at the level of health care, which just makes the attack feel so much more personal.  I am so very disappointed by my government for the decision made by the Supreme Court yesterday, but I am also disappointed in Hobby Lobby itself.  I grew up believing that it was wrong to succumb to prejudice about others’ religion.  But in this time of holy wars and tea party/ republican invasion I can’t help wondering if it’s even possible not to take on such prejudice.  Such walls don’t seem like the answer.  And yet, as a woman of today, I can’t help but feel under attack.  Being back in Texas no doubt exacerbates this feeling.  And tonight I find myself looking at this painting that I still have and thinking about the relationships between being, and politics, and religion, and money, and art.  My very existence as a woman in this world is somehow controversial in ways, and that’s not new, and I don’t see it going away anytime soon.  I also don’t see it being exclusive to women.  We just happen to be particularly under the political spotlight just now.  I guess such experiences are why we have so many conversations about privilege.

Anyway, I realize that this is a bit of a controversial topic to come back on after some down time not posting.  It’s been a hectic couple of months filled with crime, and death, and bureaucracy, and just lately camping, and catching up socially, and I suppose this week involves an introspective political rage.  I suppose I’m not far off from where I was last year, coming up on another 4th of July in just the days after watching my supposed political representatives fight to make women’s lives that much more dangerous and unpredictable.

Written by Sara

July 2nd, 2014 at 12:21 am

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Live Drawing

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charcoal_figure01Last Thursday I attended a live drawing session.  For as much time as I’ve spent focused on the human form in art, I really haven’t had a lot of practice doing this.   It’s a really good exercise.  And maybe if I spend a little more time working at it, I’ll get better at it.  This one was my charcoal sketch, which was fun to play with and I think looked better than my pencil sketches, but I think that I may have gotten more out of my pencil sketches as an exercise.  Next time, I’m thinking of taking my Super Sculpey in and seeing how far I can get with a sculpture during the longer poses.  Having a live model there, affords the opportunity to even get up and walk around a bit, so it’s kind of perfect for that.  Then again, there’s a reason that this is such a time honored tradition, and maybe I should give myself a little more time working in pencil or getting more familiar with charcoal before I go and change the dynamic to 3D.

However I wind up working next time, I’m really happy to have found this place.  My coworker, Alex, told me about it.  With all our work being so digital day in and day out, it seems especially nice that she and I were able to steal away a few hours to sit and work from a model in traditional physical mediums.  No pixels, no lines of code, no software glitches, just making marks on paper.

Written by Sara

October 26th, 2013 at 9:32 pm

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What If (some thoughts before bed on data collection and marketing algorithms as a means of diagnosis)

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Last week I received a free sample of baby formula in the mail.  This week, the National Opinion Network’s Infant Division (I didn’t even make that title up, I swear) sent me a survey and says that they “value my experience as a parent.”  My best guess is that those diapers I bought on Amazon for a friend’s new baby have added me to the list of likely moms, and that I will be getting a first hand view at the kind of marketing that expectant mothers are bombarded with.  It’s kind of funny.  I am not now a parent, nor have I ever even had so much as a big pregnancy scare.

Tonight, a friend sent me this Forbes article in response to my recent misguided marketing attention.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/
And I have to say, as irritated as I am having my personal shopping sold to all these companies, I would be so much more so if I actually was pregnant and hadn’t chosen to tell people yet.  And then I got to thinking, what if all this marketing data analysis gets so good that they start predicting pregnancies by even smaller cues, even before a woman knows herself that she is pregnant?  What if they started catching on to trends in all kinds of health situations?  What if one’s shopping habits became a mechanism for diagnosing disease?  We may not be there now, but it’s not exactly an impossible thought.  As people move away from cash and further into more documented exchanges, what’s to say we won’t start noticing that people crave certain types of foods or spices when they are developing tumors or when their kidneys are beginning to fail.

My general tendency is to be frustrated with the level of monitoring that goes on in our day to day lives.  What we read online, what we purchase with a card, where our phones text and call from, what we say in those calls and texts or in emails, when we pass through toll roads, or sit at stop lights with cameras….  The list goes on.  But then sometimes I start to think that for all this privacy lost, perhaps we will start learning some really interesting things.  My inner cynic is certain that insurance companies will have a field day with that kind of information before individuals get to do much with it, but I also think that there is a great market for helping people to understand themselves better.  And while the idea of discovering a health condition through one’s shopping patterns seems a little weird, and frankly unideal, I mean my goodness consumer companies don’t do HIPAA, maybe these sorts of observed patterns will someday lead to better advanced indications for health concerns.  I guess time will tell.

