Blue Horses: Loving the Real


Picasso and Franz Marc might seem to be odd folks to remember from public school kindergarten. But my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Quimby, had us doing crayon copies of their work, and discussing what we liked about it. She didn’t name the artists, or the paintings, but I still vividly recall my encounter with Big Blue Horses , the 1911 Franz Marc painting shown here.

I was a six-year-old horse nut. Had read every C. W. Anderson horse book at the library a dozen times; lay on my stomach in my bedroom copying his pictures over and over again trying to draw the way he drew; pinned a scarf to my butt and galloped around the house on all fours, setting up boots and shoes and toys as obstacle courses over which I could jump ….

Serious horse nut.

So in kindergarten, I copied that painting with my Big Fat Crayons, and I absolutely fell in love with it. It spoke to me. I can look at it now and see exactly what I saw then, as if I were still six years old. It breathes. It vibrates. It is full of life and movement and magic.

I was apparently doing a bit of vibrating, too, because Mrs. Quimby called on me to answer why I liked it so much.

“Because it looks so real,” I said, and just about got my ass laughed out of kindergarten. My know-it-all midget colleagues and associates pointed out in no uncertain terms that the horses were blue (you idiot), and weirdly fat, and lacking in that C.W. Anderson detail that kindergarten artists with erratic motor skills worshiped.

And I was six. I did not have the words to give my classmates a view into the soul I saw in that painting. In many ways, I still don’t. But I remembered the encounter, and the painting, and the magic — and this morning, talking with Matt before I got up to get to work, after we had just finished listening to Ray Bradbury on the radio talking to (the indescribable?) George Noory, I finally found out how that encounter had shaped me.

We were talking about why much of Bradbury’s work is still as fresh today as when he wrote it. About how it transcends genre and time, about how it is something that, like Twain, will still be readable in a hundred years. I said something about Bradbury’s work always being so real to me.

And, bam!, there it was. The connection. Bradbury’s work, like Marc’s, takes a step back from the minutiae of daily life, from the picky details of science and sociology. He blurs things just enough that we see past the story to what lies beyond. Just as Marc’s painting moves past the horse to give us the soul of the horse, Bradbury’s work moves past people to give us humanity. He writes real the way Marc painted real, doing work that leaves echoes in our minds and imprints on our souls long after we walk away.

I came back to the keyboard today a little more alive. Inspired. Excited. I remembered that when I was twenty-five, the reason that I wanted most to be a writer was because I could still be working at 85 — and there is Bradbury, who this morning said he’s working on two novels and a play, that he doesn’t know what people do with their time, but that he writes. That the secret of life is to always do something new.

Listening to him, I remembered C: The Secret Project, lying in wait on my hard drive. About why I want to write it so much. I thought about where writers get their ideas. I thought about snakes and sunrises. And, getting a little choked up, I remembered that, most of all, I have always wanted to write real.

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