In Memorium: Ursula K. Le Guin, Cultural Radical and Deep Humanist

Ursula K. LeGuin has died.

I won’t recount her many works or the impact she had on speculative fiction in her long career as a writer. That information can be found in the obituary linked above, and elsewhere.

No, this is a personal memorial. For of all writers, I believe Ursula K. Le Guin’s impact on me has been the most profound.

She dared to ask subversive questions. What if there were no gender? What if people in wealthy societies were required to confront the suffering that supports them? What if human society successfully integrated technology and rich culture and environmental sustainability?

What if…what if…what if.

She wrote with such a depth of humanity, such an unflinching moral lens, and such playfulness. Her characters breathed and grew; her worlds delighted and terrified. She had an eye for emotional detail and a vision that sprawled across Universes.

Daughter of the famed anthropology Alfred Kroeber (whose compassionate friendship with the California Native man “Ishi” was itself a ground-breaking study in humanity), she understood that “normal” is a cultural spectrum, and culture can be a powerful driver for change.

She reminded us that history is long, and even what we think may be unshakable can, indeed, be shaken:

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

Le Guin’s writing was an early inspiration to me to care about justice and work for a better world: not only politically, but culturally. The two main things I have done in my life that I hope will have lasting impact are the founding and leadership (for its first ten years) of an effective local environmental organization–still going strong in year 27–and my work to articulate, collaborate in developing, and spread the word about Atheopaganism.

Both are consistent with the vision, humanity, and values that Ms. Le Guin so brilliantly embodied in her work. Her work provoked me, instructed me, warmed and moved me.

It is dark tonight in Orsinia, and I am sad.

I will miss her terribly.

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Do Not Ever Let

I am here to shout against the rising dark.

To say to you—yes, you, individually, yourself reading this—that I know how hard it has become. To believe in a future. To aspire.

Do not let them do this to you.

Do not allow the ways of the world, this bitter storm turn you away from its rage. Grimace in the teeth of it, and breathe the cold, alive despite it.

You have a future. And in it is love and warmth, skies and seas and trees and all the wonders they reveal. No matter how small the men who grind the world become, you will have your days, your skies, your sunsets, your kisses.

And tides will turn. Soon or late, but turn they will. Fight for that moment. Lift your voice. Resist.

But as importantly, live. These are days which will either grind us down or break us open into a joy none can take from us. The joy that floats like a reflection on a calm pool of equanamity, impossible to remove; which returns, obdurate, even after a disturbance momentarily plunges the image into a dance of colors.

Hold your loved ones close. Drink the wine and eat the delicious peach. Walk in the wood and see the dappled light, the rainbow-spangled Moon among the stars.

It is only if they break our spirits that those who seek to trample us can win.

Do not let them. Do not ever.

 

After the Fire

It isn’t really over, of course.

Two dozen have lost their lives. Thousands are without homes, their possessions rendered to gray ashes. The most vulnerable among them–renters, the uninsured–will almost certainly flee our expensive region, despite admirable community efforts to raise funds to support them. The acrid smell of burned lives lingers in the air, and driving past the devastation is still like a bad dream. On and on it goes: the gray, burned wreckage, the burned-out cars.

That said, people are getting on with it, as they must. The ground floor of our local daily newspaper has been let out as a disaster center with representatives of dozens of government agencies available to help, and insurance companies have set up tents in the parking lot where people can file and follow up on their claims. It’s a remarkable effort and those who organized it should be proud.

As things go, I was impacted only marginally. Other than a frightening last-minute evacuation with our cat and what we could carry, and a week away from home, we suffered little. Our loss was some out-of-pocket expenses and a refrigerator full of food, and our insurance covered even those.

In our back yard, two palm-sized embers of burning roof shingles landed, and burned themselves out. If I hadn’t whacked the weeds, if they had landed a little closer to the house, things would be very different.

But they weren’t. So I have no excuse, really.

Yet since the fires, I have been in a sort of daze. My sleep is still heavily disturbed and I don’t leave the house much. Work on the Atheopaganism book I began to outline has stalled for the moment; I can’t seem to focus on it.

I think I am still in some kind of shock.

I turn to my spirituality at such times: to the perspective and wisdom I find in the natural world and the values, principles and practices of Atheopaganism. But even that has seemed removed, far away. I couldn’t bring myself to light candles on my Focus for a period of more than a week, just not wanting to deal with or traffic in fire. So it sat cold and dark in the evenings when usually it has a merry glow; I added extra water as the fires still burned, but without light it seemed lifeless (I prefer not to use electric lights on my Focus, personally).

Similarly, any inspiration for writing for this site was stymied by the dark fog blurring my mind. I racked my brain and simply couldn’t find anything worth saying. And one day passed into another, and national news began to creep in around the edges of the all-encompassing and never-ending updates about the fires and their aftermath. None of which helped, of course.

A disaster is a community event. Every victim is an individual, of course, with a unique story, but it is something we also all go through together. Thousands here are mourning loved ones and pets and baby pictures and prized possessions and home; collectively, we are swept up in something larger than ourselves and our individual experiences.

Hallows will be particularly poignant for me this year. I attended a Reclaiming Samhain ritual last weekend, and of course there was much talk about the fires, but somehow, not enough, for me. Something was missing, some cathartic piece about the grief that was never really reached. I hope my circle gathering will provide that.

In any case, I’ve made myself sit down and write in an effort to break this spell. To renormalize being at the keyboard and in author’s mode. If this piece has relatively little to do with Atheopaganism, I’m sorry, but this is how I get back to creating content for the site again. Our religion is nothing if not personal; this is where I am.

May those who have been injured by these fires heal and be made whole. May all remembered losses be honored. May this community reknit stronger and happier than before. May the sacred land re-green with winter rains, and bring the heartbreaking beauty back.