“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin
The recent death of my favorite writer, Ursula K. Le Guin, has only begun to affect me. I suspect it is like this for many of us when our heroes and heroines leave the material plane.
First, we feel a disbelief, a strange grief which kicks you in the gut - "But, she wasn't done yet! She still had so much to tell us, to teach us, to inspire us."
Words left unsaid, unheard, unsung.
So with no hope of new words, new wisdom, new inspiration, we turn to the works, the gifts, she has already given us.
And, for sure, she has given us so much.
The Earthsea Series - written over a span of 40 years - The Earthsea Trilogy, The Other Wind, Tehanu and Tales from Earthsea, changed my life.
The heroine in Tehanu, (who we first meet in The Tombs of Atuan), overwhelmed by loss, adversity and the every day trials of a woman, on her own, running a farm, caring for her child and her lover, gets through the day with this simple mantra-
"Do the next thing."
So many of us are overwhelmed these days - personally, politically, spiritually, physically, financially - we look to outside sources for reassurance, distraction, solutions - binge watching, late night television, religion, political pundits, spiritual gurus, as a way to quiet our anxiety.
We cannot process all the information - our senses our overloaded, we are flooded, we cannot move. But, if we can find just one little window - if we can just focus on what's going on in our own little world - we might be able to put one foot in front of the other, and maybe find a door, too.
What's the next thing for you?
We all have very immediate "next things" - the laundry, the dishes, writing a report, making that hard phone call, answering emails, responding to texts, attending meetings, walking the dog, picking up what's left after - the stuff of life as we know it.
But, what if "the next thing" we also did, was to pick up where Le Guin, or any of our other heroes and heroines left off?
We can honor the people who influenced us the most, by making our own voices heard, by speaking our truth.
"When women speak truly they speak subversively — they can’t help it: if you’re underneath, if you’re kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want – to hear you erupting. You young Mount St Helenses who don’t know the power in you – I want to hear you.”
— Bryn Mawr College commencement speech, 1986, published in the essay collection Dancing At The Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places, 1989.
The #metoo movement has affected me in a very personal way. I have begun the work of sorting through all the moments someone tried to take my power from me - because we all know sexual violence is really about power - and I have begun reclaiming mine.
Do you find yourself reclaiming your power? Ursula K. Le Guin considered the powerless her people, and only the powerless.
"...So I will listen to women and our children and powerless men, my people.
And I will honor only my people, the powerless."
--From Poem Written in 1991 When the Soviet Union Was Disintegrating by Ursula K. Le Guin
What do you have to say about freedom? What do you have to say about oppression?
Too often, we devalue what we have to say, because we don't think anyone else will agree, or care - but the truth is, when we start speaking, speaking our truth, we can't help but speak for others as well, people who have not been able to put their feelings into words.
When was the last time you read or heard something and said, "Yes! That's exactly how I feel!"
Remember how terrific that felt? How empowered you were to know that you weren't the only person in the world to think that?
Now, imagine you read something that imagines how freedom and equality for everyone might look.
(I know, we live in the Land of the Free, the Land of the American Dream, the Great American Melting Pot. At least, that was what I believed until about a year ago. The more I learn about poverty, race, gender, and socialized gender norms, the more I realize we are Not all Free, we are Not all Equal. I think we are all painfully aware of the great divides in our country, yes?)
Imagine you write your own thoughts on how society might improve, imagine one person speaking up, loud and clear, speaking for others whose voices cannot be heard, could change the world.
Emma Lazarus said, "Until we are all free, none of us is free." I believe Le Guin would have agreed.
We have all heard Mahatma Ghandi's famous quote "Be the change you want to see in the world."
Le Guin had her own take on it, and I will end with it, for I could not have said it better -
" You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed
Be the revolution. #resist