Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Dancing at the Edge of the World: RIP Ursula le Guin

Ursula le Guin died last night. She was 88, and she lived the kind of life many would wish they had it in them to lead. 

I first said I wouldn't say much and instead spend the day reading her. Which I will, of course, but I am also awash with a feeling I am finding it hard to describe. It's not sorrow and gratitude doesn't come close. It is what it is and maybe I need to say these things aloud in order to notice this feeling properly and give it its due.

On a personal note: I started writing so very late in life that I feel some residual envy for those who are so accomplished so early in their writing lives. I feel also, as a sort of balance to that envy, a certain kinship with writers like Jayanta Mahapatra, who also started their true lives late.

Taking my first steps in poetry as much as into the world that the internet opened up, I found her website and spent a lot of time there. Then I found a post box number and instructions for fan mail (enclose a SASE; writers find it hard enough to make money, and Ursula walks to the postbox herself because her friend who acts as secretary comes in only once a week. Also, there were default dragons).

Naturally I wrote to her, as I have done to other people from time to time, with my heart beating loudly as I wrote. I  enclosed a SASE, stamped the envelope and went to post the letter. Naturally I expected no reply.

I had written to her about my beginning to write, and how her work had inspired me. I sent her a poem I had written that I thought she might like. It was short, just a few lines long. It would fit on twitter even in the 140 days.

Some weeks later, I got mail from Portland, Oregon and I knew instantly that it was from Ursula le Guin. Today, I looked for that letter, and I see that I had opened it so carefully that all the glue is preserved and the letter has stuck itself back as if it were still unopened.

I opened it carefully. Then and now. It's a typed letter, two paragraphs long, and is filled with warmth. But the words that I have held in my heart all these years are these: 

I love your poem. I'm going to put it up over my desk. And here is a poem from ancient China that a friend sent to me:
[poem from ancient China, with one correction and the name of the poet and translator, in her hand]
Looking for this letter, I realise that there were more. I can't imagine why I kept bothering her and why she was generous enough to reply, even if briefly. But I am grateful for her generosity and encouragement and for showing me a way to be with other writers when my time comes, if it comes.

Outside of the personal, there are so many things to link to, read, discover (even now. One word: podcasts). Most of all, there are the books. 

I found out recently that there is a box set of her entire Ecumen series. I added it to my wishlist on Amazon, and then I remembered her speech at the NBA

A week or so ago, I ordered her last book, No Time To Spare. Via Amazon, though (I am sorry), at a time when my mother was travelling and wouldn't realise that things were being bought for her birthday. 

My mother still doesn't know about the book. I still haven't read it, because she should get to read it first. Me, I am going to re-read The Word for World Is Forest starting today. 

The amazing thing is, how much there is to read and re-read. Her work will last a long time.