In memoriam: Ursula K. Le Guin

I am still processing the loss of one of my favorite and admired authors: Ursula K. Le Guin. I have read most of her fiction, including fiction for children, some of her non-fiction and translations. It is one of my goals in life to read everything she has written — fortunately for me and the world, she was a prolific writer. Her novels, in particular A Wizard of EarthseaThe Tombs of Atuan, and The Dispossessed, have affected me deeply and helped shape how I see the world.

Last semester, I had the pleasure of teaching The Left Hand of Darkness and its related short stories in my Literature by Women course. It was the first text I chose for the course and I selected the other texts to complement it. That unit was the most interesting and enjoyable to teach and was perfect for class discussions about the role of literature, literary theory, reception of a text over time, delving into an author’s changing perceptions of her own work, and more.

Left Hand of Darkness teaching

I do not want to say that the world is less magical than it was before now that she is no longer in it, because every soul brings its own magic into the world and with new souls being born every day, the balance is maintained — an idea I know Le Guin would agree with. The magic she instilled into her works succeeds her and, thanks to the Library of America, will never be out of print. But gone is the hope of one more Hainish novel, one more story set in Earthsea, one more blog post about her cat’s antics.

Gone also is the slim hope of someday meeting her in person. I am sad that she will not see the completed 50th anniversary edition of the Earthsea saga, though I know from reading her blog that collaborating with Charles Vess was immensely satisfying for them both. I look forward to its release and of putting inside it my last signed bookplate from her, a gift I have been saving for years for precisely the occasion of a special edition of Earthsea.

In review

Continuing my blog’s annual tradition, the past year in review:

January: I begin the year with a few days in sunny Cyprus with Chris before returning to dark Scotland. Ros passes her viva with flying colours and we all celebrate.

February: Winter is still dark. I start taking voice lessons and Lent begins.

March: Spring comes at last and I attempt to plant flowers and end up forgetting to plant a garden. The month ends with a research trip down South, including research in London, a conference in Oxford, and very brief jaunt to Cambridge.

April: The house turns upside down for April Fool’s and Easter cometh, with all the solemnity and ceremony and joy my church can muster (which is quite a lot). After finishing a draft of a Thesis chapter, I visit Lola in Poland.

May: More work on the Thesis and Kelly comes to visit for two weeks. We go to London and then I introduce her to Fife. The month ends with my birthday, celebrated with friends and mint chocolate chip ice-cream cupcakes.

June: The Diamond Jubilee, the Olympic torch comes through Town, and I watch with pride as Ros, Allie, and Rob all walk across the stage to get capped and graduate. That same week, I served in Allie’s wedding and danced the night away at her reception ceilidh.

July: Not finding summer in Scotland, I run away to Croatia for a few days with Joanna to enjoy the sunshine and Mediterranean and spend a unbelievable afternoon in Istanbul. I spend lots of time watching the Olympics.

August: A certain young man begins to endear himself to me. After their mission trip to Ukraine, my parents visit for two weeks and we visit the Isle of Skye.

September: I began the month with a research trip down in Oxford, where it is lovely, as always. Then the changing of the housemates: Ros moves out and Elena moves in. Term begins, including the launch of the Postgraduate Christian Forum (PGCF). I take another trip to Poland, this time to help Lola move to London.

October: Work on the Thesis continues and I buy a bike. Life is very busy but with in-town busyness: thesis, museum, church, choir, PGCF, swimming, socializing. The month ends with Edgar Allen Poe readings and a Halloween ceilidh.

November: More work on the thesis. See October: life is busy, but life is also good. F. helps keep me sane by reminding me to eat, sleep, and by going on walks.

December: I furiously continue work on the Thesis chapter with elation and tears, while hosting a St Nicholas Party and performing in a Christmas concert. Then I jump on a jet plane to Texas, where it is sunny and warm; drive to South Carolina to have a belated Christmas with my brother’s family where I meet my youngest niece and nephew, and then drive back to Texas to ring in the New Year with Kelly.

What a year! I did quite a lot of travelling this year and am rather proud of the fact that my passport is almost full. (It only needs three more stamps to be completely full — I foresee a trip sometime between now and June when it expires…)

And this year? The ending of the Thesis and the great unknown afterward — but it will be an adventure. Here’s to 2013!

