After the Death of Ursula K. Le Guin
Seems I was still lingering on the death of Gord Downie when news of the death of Ursula hit. She had died on January 22, but I did not find out until the next day when my husband messaged me at work, when the New York Times aired the news. I was just leaving work and felt stunned on the way home. It was the same feeling when Gord Downie died. Like damn. Time for a shot of bourbon to commemorate her.
I write a spotlight on authors who tackle climate change in fiction at dragonfly.eco, and I spotlighted her last March. I love this woman, plain and simple. Her writings molded and inspired me throughout a lifetime, and continue to do so as an adult–her sudden disappearance from the world was like a flame going out. Yet, something refreshing happened the next morning. I was on the way to work and felt peculiarly energized. I realized that to have known that someone like her made such an impact on the world, to know that people like her exist, made me feel good. It’s a day and age of uncertainty, if there ever was one, and we have to pay homage to, and learn from, those who existed before us, who did good in the world. Who were, whether in fiction or song or poetry or memoir or everyday interaction, making a difference for the better. I liked her style. It was vivacious, imaginary, creative–with a little sneer and a finger to the status quo who demanded fiction must be this way or that way, that it must be male-dominated or literary or whatever. She blazed a lot of trails, but asked readers to blaze their own trails. She showed us that ordinary people can make a difference in the world, whether in the literary world or the world-at-large.
Before Le Guin’s death, Margaret Atwood, in the Boston Globe, had said “Le Guin wasn’t just ahead of the curve in contemplating the social construction of gender. While science fiction zoomed toward the technological future, she wrote about anarchist movements, the way societies create aliens within themselves, and climate change.”
Anyway, as when Gord Downie died, I don’t want to write a complete eulogy–just say a few words about her affect on me.
Before I found out about her death, but the day of, I had just, with a little hesitation, put up another climate change author spotlight–of my own works. The reasoning behind including myself in the series was two-fold. One, I wanted to give perspective of an author who attempts to write a novel where climate change is central. I have never had a chance to do that otherwise and thought it might be interesting. Second, running this series and committing to a monthly spotlight is hectic sometimes. I was still waiting on hearing back on a couple questions from my next planned spotlighted author, but January was running out. I didn’t want to finish the piece without his reply, so decided to delay that spotlight until later. I had two other spotlights in the works but nothing quite ready. December and January were such busy months for me. I had time off and entertained guests. I finished part three of the short series “Exploring the Ecological Weird” at SFF World, which will be published next week and involved more research than usual to write. I finished interviews with January and February authors (the latter to go up soon). All in all, running this voluntary project takes a lot of work, but luckily I love it and wouldn’t do things any differently. I get charged up and challenged by things that seem hard to do. So I have only myself to blame for doing two features a month (author spotlight and an interview), not to mention beginning to launch dragonfly.eco and working full-time and preparing the next book at my press. Oh, and did I mention I went vegan, which means a lot more creative kitchen time, and am making good headway on my next novel To the Waters and the Wild? Yeah, sometimes I have to give myself permission to do something easy, like doing a spotlight I don’t need to research.
Still, when I heard of Le Guin’s death a few hours after my spotlight went up, my first thought was, how could I put myself in the same series where I cover authors like her? I felt so humble. So full of folly. But then I realized it was okay. The stories she told us might have been fantastical, but they reflected her love for the world and told stories we could relate to. They blazed the trail when it came to economic, civil, gender, social, and environmental issues in earlier literature. And her protagonists were often not at all the “big” people but, again, the ordinary people, like me, who may not have a large voice but who are inspired by doing the right things, which in my case, I hope translates to trying to bring awareness to the beauty and wildness of fiction that explores environment and nature–in all its diversity. And my novels do that, similar to others in the series. The series itself reflects a diverse set of writers, genres, writing styles, and modes of conveying climate change in storytelling. Some way more popular than others. This diverse expression is necessary.
So the next morning after hearing about her death. I felt some kind of light and energy. I thought of who she was, the amazing life and legacy she left behind. I felt her still alive. I was sad she is now gone, yes, but to me, she is not gone entirely. All her words live on. I noticed my colleague Isaac Yuen had posted on Twitter a quote from one of her Earthsea books, The Farthest Shore:
There is no kingdom like the forests. It is time I went there, went in silence, went alone. And maybe there I would learn at last what no act or art or power can teach me, what I have never learned.
I thought and thought and thought about those words, and they made me feel good. I know for me too it is time to go back into the deep forest, not just the woods around work and my home, but into the real forest. In silence. Only, whatever I learn there, and yes it is always greater than anything I learn back here in civilization, is doubly powerful for the knowledge that there exist other humans on Earth–or who have left us–who know just what the forests can do.