Tag Archive for 'Ursula K. LeGuin'

final letter to Ursula le Guin (sent the day after your departure)

first, a few excerpts from our correspondence, which will be published in the Ursula le Guin Science Fiction and Social Justice Reader this year.

1.
amb: How does imagination help our species survive?
 
UKL: It is through imagination that we think intelligently about what we’ve done, are doing, and should do.

2.
amb: did you ever spend time with Octavia?

UKL: We met only two or three times…She was an extraordinary person, both formidable and lovable.  I always felt she was larger than life, if you know what I mean.

3.
amb: Thanks for your life’s work!
 
UKL: You’re very welcome! I have enjoyed it very much.

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a relationship with a beloved writer can be a very selfish place. you are alone with them, building an understanding of the world through their eyes and some intimate pairing of imaginations – they paint the worlds but all of it happens inside you. i tried to write something more epic and universal, and i trust that will come. but first i wanted to write a letter to her that was about how she shaped me.

dear Ursula,

great teacher.

great spirit.

i’ve been crying since i got the news of your passing, and also feeling very alive.

i got to live at the same time as you.

and i get the honor of grieving you.

there are thoughts and ideas you wrote down that became beliefs for my whole life, marking posts on the journey of freeing myself.

there are questions you asked that changed the way i could think.

many of us don’t get to experience grandparents who can accept us whole. for me you were one of the adults who stepped into that yawning space, who joined the composite of my dream elder.

you let me know i may be in the wrong universe, but i am not wrong, i am not impossible.

you not only matched and fed my queer unorthodox mind, but pushed me further. on relationships and sex alone you had me consider: what about four-way marriage? what about gender as a responsive switchy sexual state that was otherwise nonexistent? what about instead of a period you just had a monthly sexual overdrive and a special place to go orgy for that time?

i am a lucky one – i got to tell you to your face that you were everything – and you were gracious about it.

i am still creating a project about your work. in researching it i became fascinated by you, your abundant correspondence, your art and poetry connected to the worlds you created, your fierce letters to local editors about tree removals, your loves and flirtations.

i still want to read everything. it feels impossible in the best way.

writers cast themselves out to the world with words, so that now you feel fully dispersed more than gone. you were so generous with your gifts. and you were rare – both prolific and genius. so many genius words!

the worlds you wrote increased my trust that white people could imagine something beyond their own supremacy. and that capitalism could be out imagined, like monarchy.

even when i did not seek you, you were there.

when i learned to meditate, you’d left me a framework.

when i fell in love with the Tao, i could turn to your translation.

when i wanted amazing fiction for all my nibblings, you had a series on flying cats.

when i needed to stand up for something, feeling alone in my dignity, you told me about the ones who walk away from a utopia dependent on someone else’s suffering.

when i lost hope in this world, you offered me a plethora of fully formed universes to learn from. you even gave me multiple options for moving between universes, both distant and parallel.

when some aspect of humanity felt beyond my comprehension or compassion, i found books you had written twenty years before that not only opened my heart, opened the possible in me, but generated desire for that specific difference.

when i wondered if imagination could be necessary for revolution and transformation, you said yes, you said our dreams and visions matter, they are the way we make oppression temporary.

88 years. i wanted more. you are that kind of human.

even as i sit in my grief for you, you guide me, you remind me that you are not absent, but complete.

“true journey is return.”

love
amb

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from the new yorker’s piece “the fantastic Ursula le Guin”

myth of safety (rant/love from istanbul)

hello from istanbul.

yesterday as i spent the day falling in love with this city, it was bombed, and people i love around the world were reaching out to me to find out if i was safe. i posted a message that i was safe, but it felt like a lie, so i want to say something more honest.

i am in a country that was bombed yesterday, 4 people killed, over 30 injured. it was a group of tourists killed and injured, apparently not the intended target, but the lives available for taking when the police started noticing the bomber. the bartender at my hotel is from east turkey, he said ‘isis’ with a shrug in his shoulders, a mournful and familiar shake of his head. since it happened i can’t access most social media directly.

i was doing the same thing yesterday as those who died, walking around taking pictures, in crowds, looking up in awe amongst strangers. the bomber just chose a different tourist center in the city. or perhaps it’s because i am kept very local due to my healing but still compromised knee, so i chose the places near my hotel.

so i am not safe, i am just randomly still alive.

and i can’t feel too much of a way about it because i actually stopped believing in safety a long time ago. i was in college when amadou diallo was killed walking distance from my dorm room. i was stopped by a group of undercover burly police, surrounded, guilty of walking while drunk, and i ran home shaking. i was in the subway under the twin towers moments before the first one was hit, i walked home through the ashes of other people and still see ghosts.

