Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ursula Leguin

"The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and
sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather
stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the
treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the
terrible boredom of pain. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to
embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost
lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any
celebration of joy."  
"The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas", Ursula Leguin 
For any of the perhaps 10 people in the English speaking world who may not know of Ursula Kroeber Leguin, allow me to introduce a national treasure.  Her site opens with a map of Earthsea,  a realm of enchantment I've spent many years visiting.   I was delighted to see, at the lower left corner of the map, a little spider with her thread running off the page and off the map............ah, yes, Ursula is a great Spider Woman indeed.  She's probably been the greatest "Saga" in my life, the storyteller and weaver of words and worlds,  whose worlds, and words, I've returned to again and again.
There is a kind of synchronistic personal mythos in this for me.  As a young art student at Berkeley,  almost every day I trudged past the Anthropology exhibits, fascinated by the magical  arrowheads and woven fabric in display cases, on my way to the painting studios in Kroeber Hall.  Kroeber Hall was named after her famous father,  anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber.  I was not to discover Ursula Leguin's worlds until many years later - but in every novel, I always see the  eye of the anthropologist's daughter, creator of the star wide "Ecumen", with it's many complex cultures.  Alfred L. Kroeber is especially known for his study of Ishi, the last survivor of the California Yana.  Ishi's story was told by Ursula's mother, the writer Theodora Kroeber, in her famous  book Ishi In Two Worlds.    

"We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains"   ....Ursula K. Leguin

Reading  "Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences", or "Always Coming Home", or for that matter all of her stories, I always see the anthropologist's daughter, her profound respect and understanding for lost worlds of people like the Yahi, and her insight into the complexity, creativity,  and infinate possibilitiy of human cultures.  

One of my favorite stories of all time is "May's Lion".  Here the author contrasts the stories of two old women, living alone, but in different eras.  Each is visited by a dying mountain lion.  "May" lives out on the edge of some small town, perhaps in California.  She talks to her cow, she loves her bit of land.  "Rain's End" lives in another time.  The lion has come to both old women to die.  Rain's End knows this, and sits with the lion, offering prayers for it's journey into the next world.  May also sits with the lion, transcending her fear.  But her grandson arrives and shoots the  lion.  In some way she cannot fully understand, May knows something important has been lost.

"There are no right answers to wrong questions." ...Ursula K. Leguin

To  add a footnote to (my own story) I returned to Berkeley to open a gallery in 1998, and became friends with Arjuna, a storyteller and Tuva singer who had opened a performance space just a block away.  He created a powerful play and songs based on the story of Ishi, and for years  gave performances on the anniversary of his death.  Arjuna continues to make his wonderful music in the California desert (for information visit his website Harmonic Fuzion).  When I left Berkeley in 2000, he gave me a tape of "Ishi" and a Tibetan singing bowl, and I left him a copy   of "Always Coming Home", by the daughter of the man and woman who inspired his music.  

Circles. Sometimes I wonder, how are the stories we love and the stories we end up living really separate? 

"The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerant uncertainty: not knowing what comes next"  ......Ursula K. Leguin


Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Great! I love her work. How intriguing that you had a connection with her, through her father, when you were younger.

Lauren said...

She's amazing. It's an odd connection, nothing personal, but still, a weaving. I remember that quote: "The world isn't made of atoms, it's made of stories."

Gail said...

I knew you were doing the seminar(I hope it went well) but I checked everyday anyway for new insight. This post was worth the wait. I needed some new reading material. Thanks, as always you spoke to my heart. Gail

Lauren said...

Thanks Gail! I want to write about the Conference, but there's so much, I'm putting it off......

Von said...

Beautiful quotes there, one of which I would like to 'lift'.Pop over to my blog OnceWasVon and you'll see why.