And in the meantime, I will try to remain amused with my new mistaken parental identity, and not waste too much time shaking my fists over having my information sold to such lists.  And think of the old Shel Silverstein poem which begins, “Last night, while I lay thinking here, Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear, And pranced and partied all night long, And sang their same old Whatif song…”

**EDIT**  I just had to add in these bits about Google predicting flu outbreaks based on web searches coming from various areas…
http://www.advisory.com/Daily-Briefing/2012/01/13/Google-flu
http://www.google.org/flutrends/about/how.html

Written by Sara

October 22nd, 2013 at 12:04 am

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Lucky Me

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Sometimes I am reminded how very lucky I am to be making a living doing something that I care about.  Seems like I’ve had a few conversations lately, and overheard a few more that have me thinking about that.  I may get a little overwhelmed with feeling busy sometimes, or get a little head spun about the details of whatever I’m working on from time to time.  My job takes up a lot of my time and a lot of my brain.   It would be really hard to put anywhere near the kind of time and attention I put into my job into something I didn’t care about for this long.  I’m lucky to work where I do, and to work with the people who I do.  And I know that working in a field that I care so much about affords me the opportunity to be better at it.  It’s funny how that works.  Maybe the best advice I can think to give to young people starting new careers is to look for work that they care about, or even just reasons to care about the work that they find.  It can make all the difference.

Written by Sara

August 19th, 2013 at 4:53 pm

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Giving/ Receiving/ Asking/ Seeking…

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So, yesterday marked the end of the SXSW festival out here in Austin.  I’ve actually been pretty distracted this spring with other things, and haven’t taken full advantage by a long shot.  But one of the perks of living in this town is that SXSW rolls through whether or not you’re paying attention, and at some point you will most likely catch word about something pretty damn cool happening, or possibly just happen to stumble into something.

For me, I think the epitome of this was on Thursday when I was having a particularly frantic day, trying to keep track of too many things, and I got a few texts from a good friend about Amanda Palmer doing something at the Scottish Rite theater.  There was no cover, and they hadn’t hit capacity yet.  All I had to do was show up.

In retrospect, I have come to really appreciate a few themes from that night – Saying yes, asking/ crowd funding, being grateful, getting your voice out there, the power of modern social technology….  In fact the entire event was constructed on those very themes.  It was first mentioned on Twitter, either that day, or maybe the day prior.  The venue was donated.  Musicians and other artists came and performed and/or shared their insights in interview.  Amanda asked them, and they said yes.  People brought along extra instruments to accommodate an acoustic setting.  Some offered their stage hand skills.

Amanda recently gave a TED talk on the art of asking.  If you haven’t seen it, I’ll embed it here…

The issue of asking to be paid for one’s art is in fact such an issue that my first reaction to this talk was perhaps a little judgmental.  But, I’ve always had a hard time with working out matters of payment.  I’ve known very few artists for whom that wasn’t a difficult area.  On second viewing tonight, I can’t help but take notice that that’s exactly what she is addressing.  And I am thankful to have had Thursday night’s presentation to really drive some of those thoughts further home for me.  It’s funny, the thing I was so distracted by that night was my recent efforts to buy a house, the biggest financial deal I’ve ever made in my life, and I was relieved that night that the show I was so distracted from was only announced on Twitter. If Amanda herself could tweet with a mic in her hand on stage, maybe I wasn’t being just horrendously rude by texting with my real estate agent and loan officer in the midst of what proved to be a fascinating panel of Amanda, and various other artists she either knew or had just met here this week amidst the festival.  And only slowly did it sink in, the relevance of the themes being covered that night to me personally.

I actually had a funny moment out in the hall when I had stepped out to take a phone call.  I was discussing construction and money and I was pacing, and feeling disheveled.  I hadn’t had time to shower that morning and I had literally dressed myself while on the phone with an insurance agent, and in the midst of it all I look up and see not 5 feet from me, Neil Gaiman.  Now, this wasn’t shocking.  He is married to Amanda Palmer and I knew that he was there that night, and apparently having his own brand of difficult day.  But in that moment, I recalled meeting him, maybe 15 years prior, in the same city, when he came for the opening of Princess Mononoke.  It was the first time in my life I’d really felt starstruck meeting anyone.  I had been a huge fan of his Sandman comic series when I was in highschool, and meeting him all those years back was a really big deal for me at the time.  I remember a friend laughed at me for wanting to meet him so badly that night, saying I had a celebrity crush.  But it was more about needing to say thank you for his work that had meant so much to me.   And this time, I passed right by him, neither of us having that kind of energy in us.  And the world felt a little smaller, and the network of people in it that much more connected.  And I also felt grateful, that these people had all come together that night (Amanda, Neil, various bands and other artists, fans, people with equipment and skills to donate,) to create an event that was truly a gift to all involved.