We will remember them

I hate war.

But I grew up in a military city, raised by military brats, I have had family members serve in the army and air force, I have enough friends serving in all branches of the military to know that Remembrance Sunday and Veterans’ Day are not about glorifying war, but remembering the fallen. Every soldier is a son or daughter, brother or sister, mother or father, friend to someone who loves them and misses them. On this day we wear red poppies to mourn with those who mourn for those who have served, for those who have shown that “greater love hath no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Before the Silence in the remembrance ceremony, the priest of my church reads the names of those from our church who died in the two world wars. Did those young men know that their names would be read year after year, decade after decade? They couldn’t have. This is their immortality on earth; their names are remembered by those who never knew them, who never saw their face. But some of our congregation remember. Jimmy, fellow server, Navy veteran from the second world war, carried the wreath of poppies to the church’s war memorial in the courtyard. He looked splendid with his row of medals.

We will remember them.

Learning to say no

The other night, while having dinner with some friends, I chided one of them for overfilling his plate for work this semester. He said it was his idea of fun, but I reminded him of his exhaustion last semester. He wasn’t dissuaded, of course, nor is it really my place to tell him what he can and cannot do, but it made me wonder when it was that I started saying ‘no’ to commitments, for I, too, used to overwork myself.

It came out of self-preservation. On the verge of mental breakdown my final year of university, I withdrew from most of the world, it seemed. Save for a few choice friends, for the obligations necessary to graduate and my jobs (yes, note the plural), I stopped going to choir, various society meetings, and so on. The following year during my gap year I was very jealous and protective of my internal source of energy, a jealousy I took with me into my master’s programme. I had pushed myself to my uttermost limits and thus I knew my limitations. I was, and am, determined to never let that happen again.

I’m healthier in mind and soul now, and so I am letting myself take on more commitments, but I still look at my diary and say, ‘No, I need an evening at home. I need to be able to sit in quiet and read a book and not talk to anyone.’ I need time to think my own thoughts in solitude. I am an introvert, after all.

But self-preservation isn’t the only reason I’ve started to slow down. Ironically, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised I’m in no hurry. I don’t have to finish my PhD, publish my thesis, write my magnum opus science fiction novel, publish the Pooka novels, travel the world, and everything else, by the time I’m thirty. Lord willing, I have a full life ahead of me, and time to do and learn all the things I want to do and learn. So trust, also, is why I’ve started to slow down: trusting in the Lord that there will be a tomorrow, that his mercies are new every morning, that there will be time to do the things I want to do to live a full and abundant life, and most importantly, time now to live intentionally, focusing on the quality of what I am doing, rather than filling my diary with a quantity of activities.

In other news, I’ve discovered the band ‘Of Monsters and Men’ and I really like their sound. Below is a video of ‘Little Talks’, though I also like ‘King and Lionheart’. (This is also one of the strangest music videos I’ve seen. Just listen to the song, you don’t have to watch it.)

Favourite things

Bare feet:

Summer is walking barefoot on the grass, feeling sand between your toes. This morning the question wasn’t which shoes was I going to wear, but whether to wear shoes at all. (I did wear shoes, for all of an hour and a half, I think, and not all at once.)

The other day a friend asked me, ‘What does it feel like to be depressed?’ I was caught off guard, because the question I would have asked myself would be, ‘What does it feel like not to be depressed?’

Today signified what it feels like not to be depressed: the brilliant sunlight, the warmth, the green soft grass underfoot, the sand between my toes, the hopping on rocks and splashing in the sea. It means enjoying myself, my own company. Happiness is stepping from one seaweed covered stone to another; laughter unbidden when a wave surprises me from behind. It means walking barefoot everywhere, surrendering to and celebrating whimsy.

I used to catch glimpses of the beauty of light and of the earth when I was depressed — those glimpses are what kept me sane, grounded. I had to sit still and focus and be mindful of them. I know I am getting better because over the past year and a half, noticing the world is happening more often. I keep having more and more of days like today, days that I look around me in surprise, realising, asking, This, this is what Happiness feels like?

