Thursday, 22 February 2018

Clumsy breakfast-times

Always lots to do in this life, so, eager to get the day going, I can be (usually am) clumsy around getting breakfast. Drop stuff (aren't pan-lids fun first thing?) absent-mindedly hurry on, get wrong jar out of the fridge. Etbloodycetera.

It's caused by haste, and an accompanying mild tension.  Mind not on the task, being not with the present but hanging between present which will not take care of itself if I'm not there (toast will burn) and future which doesn't actually exist yet anyway.

We've got a new puppy; she stopped trying to chew up the entire kitchen this morning and settled down for a nap. That's a nice break for both of us.

I moved slowly round the kitchen, carefully and deliberately, so as to keep quiet. I found I was actually rather enjoying getting breakfast ready; no tension at all. I stayed with the slower-than-usual movements, watched my hands doing things carefully and competently.

It took me maybe 15 or 20% longer than usual. Or maybe not. I didn't drop anything, didn't stop to swear because I'd managed to get the lime pickle out instead of the marmalade, etbloodtcetera.

Better quality doing. Stay in what I'm doing, be with the movements.

Simple enough, I guess. Haste and mindful calm are obviously incompatible. Festina lente, as the Romans used to say (I was told a long time ago.) Hurry slowly. More haste less speed. But it's better than merely being efficient, because I enjoyed my breakfast-time a lot more than usual.

The puppy didn't wake up till I'd finished eating. I didn't drop anything.

Here endeth the pan-lid sutra/parable.

(fair enough, you can't boil an egg out there, but I expect he's had his mindful brekafast already)

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Ursula K Le Guin

I'm paying  my respects to a literary hero of mine, who died last week. I'll start with the 'science fiction' novels, of which I've read City of Illusions, The Lathe of Heaven, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Disposessed, plus a few stories. And now I'm rereading some of them.

First thing to say is that she preferred to be seen simply as a novelist; she tried to avoid the genre trap, but also questioned the whole idea of "literary" science fiction, which was sometimes applied to her work. (If it's a book, it's, in the largest sense, 'literary,' but I can see what people meant. She writes so very well.) 

 "People who don't worry at least a little about semi-colons aren't likely to be writers." She wrote a lot of interesting essays about writing and creativity.

 What she wrote were simply, novels and stories. Generally about places and states of being that don't exist, i.e. imagined worlds - like any novelist, whether the imaginings are located in Camden and Dundee, or the planet Anarres and our planet in the future.

What marks her out for me is her ability to bring ideas to life - political ideas (especially in The Disposessed), scientific ideas (brain wave manipulation in The Lathe of Heaven) and ideas about gender and sexuality (The Left Hand of Darkness.) 

Her science fiction has little or nothing in it of cops and robbers in space; no violence for its own sake, only as needed by the plot, and not dwelt upon. She created worlds in which she could work out her ideas and themes, and set her well-drawn characters amongst them. My guess is she needed the total control of an imagined world to do that; she wouldn't want readers distracted by thoughts such as "would they really say that on the BBC?" Or "but that subway station closed years ago."

She was an anarchist - she liked to explore the possibilities and consequences of anarchism, to keep the idea and the vision alive, as she did in The Disposessed. But she never resorted to black hats versus white hats. The society on the anarchist planet Annares suffers from problems and shortcomings not experienced by those on its twin, the capitalist Urras - and vice versa. She shows us her understanding that humans are not perfectable, but they can do perfect things, sometimes.

She was also a Taoist, which meant she knew the value of doing less or doing nothing when that is the best thing to do:

“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.”         (from The Left Hand of Darkness)

 She published her own version of the foundation text of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching. 

She was an environmentalist, who gave us, a long time before things got to their present pass, some terrifying images of exhausted resources and polluted ecosystems.

And she was a feminist, who wrote this to women (to all of us): 
“Now this is what I want: I want to hear your judgments. I am sick of the silence of women. I want to hear you speaking all the languages, offering your experience as your truth, as human truth, talking about working, about making, about unmaking, about eating, about cooking, about feeding, about taking in seed and giving out life, about killing, about feeling, about thinking; about what women do; about what men do; about war, about peace; about who presses the buttons and what buttons get pressed and whether pressing buttons is in the long run a fit occupation for human beings. There’s a lot of things I want to hear you talk about.

This is what I don’t want: I don’t want what men have. I’m glad to let them do their work and talk their talk. But I do not want and will not have them saying or thinking or telling us that theirs is the only fit work or speech for human beings. Let them not take our work, our words, from us. If they can, if they will, let them work with us and talk with us. We can all talk mother tongue, we can all talk father tongue, and together we can try to hear and speak that language which may be our truest way of being in the world, we who speak for a world that has no words but ours."
                                                        (from her 1986 commencement address to Bryn Mawr College)
If that doesn't fill you up or make you want to cheer, check your pulse.

And then there is her best-known work, her fantasy novels for children/young people (actually, for any of us who value such things.) The Wizard of Earthsea, originally a trio but eventually extending to six stories. Here she creates a world in which there are dragons and other fabulous creatures, without ever resorting to the tedious villains vs good guys binary vision of Tolkien and his army of followers. (There are dragons, magic and wizards in Earthsea, but no goody-goody bloody perfect elves!) She wrote about a school for wizards long before Harry Potter, but placed it in its own unique moral, mythical and physical world - no warmed-over British public schools, dorm jests and meal-time naughtiness. Her stories can be dark at times, and tough, but never morally easy or confusing. They are good to grow up with, I'd imagine.

Someone (more than one, I'm sure) asked her once if she minded JK Rowling having nicked her idea. Le Guin said words to the effect that there was no point in worrying about such things, that when you write your ideas float off and live where they can, and in a way it was a kind of compliment. Some writers might have consulted lawyers - Rowling is a very rich woman (good luck to her, too) - but no lawyers for Le Guin. She was a truly free spirit.

 Thank you.