Lately I’ve been the recipient of a number of gifts.  Some have been more obvious or more direct than others.  But I really feel downright wealthy with the gifts that have been given or offered to me lately.  And in general they have come from either asking for what I want, or from saying yes when opportunities have presented themselves.  It’s pretty powerful really, just those two seemingly simple ideas of both asking, and of saying yes.  You wouldn’t think that those two practices would be hard, but they can be.

And in feeling grateful, I realize that it’s true, this idea of wanting to give back.  It’s true in the larger scheme of lets all get along together now, and also in that specific way that is wanting to support art and ideas that have been of value to you.  This Saturday I met a woman who teaches and writes about intellectual property law and theory.  We talked a little bit about this fundamental disconnect that currently exists between that desire to give back or to support meaningful art and artists and those corporate entities that seem at best only loosely tied to that process.  It’s all so common now to see people go out of their way to buy media they already stole to give to someone else, or  in one friend’s case, simply send a check to an artist that you don’t have a way to buy from because something they’ve done has meant so much to you.  Amanda is on to something when she talks about not demanding payment from fans but allowing  them to give it. And while we don’t all have a big fan base like she does, sometimes just saying yes to things, reaching out, and going after what you want is enough to make people want to help you.  It will be interesting to see if we get more meaningful art as sites like Kickstarter become a viable alternative to corporate representation.  The internet has certainly opened certain doors.

I’m not so sure that I’ve done these topics justice tonight, but right now I seem to be very much in need of sleep.  Those of you who have followed my thoughts this far, thank you.  And as always, I encourage you to comment with your own thoughts if you should feel so inclined.

Written by Sara

March 18th, 2013 at 11:30 pm

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A little more math for your art than we might have been raised to expect

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Last night an old friend asked me about possibly speaking to her class someday about the work that I do at Sapling Learning.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that, but I do know that the biggest message I would be inclined to want to tell kids, would be how much math there is in art these days.  I know that when I was growing up, there was always this notion about the math/science/engineering folks over there, and the artist/emotive/lingual/expressive types over there.  But the truth is, the more embracing of digital media we become, the more important math becomes to the everyday artist.  And really, it always was important.  But what you might have been feeling out in pencil and paper before, you now have to be able to communicate into a computer.

This is probably the most apparent when I am working in 3D animation programs.  A background in geometry will serve you well if you ever want to do anything like this.

And a sense of physics doesn’t hurt either when you are trying to work out the ways in which you want something to move.  I really think that schools ought to introduce these types of programs to students early on, not because everyone should know how to create 3D animations, but because you can make fun things and it really ties together so very many paths of learning.  You could spend entire classes just studying the formulas of how lighting gets processed in these things.

But even without getting into 3D animation work, there is simply more and more digital media these days, and artists are having to keep a greater web presence to create new and maintain old connections with their audience.  This makes software like Photoshop, Illustrator, or Gimp, that much more important.  Maybe they aren’t as math intensive as 3D Studio Max and Cinema 4D, but you have to be able to speak percentages, and to know that one inch in 300 ppi has the same number of pixels as three inches in 100 ppi.  You’ll have to know because you’re going to be submitting pieces to various agencies and you’ll need to be able to hit certain specifications. You have to develop a sense of how adding or subtracting one color emphasizes another, and how the rules change when one is dealing with additive or subtractive color.  For the canvas, we mix colors on a palette, but in a digital space our color is understood as increments of hue, saturation, and value.

Perhaps children today are already so immersed in digital living that this shift is obvious to them.  But if they are following the cues of their parents and teachers, it may not be.  When I was a kid, I kind of liked geometry.  But the most practical application I imagined myself having for it was to become great at playing pool, and hustle teenagers and grown-ups for their money.  I certainly never thought that I would someday be using it my day to day work as an artist.

So if I were to give a talk to children about my career and what I’ve learned along the way, I would stress that first and foremost.  I would stress that an aptitude or interest in the arts is no reason to ignore maths and sciences.  It would also be worth pointing out to all those pegged as math and science types that they have more of an edge into the arts than they realize.

Written by Sara

September 30th, 2012 at 8:24 pm

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Pixels and Whatnot

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A lot of people get confused when you bring up things like aspect ratio, resolution, image size, and all the related terminology around those things.  To be honest, sometimes I do too, and I work with this stuff all the time.