It feels like waking up. It feels like being alive.

Book Talk

Yes, I know: I’ve been remiss in my book reviewing of late. Last week I didn’t post because I was out of the country and this week I’m part-way through two books.

I read on the blog of The Office of Letters and Light (those literary heroes who organise NaNoWriMo, Script Frenzy, the Young Writers Program, etc.) about a book swap in which the participants had to bring three books: one they loved as a child, one they loved as a young adult, and one they loved as an adult. Inspired by this idea, here are my three picks:

Favourite book as a child

Born Free by Joy Adamson.
I went through a phase when I was 8-9 years’ old in which I read every book I could on African animals. One such book was Born Free, about a British game warden and his wife in Kenya in the 1950s who raised a lion cub, named Elsa, eventually releasing her successfully into the wild. I must have read this book at least three times, heavy going for a 9-year-old, and even dressed up as Elsa for Halloween. Unfortunately, everyone thought I had dressed up as Simba. Sigh.

Favourite book as a young adult

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.
This category was hard to choose a book for, until I remembered that I read and reread The Lord of the Rings every year while in high school and the start of university. I don’t need to give a summary of this book, do I? I loved the films. I loved the soundtracks. I learned Sindarin and Quenya and translated passages of the Bible into Elvish. I was a little bit obsessed.


Favourite book as an adult

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin.
As an adult, I have several favourite books, but whenever I am hard pressed to choose only one, I always answer The Dispossessed. I have already posted about it several times, most recently in my list of Five Books About Me. This is such a beautifully written book that explores human nature, society, and relationships, and it never ceases to challenge me. I’ve reread it at least once a year since first reading it in 2008.

If you had to choose, which three books would you choose as your favourite book as a child, young adult, and adult?

Diamond Jubilee

Today is Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. I watched the pageantry and pomp of the royal river parade while working at the museum (muted, of course), and while I watched the flotilla of over a thousand ships sail down the River Thames, I thought of the stories my mother and grandmother told me about when they lived in England sixty years ago. I asked my mom to write down her memory of the Coronation party they had back in 1953, and with her permission I share it with you.

Dad was a captain in the AF and he and Mom went to various functions at the Officers’ Club, other officers’ houses, and in turn entertained at our house. I don’t remember many parties, but back then kids didn’t often participate in adult gatherings.

My memories of the Coronation party are sketchy and definitely from the mind of a 6 year old — a girl who loved fairy tales, pretty dresses, and the formal world of grown-ups.

I was enthralled by the crown, the gown, the uniforms, the setting, and oh my goodness the carriage! Although television had been around more than 10 years it was still limited. We had a small black and white TV with rabbit ears antenna and a round screen. Many people did not have a TV. While in England my mom made friends with several British families. I think some of them were invited as well as some military ones. I don’t remember the adults OR the children!

I wore my best dress, probably my Christmas dress — it was dark velvet on top with short poufy sleeves and a full plaid skirt in red and green and some other colors. I remember going to the buffet table for nibbles of food. And being so excited. The grownups were dressed up, also; cocktail dresses and I think the men were in suits, not uniforms. I think we celebrated with wine when she was crowned.

Oh, the long walk down the aisle, the kneeling for prayer, the clergy in their best attire, Elizabeth, finally sitting on the throne (I think), processing out, the crowds and the cheering.

Besides the TV, other rooms had radios so if you weren’t in with the TV you wouldn’t miss anything. I’m not sure where the TV was located. It was placed up high and vaguely recall that it was on top of the refrigerator, which seems strange. However, the kitchen was probably the warmest room and I think the TV had been put in an odd place to get good reception, a problem when you use rabbit ears!

Sixty years later and here I am, my mother’s daughter in the UK for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, marking the sixty years of her reign. After work I went to a barbeque and we toasted the Queen with champagne. Watching the British royal family is in my family history; I am continuing it: today by watching the Jubilee, last year, by going to a friend’s house and watching the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate. The pageantry and the show of it all is fascinating. I am glad I am here to watch and be a part of it, because, in a way, it allows me to share in the memories of my mom and MeeMee, while making memories of my own.


