My own snobbery

I recently read an article, The Disadvantages of an Elite Education, and as I read it, felt vindicated for opting to go to a small liberal arts college instead of applying to Ivy schools that I couldn’t afford. I was also vindicated by being rejected by those same Ivies for graduate school–because apparently the University valued my humanistic education. I had also prided myself at still being able to communicate with those not-as-educated as myself. And then the past few days had to prove me a hypocrite. It was incredibly refreshing to spend the weekend with Kelly and Philip–to be able to weave in and out of conversations about WWI, the Ottoman Empire, Post-colonial theory, Germanic barbarians, the Attolia trilogy, pre-Malory Arthurian tales, Firefly and Star Trek, our non-denominational selves being able to laugh at Christianity, world-building and writing fantasy, audio hallucinations, etc. I haven’t had a peer in San Antonio, and it is something I have hungered for. Something that makes me miss Kelly terribly, something that makes me glad to be going to grad school, to be back in an academic setting, where I am among “my own kind,” so to speak. And then I am aware of my own intellectual snobbery.

My job this summer has been at a corporate real estate firm. This is my last week, and so people are finally asking, “So why are you leaving? What are you doing?” I answer that I’m starting graduate school, and then answer the following question with, “Mediaeval English Literature.” They blink, they stare, they waffle and say something about did I know Donald Trump wants to build a golf course in Scotland and I say yes, yes I do. The business-persons want to know what am I going to do with this degree. The maintenance techs nod, impressed, but still are unsure how to respond. One property manager, who also spent eight years in Europe, spends the lunch break talking with me about politics and society in general–this has helped make the summer bearable. And one person actually laughed at me to my face. I’m still unsure how to interpret it, but it doesn’t matter, because I’m leaving. They are all surprised that I’m studying Mediaeval Literature, and none of them asked before now what my degrees were from college. Perhaps Kelly is right, that the postmodernists were right, and we are all drifting away from each other after all.

Regardless of being a snob, or not, I will be glad to leave and be where I’m in fertile soil again. A semi-desert is a nice place to visit, but there is nothing for me here. I feel a little like Shevek, who has to go away in order to be heard. True voyage is return. Hm.


Whenever I see a car that looks like yours, I look twice, and then chide myself for looking. I miss our unbidden, sacred meetings in your room. I would lie on the bed, you would stand in the doorway, and you would sit in your chair. I miss the sunny days and skies as pale as your eyes. I miss reading together in silence. I miss making dinner for you, and sitting on the couch with a cup of tea. I miss trading glances with each other and the clock. I miss sitting through all the credits. I miss taking walks with you. I miss…

I struggle with seeing my time here as long enough to make connections and with seeing it merely as limbo. Two and a half months. Am I simply biding my time? Or will I live here, too? I am trying, I am putting forth the effort. Yet at the beginning it is hard to see if your effort is worth it, especially when you remember something that was. I also cannot see what is coming; my eyes are fixed on the present. Each day is a lifetime, a breath, a paradox and soon I’ll be waking from this sleep to find myself in another dream.

‘The only constant is change., <<In six months, everything will be different.>> :There is always tomorrow.: 1

What would my life be without books? Last night at Bible study, I brought up the debate on the licitness of laughter from The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson has got gears turning in the back of my head whenever I read a news article. As I’ve listened to Sara Groves at work, typing and typing various documents, I’ve been connecting the discussion on Charity in The Four Loves with the Beggarman from The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. [Unfortunately, there is only one person I know who has read both of these books, and she hasn’t done so recently. :P]

“I am, you know the Beggarman,” he said to the old man, as he had said to Dr. Kimoe on the Mindful. “I could not bring money, we do not use it. I could not bring gifts, we use nothing that you lack. So I come, like a good Odonian, ‘with empty hands.'”
–The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin

“We come with beautiful secrets.” —Sara Groves

Various styles of quotations are in tribute to, “Usually, in telepathic speech…”

Sci-fi Meme!

Because my last two posts have been Much Too Serious.

Favorite SF shows: Firefly, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Enterprise (Seasons 1-3)
Favorite SF films: Serenity, Star Trek: First Contact, Gattica, Star Wars
Favorite SF books: The Sparrow, Left Hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed, Ender’s Game, Dune
Favorite SF ships/pairings: Simon/Kaylee

Favorite constellation, planet, or moon in our solar system: Orion, the Summer Triangle, Venus, Europa
Favorite planet in a fandom: Annares/Urras, Vega Terra
Favorite alien/alien race in a fandom: The Runa and Jana’ata, or the Hainish, the Shinrá
Favorite spacecraft in a fandom: Serenity, Artemis
Time travel or space travel?: Space travel

Star Trek or Star Wars?: Star Trek–exploration!

True Voyage is Return

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

–From “Little Gidding,” T. S. Eliot

“True voyage is return.” The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin

For someone whose wanderlust threatens to drive her insane at times, the line “True voyage is return,” a proverb by the brilliant and admirable Odo, hit me like a hammer. It’s one of the three or four lines that stuck with me after finishing the book a month ago, repeating itself in my thoughts unbidden, raising questions as I plan to live abroad. Laura quoted to me from “Little Gidding” yesterday and I was excited about the first line: “We shall not cease in exploration”!! Huzzah! But it continues, saying that we will “arrive where we started.” I read through the Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot this morning, a work of genius, and the resounding theme is cyclical, “In my beginning is my end,” “What might have been and what has been / Point to one end, which is always present.”

For Odo, the meaning was connected to all her other thoughts and the society she created, a working anarchist utopia, communal, free. For “true voyage” to benefit the larger society, the organism of which the individual is only part, there must be “return.” Knowledge, experience gained, must be brought back to the community and shared. That isn’t what Eliot meant in “Little Gidding”: he is more concerned about the cycle of things, the days, the seasons in an unending pattern. You return to where you began because you have traveled the world, seen everything, so that the only place left is where you started, because it has now become the unknown. “Through the unknown, unremembered gate / When the last of earth left to discover / Is that which was the beginning.” Implied is the idea that the cycle would continue, and you would once again leave, never ceasing in exploration.

The explorer, the voyager, does not set out on their journey knowing when they will return. They know that they will, or might, someday, if they are able, but that is in the indeterminate future. As Bilbo said, “It’s dangerous business walking out your front door [..] you never know where you might be swept off to.”

Even the original Walking Song from The Hobbit includes return: “Yet feet that wandering have gone / Turn at last to home afar.” But I prefer Bilbo’s version from The Fellowship of the Ring:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Word for World is Forest

Yesterday I read The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s unfortunate that it is now out of print because I would recommend it to anyone interested in speculative fiction, sci-fi, or the idea that literature explores humanity. Because that is what Le Guin does: explore humanity. She’s a master at it.

Humanity is the overarching theme in the Novels of the Ekumen (a.k.a. the Hainish Cycle). What is it that makes us human? How can “they” from this other world be as human as I am? In The Word for World is Forest, the issue is complicated by that the Athsheans don’t look human–the humanoids from the other worlds at least look more or less the same. But the Athsheans are a meter high and covered with green fur. It is easy, then, for the Colonists to treat the Athsheans as animals and for the Athsheans to cultivate fear and hate for the Colonists. You see all sides of this issue, even the side of the two people who do manage to form a friendship, bridging the gap between “two languages, two cultures, two species of the genus Man” (100).

I’ve tried to find the best sentences or passages that exemplify her use of language, but it is difficult, because the book has to be taken as a whole. The power is in the complete story. (Quotations are found below, click ‘Read More’.)

Continue reading