So let’s begin with image size.  I think that most people generally understand basic measurements when they are not in the context of the other components I’m talking about tonight.  Well, the good news is that a given number of inches or centimeters is still a given number of inches or centimeters.  And the only time you’re going to see a big fluctuation in size is when resolution comes in to play.

Resolution refers to how many units of information are packed into a given increment of size in an image (or a video).  You’ve heard the expression dots per inch (dpi) or pixels per inch (ppi).  Well if someone gives you the size of an image in pixels, then you’ll have to know the resolution to know how big it is in inches or centimeters.  If an image is 100 pixels by 100 pixels, it will be one inch by one inch at 100 ppi, or just a third of an inch by a third of an inch at 300 ppi.

72ppi is generally thought of as the standard screen resolution, but the truth is that most monitors today actually display something more like 100ppi.  This is why when you create an image in a program like Photoshop that allows you to say that you want something to be a certain measurement in inches, it often displays a little bit smaller on your screen.  It’s just taking less physical space to display the allotted number of pixels in the image.  So long as everything is working right though, the same image should print still print to size, because the image’s settings contain the information that it is to be printed at a resolution of 72dpi.  Usually, when one is intending to print though, they use a higher resolution.  300dpi is a common standard for color printing.  And surpringly (at least it was to me) black and white images are often printed at even higher resolutions.  And line art in particular is generally done at a very high resolution.  I think that back when I was in grad school we were keeping our line art files at 1200dpi.  Using such a high resolution ensures a cleaner line.  It also takes up more space on your computer, but such are the sacrifices we make for art.

Lastly, let’s talk about aspect ratio.  When people talk about aspect ratio, they’re talking about the basic shape of an image.  I put together some quick images of some common aspect ratios to help illustrate this point.

A 1:1 aspect ratio is your standard square.  As far as common usage in imagery is concerned, you’re likely to run into this in medium format photography and internet avatars.

 

You’re probably most familiar with a 4:5 aspect ratio from 35mm photography.  Think of your 4x5s, 8x10s, and 16×20 pictures.    To this day, most picture frames are made to fit this shape.

 

You may have noticed that most modern digital photographs are longer than your old film photographs (It can be a real pain when you want to frame something.)  That’s because most digital cameras shoot at a 4:3 aspect ratio.  This is also the shape of many laptop screens (at least the older ones) which is why it’s also the standard shape for Power Point presentations, which are generally done at 1024x768px or 720x540px.
Note*  You would use fewer pixels if you didn’t need as high a resolution.

720×480 was the old standard for television.  That’s a 3:2 ratio.  Another common video size is 1440×1080, also a 3:2 ratio.  Technically that would make it HD, which stands for high definition.  Definition is another way of saying resolution.  But over the past decade, the expression HD has taken on the connotation of also being widescreen.

Modern HDTV is made widescreen, specifically it’s created at a 16:9 ratio.  If you’ve ever shopped for an HDTV, you probably noticed the numbers 720 and 1080 come up a lot.  That refers to whether you’re getting a resolution of 1280×720, or 1920×1080.
Note* The part about the P or I that gets attached to those numbers refers to whether your image uses progressive or interlaced fields.  That’s a video specific thing, and it has to do with how your television transitions from one frame to the next.

This is the aspect ratio for a lot of what you see in the movie theaters.  As I understand it, it was a standard developed by Universal Pictures in 1953.  Not all movies are set to this ratio, but many are.  I’m mostly just including it to point out that widescreen movies in theaters are still usually wider than your widescreen HDTVs at home.

Now some of you may be wondering about the white numbers in the boxes.  One way that you can figure out your aspect ratio is to divide the length by the height.
3/2=1.5
720/480=1.5
and so on

If I were a better mathematician, I would write the relationship between these things down for you in mathematical formula.  Instead I’m me, so I’ll just tell you to think about the relationship between all of those numbers.  An image takes up a certain amount of actual space (image size), and it is made at a specific shape (aspect ratio), and it can be packed lightly or fully with dots or pixels for each increment of that space it takes up.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that there are times when the math doesn’t quite add up, and sometimes you’ll find that your pixels aren’t square themselves.  And if you get into that, it’s just more math.  Sometimes just knowing that that happens is a good enough leg up to get around any problems that might cause though.

It’s funny, I just started thinking how maybe the first time we ever start doing this kind of math is when we are kids with writing assignments.  Whether it’s the one page assignment that we wrote with a little bit bigger handwriting to fill up a whole page with fewer words, or maybe we just started shaving in on our margins, changing the shape of the page.  Or that 500 word assignment written with tiny handwriting to save a sheet of paper.  We know this stuff.  It just gets muddled when too many conflicting numbers get thrown around.

