I decided to reread all of Ursula K. Le Guin's books recently, since she's my very favorite living author, and because much of her work I read only once long ago. I'm feeling a great need lately for her books, for the way of the Tao, going with the flow, of doing by not doing, of subtle strength, the powers of the old earth. I realized recently that along with Tolkien, Le Guin is for me a writer of power, of deep understanding, a writer of scriptures.
This is the first book in the Earthsea Cycle, which was a trilogy when first I read it in the 1970s, but now includes six books. They are some of the best books ever written, I think; full of wisdom, of listening, of stillness, and of being.
I recently watched the old 1980s PBS movie of The Lathe of Heaven, of which UKL approved in some interview I read. Though I've read the book many times, I was particularly struck this time by Dr. Heber, what a well-meaning guy he is, and how royally he screws everything up that he touches. I felt that shock of recognition then, that I am just like him; me, a founding member of the group LAPWGI, (pronounced "lapwiggy"), that stands for "Lame Awkward People With Good Intentions".
Lately I'm trying to dedicate my life to ending poverty, to saving the world, to averting human extinction, and also to raising one young man, my adopted son. My son has many troubles, which I once naively thought would be quickly healed by plenty of love, medical care, a healthy environment, and good parenting. As we humans are wont to do, I bit off a great deal more than I bargained for.
I love being a parent, but it's certainly by far the most difficult thing I've ever done. I do have complete faith that despite his Lyme Neuroborreliosis, his struggles against Schizophrenia and Paranoia, his C-PTSD from repeated trauma in childhood, his deep depression and difficulties with self-care, and most recently, his agoraphobia, despite all these things my son will be healed, will grow in wisdom and understanding and go on to live a happy and fulfilling life. I know that is true. I know our lives have meaning, that our struggles are worthwhile.
My son is a wonderful human being, complex, creative, funny, kind, marvelous. Also sometimes angry, frustrated at the world and his difficulties, occasionally arrogant or abusive, definitely stubborn, often envious of others, and almost always self-defeating. He's sweet and funny, and he tries very hard. He pushes himself, often in contradictory directions. He's scary sometimes: maddened, suicidal, impulsive and out of control. He's a whirlwind of inappropriateness, of 2 AM outbursts of loud maniacal laughter, and also of gentleness and an innate goodness that shines out from deep within. His life is the human condition writ large. I think I experience the joys and challenges of any parent, and like other parents I try my best to be a good example and guide. I try to be always calm, loving and patient. I try to establish good boundaries and be firm and gentle in maintaining them. I try, and very often I fall short.
See, Dr. Heber is me. I'm an engineer, a Son of Martha, and I love machines and systems. They speak to me, telling me their secrets and desires. They want to be strong and true, to run well, to be a joy to work with. They want to serve, to last lifetimes. They show me how to design them, how to tweak them for optimum function. They mostly do what they're meant to do. They make sense. They follow laws of physics. My nuclear plants, my paper mills, water filtration systems, power transmission lines, roads and bridges, farms and factories, grocery stores and shipping lines and sewage treatment plants. They're beautiful things. They bring great joy to our lives and tremendous benefits. They feed us, enable us to keep ourselves clean, give us warmth and light, and carry off our wastes. They give us the power to move about in safety and peace. They greatly enrich our lives. I love them. Our technological society is like a mother to all of us. It is my joy and my life's work.
But a son is so much more complex than any human-designed machine. A son has moral agency, makes choices, goes his own way, is not me. He's a miracle, an enigma, a nascent god, a human person who can't be ruled by force, can only be persuaded, taught, guided, tickled, loved toward the direction he should go. But what direction is that? How do I know where to lead when I'm not even sure of my own way?
I guess we learn by trying our best and failing terribly, then studying it out, understanding our errors, and trying once again, and ever again. Every direction is possibly false. A hand too-heavy or too-light, a work spoken too softly or too harsh, these butterfly flaps can magnify into lasting good or harm in our offspring's lives. We live in a non-linear universe. Everything we do has consequences. Doing nothing also has consequences, terrible or great.
How can we deal with so much uncertainty? How do we go with the world? Not by forcing, I'm finding. Not by redesigning the universe in our image. I have to learn better how to listen, to learn, to understand my own limitations. I have to learn the light touch.
That's what Ursula, what Earthsea, talks about. Ged is quick and brave. He has enormous powers of intellect and of magery. He learns through terrible mistakes how to use them, and how not to use them.
These books bring me deep into the midst of this world that I don't at all understand. They're like an empty boat, full of potentialities. The enormous power of UKL's writing is in the things she says without saying, in the empty spaces between the words. How do I review her writing when I only have words to do it in? I'm not sure.
I don't mean to sound all mystical or vague. These things she speaks of are plain and everyday. But these stories are exactly what I need right now to learn how to release an intolerable burden, to set down the weight of the universe, and do by not doing.