The child asks, ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’

Longtime readers of this blog will know that several years ago I started celebrating Passover during Holy Week — I’ve missed it the last two years, but fortunately this year I was able to join a group at Holy Trinity church. One of the things I love about this town is that at events like these end up being ecumenical, representing several churches in our town. Our leader and host was from the ministry Jews for Jesus. (For some reason that I cannot explain I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of them. I am no longer.) During the meal he shared his testimony with us. It is simply incredible to see how God works in people’s lives. One thing he said really struck me: Jews don’t have to stop being Jews in order to believe in Jesus.

In PGCU we’ve been studying Acts. Time and time again we’ve seen the ethnic and cultural obstacles in the early church, and we praise God for opening the doors of redemption to even the Gentiles — to people like us. It is interesting to see this cultural divide from the other side: Christianity, which began in a completely Jewish context, now at the point that most Christians don’t know or don’t understand the heritage they have been adopted into and Jews who want to believe that the Messiah has already come are afraid that they have to betray their heritage to do so. How much has changed in two thousand years!

There are four cups of wine during the Passover seder ceremony: sanctification, plagues/judgement, salvation/blessing, and praise. Tradition says that it was the third cup that Jesus took and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’ Our host spoke those words, and we took up the broken pieces of matzo and our cups of wine and the same power I feel at the blessing of the Eucharist I felt there in my heart, in the bread and wine in my hands. I took Communion; we sat in communion together. We sang hymns, we danced in prayer for peace in Jerusalem.

Tonight, remembering the heritage of my spiritual history, moving into the darkest three days of the year, I was reminded that there is hope. The salt water and bitter herbs signify our tears and our misery, but a full cup is a symbol of joy. At the end of this long journey of Lent, of this long dark night until Easter, is the Resurrection. Hope.

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

Hippo hooray!

In less than 15 min from now in San Antonio Zoo, two of my childhood friends will be getting married. My friends Lydia and Drew are having their ceremony witnessed by the hippos, and though I wish I could be there in person, they’ve arranged their ceremony to stream live. It’s nearly midnight here, but it’s as close as I can get.

There was a group of nine of us: the Fun Day Group, a name that stuck after Marianne and I planned ‘fun days’ for our friends. None of us really fit in with the other cliques at school, and some how or another we ended up together. Although the group of us was scattered across five different high schools, we arranged ‘fun days’ at least once a month, oftener once we had cars, fewer once we entered university. Some I’ve kept up with better than others, but we all watch each other and keep tabs via facebook, at the very least. I’ve been to Joel’s wedding and to Danielle’s, and well, Lydia and Drew are next, and they’re marrying each other.

With the hippos!

On reflection

Yesterday I found myself reading through my blog’s archives for September 2008, the month I moved across an ocean, from the desert to the sea. I have lived here for nearly three and a half years — long enough that I consider this town, where I live, ‘home’, that when people ask where I’m from, I don’t know why I can’t answer, ‘from here’. And though I try not to take for granted this beautiful place where I live, the privilege I have to walk by the sea to clear my mind and to worship, to sing weekly in a medieval chapel, to be getting my PhD from one of the top universities in the world, I do. Though I still stop and stare with wonder at how the light falls on a stone facade, these buildings are still familiar. Reading back through my first impressions of this place, I experience again the feeling of rightness that my journey has brought me here, to this place at this time. How strange how all that was new and breathtaking can now be familiar! And yet, how I do still stop, I do watch, I do still reach out to touch the ancient stones of the cathedral and wonder what stories they might tell, still watch the waters of the Kinnessburn, knowing that for centuries it has tumbled toward the sea and people have walked up and down alongside it, watching the ducks and the heron and breathing the crisp air beneath the trees. Yes, I take for granted this place where I live — a place for a time in which I have been granted to live — and I do, truly, appreciate this place, its buildings, its trees, its sea, its hills, and its people.

Three and a half years with another year and a bit to go. What will it be like when it is finally time to leave? I make no plans where I will go next; I pray that God will go ahead of me, prepare a place for me, as he has so faithfully done before. And in the meantime I will keep walking by the sea, keep digging in my garden, keep reading my books and writing my thesis and living my life in this place that is my home.