No Time to Spare
I’ve just finished reading No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin. I hadn’t read any of her work before, but have spent years pressing it into my children’s hands. This, of course, is only a semi-successful tactic, even when I have personally read and loved the book myself. But, I can’t help myself. Knowing how seminal her work is, who can blame me for handing my fantasy-loving children an Ursula K. Le Guin novel when they complain of having nothing to read?
Perhaps it was all those years of recommending her that made me dive so completely into this book once I’d discovered it on a library shelf. It is a collection of Le Guin’s best blog posts, from the blog she started . . . when we she was 81. I love every single thing about this. It is a book that revels in digressions. It is delightful and surprising, like having lunch with a fascinating friend. It skips along happily from topic to topic.
From the purpose of publishing:
“It’s grand to see one’s poem beautifully printed, but the important thing to the poet, or anyhow, to this poet, is merely to see it printed, however, whenever—so it can go from mind to mind.”
To musings on tragedy, war and Homer:
“The Trojan war is not and you cannot make it be the War of Good v. Evil. It’s just a war, a wasteful, useless, needless, stupid, protracted, cruel mess full of individual acts of courage, cowardice, nobility, betrayal, limb-hacking off, and disembowelment. . . . But, Homer doesn’t take sides, and so he permits the story to be tragic. By tragedy, many and soul are grieved, enlarged and exalted.”
The role of anger in public discourse:
“Indignation is still the right response to indignity, to disrespect, but in the present moral climate it seems to be most effective expressed through steady, resolute, morally committed behavior and action.”
“Anger points powerfully to the denial of rights, but the exercise of rights can’t live and thrive on anger. It lives and thrives on the dogged pursuit of justice.”
And in private discourse:
“Perhaps the problem is this: when threatened, we pull out our weapon, anger. Then the threat passes or evaporates. But the weapon is still in our hand. And weapons are seductive, even addictive; they promise to give us strength, security, dominance. . .”
Then, she adds this conundrum:
“Anger indulged rouses anger. Yet, anger suppressed breeds anger.”
All of her writing is done with one eye on the divine and one eye on the mundane. It walks a perfect balance between sincerity and frivolity.
“A real Christmas tree, a cut tree, is a ritual sacrifice. Better not to deny the fact, but to accept and ponder it.”
At the end of each article I thought, “Ah! Here’s the most salient, the most insightful one. This book is worth reading just for this article alone!” Then, I’d finish the next article and think the same thing all over again.
As this cycle repeated itself, I finally realized that the magic in the book is found in its great unwritten treatise that grows organically in the nooks and crannies between the articles. This book is an argument for the the great vitality to be found in writing—at every point and at any age.
Certainly, Le Guin didn’t begin writing as an octagarian. But, she did begin blogging, which was quite a different endeavor. And, one she had her own hesitations about:
“I never wanted to blog before. I’ve never liked the word blog—I suppose it is meant to stand for bio-log or something like that, but it sounds like a sodden tree trunk in a bog, or maybe an obstruction in the nasal passage (Oh, she talks that way because she has such terrible blogs in her nose).”
I’m so grateful that she put those hesitations aside. It was such a gift that she embraced this new medium, when she could well have left it alone, having proven her writing chops many times over. We’re all enriched because she chose to type and publish these words. They are entirely different than what she would have written at 18. Perspectives change. Interests change. The lens through which we interpret the world is colored by a million experiences and insights. We need those observations we make at 23. And, we need the ones we make at 93. These pages are a celebration of that.
Reading Le Guin’s words makes me that much more invested in writing. I want to see what I have to say now, and, next year, and the next. A different picture entirely emerges when we take our thoughts as a whole, like this. But, the whole can only be found in the accumulation of the particulars. As Le Guin says, “. . . it is so hard to be honest when you generalize. If you skip over all the details, how can you tell if you’re being honest or not?” Blogging is particularly well suited to this type of scrutiny.
Le Guin passed away not even two months after this book’s publication. Somehow, the book also presupposes that fact. The last essay in the collection is fragmantory—more pottery than prose. Reading it called to mind this poem.
Her words in this last article are a visceral account that say simply, “I was here. This is what I saw.” Of course, there is never anything simple about that statement. To truly inhabit a place and report back on what one sees is a monumental task.