Monday, January 18, 2010

Bring me to life

Looking down on empty streets, all she can see
Are the dreams all made solid
Are the dreams made real
All of the buildings, all of the cars
Were once just a dream in somebody's head
--"Mercy Street," Peter Gabriel

Miss V had the day off from school today. We went to Half Price Books, and I picked up a couple of paperbacks by Ray Bradbury. (I will hear no disparaging words against Ray Bradbury here; he is one of my literary heroes, if only because he was the first to introduce me to the idea that there were people who actually made a living by writing stories. Before that, I was under the misapprehension that writers wrote for the sheer joy of it, and had to do something else for a living. Perhaps this assumption wasn't entirely wrong, but that's fodder for another day.)

From there we headed into the city, and the International District. There was a great deal of wandering about in Uwajimaya, inspecting burdock root and baby bok choy, crisp apples and thin-sliced beef for sukiyaki, slabs of salmon and fresh squid, and just about every type of specialty ramen known to mankind. Plus Miss V enjoyed one of her favorite places, Kinokuniya Bookstore, perusing the shelves and shelves of manga. (I didn't buy her a book, though. If you were to see how expensive these titles can be when they're purchased new, and how swiftly V tears through them, you would begin to understand why I've imposed a manga-purchasing moratorium. She can spend her money if she wants; I'm not going to spend mine. Yeah, yeah, I'm so mean, whatever.)

We drove through many side streets and thoroughfares of the I.D. (so much dim sum, so little time!), then headed east until we finally hit the far eastern edge of the city, bordered by Lake Washington. We drove up Lake Washington Boulevard, with its beautiful views of the lake and the lovely old houses built up the hillside, as we gleefully sang along with Mika on the stereo. Eventually we reached the Arboretum. Winter's not the best time to visit the Arboretum -- it's rather spare pickings at this time of year. But we cruised slowly through the environs until eventually we merged back onto the 520 highway, and crossed the bridge toward home. Two great blue herons, one on each side, roosted atop the Aurora Borealis sculptures which flank the bridge.

One of the story collections I bought today was The Toynbee Convector, named after its principal short story about a time traveler who, 100 years earlier, had traveled into the future and brought back documented proof of its wonders. It's easy to spot the twist early on, so I'm going to go ahead and spoil it for you if you haven't already read it: 100 years later the time traveler, still alive but notoriously reclusive, invites a young reporter to join him and they wait together for his former self to arrive from the past in the miraculous time machine. The hour comes and goes without any such arrival, and the old time traveler then freely admits that he lied -- that he faked all the "documented proof," simply because he wanted to convince a cynical, depressed, skeptical world that the future was worth looking forward to, full of wonders, and that life was infinitely worth living. Yet through his charade, he had helped to create in reality the fantastic world he had shown them a century earlier.

This seemed to me to be an appropriate story for this particular holiday, set aside to remember a very simple dream that some day people would be judged "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Bradbury makes a very good point: our dreams help to create the world in which we will live. If enough people dream dark dreams, we can expect a dark future -- but as Bradbury points out, the glorious and positive dreams of a single person, writ large and well communicated, can make all the difference in the world.

Tonight, as Miss V settled down for bed, I explained a bit of the idea: that fax machines, personal computers, cell phones, and the current iteration of the Internet were once just dreams, often in the minds of science fiction writers. They came up with the ideas, other people said, "Hey, I think I can make that happen," and lo, another dream made solid. That act of transmuting dreams into reality is perhaps the most amazing alchemy of which human beings are capable. I asked her: if she could make one thing that would change the future, what would it be? She didn't know yet, but that's hardly unexpected. She has time. I wonder what she, in turn, will bring from the recesses of her imagination into the plane of reality.


Dori said...

I sure hope Miss V recognizes what an amazing Aunt she has. What an incredible way to spend a day together.

I adore Mr. Bradbury. I was the geek in 9th grade English who let out the "yes!" when he came up for reading assignments.

Soozcat said...

And good for you! I think by the end of high school I'd read everything by Mr. Bradbury I could get my hands on. Since then he's been gracious enough to write even more... though I'll admit this recent story collection of his, The Cat's Pajamas, is a bit of a mixed bag.