This writer may be getting a bit muddled now as well, with the night getting later and I’m still not sure if I’ve said this all well enough yet.  I’m going to have to bid you all goodnight, and I just hope that this has been helpful and not left anyone more confused.

**Addition**
Since I posted this the other night I realized that the blue border that the WordPress template automatically puts around images is rather distracting from doing an actual shape comparison up there.  So I’m including a fuller image here below  for easier comparison.

Written by Sara

August 17th, 2012 at 12:39 am

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Native Files

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Not too long back I was doing a little file organizing, and someone made a comment about grabbing the native files.  It’s a familiar expression, but this time I got to thinking about the idea of your working file, or the file within a program as being the native file and how I never think of them that way.  When I am creating digital art, my working files are just that.  They are the means to the end.  Just like when I work on a canvas, none of my preliminary sketches or photographs are anything but blueprints.

It occurs to me that thinking of things this way, does afford me a certain perspective on problem solving and flexibility to get to the final product.  But it also occurs to me that this perspective may be part of the reason why I struggle so with file organization.  Perhaps in this digital age, there is a greater benefit in thinking of these program files as native files, and holding on to that flexibility that layers within a single digital file can offer.  In that perspective, the art becomes the whole of the organization and the possibilities for output.

Just recently I finished putting together an animation for use in an online homework question.  The following week, I made a lot of changes to it for another presentation.  Now, does that mean I made two animations?  There are two distinctly different animation files now, but really it makes more sense to think of them as different versions.  And really, for each version, I’m creating more than one file type to deliver to my employers.  So with all of that variation, I can’t help but start thinking of the project as something more than any of the final outputs.  It becomes the idea, and the aesthetic.  It becomes the message.  And those working files start to carry a different kind of weight.

Moving art in to a digital plane is such a game changer.  And that’s just something that I’ve been thinking about a bit lately.

 

 

Written by Sara

August 4th, 2012 at 1:20 pm

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A Little Update

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It seems that I’ve been short on time, but overdue for an update around here.  Work with Sapling continues to go well.  Lately I have been moving into the post production phase of a 3D animation that I’ve been working on for some time over there.  It’s about the translation process wherein individual strings of our genetic code are translated into a polypeptide chain and eventually form a protein.  It’s exciting stuff, and I’m anxious to get it all strung together and finessed.

I also managed to get in another vacation.  I went back up north for the big regional burn event that is held in Michigan.  It’s called Lakes of Fire and I had an amazing time.  I also got a glimpse at my old Chicago neighborhood and I have to say that the people and places there still hold a pretty big piece of my heart.  That and they’ve gotten me thinking about plasma cutters.  All the computer art I make starts looking a lot cooler when I start seeing such things used to create real things.  And this weekend I learned that one can design an image in Illustrator and use that design with a plasma cutter to have it cut into steel.  Nothing about that is anything less than awesome.  Seriously, my friends made this, and I’m ever so impressed.

Just sayin’.

Anyway I promise to write more soon.  And thanks as always for reading.

Written by Sara

June 28th, 2012 at 9:26 pm

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Ray Bradbury

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The world lost one of the good ones yesterday.  Ray Bradbury died in Los Angeles at the age of 91.

I got to meet him once, back when I lived in LA.  I went to a book signing just so I could shake his hand and tell him thanks.  He signed my copy of The Martian Chronicles and a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes for a friend who couldn’t make it.  He couldn’t believe I was such a fan of work he’d written over 50 years prior.  But The Martian Chronicles continues to be one of my all-time favorite books.

There wasn’t another sci-fi author out there with so much heart.  Really, I’m not sure there was another any kind of writer that got people like Bradbury did.  You might say I was a bit of a fan.

This is him, in his home.  According to the Google News link where I found it, he said that he never threw anything away.

From everything I know about him, he was about as good a guy as they get.  And Los Angeles always felt a little bit nicer knowing he was out there in it, still madly in love with Hollywood after all those years.  I’m sorry to see him go.  He planted magic into the hearts and minds of millions.

In the afterword of the short story collection “Driving Blind,” Bradbury writes of a dream wherein he was taken in a student driver car (he never did learn to drive) by a blindfolded Greek muse, who “whispered notions, concepts, ideas, immense truths, and fabulous lies” as she drove him along a country road.  She told him that it was okay not to know the way, and to just reach out.

I don’t know where you’re headed now, Ray, but I like to think of you reaching out, and I hope that it’s wonderful.

Written by Sara

June 6th, 2012 at 10:22 pm

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