i live in a city where water and heat are not guaranteed to individuals, only corporations. i live in a country where we need a movement for black lives because the rate of police/state murder is so high that we don’t want to speak the numbers to our children. where children of immigrants are building a wall to keep out immigrants.

i live in a country where people are so economically desperate that they are uplifting a presidential candidate running on hate speech.

i live in a world where friends die because they take their own lives, exhausted by oppression. and friends die because people are texting and driving, and friends die because they are fighting for mother earth and get assassinated.

i live in a country whose tax dollars continually move towards disrupting stability and sovereignty all over the world, a nation of never-full consumption of the world’s resources, a nation outsourcing growth and greed as our worldviews.

so…i am not safe. we are not safe. if we think we are safe, it is because we are not awake to the intersecting crises of economy, environment, privilege and militarism. none of us are safe, and, as adults, i am not sure i even think we deserve that.

how can we be safe while also complicit in conditions of constant unsafety for others? even the ones who walk away from omelas had somewhere else to go – our planet is so small. it’s reductionist, yes…but all of us or none. safety is an interconnected magic, it only comes from holding each other, whole.

so. what i am instead, what helps me to sleep at night and to laugh with my whole body and to love as many people as i can, is on purpose. i am doing everything i can to focus the offering of my life towards the best that humanity has within us, to be an ultralight beam nourishing what is dignified and healing and collective and miraculous in us.

my soul is intact, thank you nina.
i feel deliberate and afraid of nothing, thank you audre.
i know that god is change, thank you octavia.

i am going to spend another day in this city, more alert than yesterday, and even more focused on the beauty of the people i meet here, the rocks and hard places they are in, the preciousness of all our lives.

BALLE 2015 Closing Plenary Speech

Here are the notes from my talk today at the BALLE 2015 Conference! Enjoy.

Thank you first and foremost for your work to bend the future towards justice, love, cooperation and liberation.

I would call your work science fictional – being concerned with the way our actions and beliefs now today will shape the future, tomorrow.

You are excited by what we can create, you believe it is possible to create the next world, you have been building it here these last few days. You believe.

So do I. as michelle mentioned, I’m the Co-editor of an anthology of original science fiction from social justice movements called Octavia’s Brood, which has just sold out its first print of 10k books, so i suppose now it’s public…but I’ve held this belief that we can create new worlds for a long time.

This might be because I was born to a trekkie – meaning one who watches star trek obsessively. My dad watched Star Trek in a way that seems logical to me now. He watched the way a black man from the deep south bringing mixed race children into a racist world would always watch a post racist narrative – eyes wide, faith bubbling up.

We all watched it together, as his military career took our family from place to place. My parents intentionally took us away from the US for our early years and I think they believed that by the time we came back here things would have changed.

When that didn’t happen, they brought us back anyway and took us to Georgia. I think what I experienced there, the casual and constant presence of white supremacy, the knee jerk assessments of my intelligence and humanity, is one of the foundational catalysts for my study of sci fi, apocalypse and post-apocalypse, emergence and complexity.

i thought then in middle school, and i think now…This can’t be all. no one survives this approach, not long term. This can’t be the purpose of our species, to constantly identify each other as ‘other’, build walls between ourselves, and engage in both formal and informal wars against each other’s bodies, build an economy that could never serve the whole.

I feel miraculous. its confusing to feel so miraculous when so many people hate my skin and my history.

i see the miraculous in others – even those who hate me have heartbeats, and, I generally assume, have people they love. why can’t they love me? should i love them anyway? how can i hold these massive contradictions?

I started reading sci fi, obsessively, looking for options. Other worlds where I wasn’t dismissed as an idealist or an inferior.

On that path I discovered octavia butler. Decades before my birth, she was working these same edges in her heart, pendulum swinging between curiosity, possibility and hopelessness. Because if we can’t articulate more viable futures, and adapt, our human future is pretty hopeless.

Octavia Butler wrote novels with young black women protagonists meeting aliens, surviving apocalypse, evolving vampires, becoming telepathic networks, time traveling to save slave owner ancestors. But woven throughout her work were two things: 1) a coherent visionary exploration of humanity and 2) emergent strategies for being better humans.

I’ll say more about emergent strategy in a second.

First I want to say that what my Octavia’s Brood Co-editor walidah Imarisha and I call or work is not actually science fiction. We call it visionary fiction.

Fiction that disrupts the hero narrative concept that one person, often one white man, often matt Damon, alone has the skills to save the world. we write Fiction that explores change as a Collective process. Fiction that centers those who are currently marginalized – not to be nice, but because those who survive on the margins tend to be the most experientially innovative – practicing survival based efficiency, doing the most with the least, an important skill area on a planet whose resources are under assault by less marginalized people. In these ways visionary fiction is constantly applying lessons from our past to our future(s).

Visionary fiction is neither utopian nor dystopian, instead it is like real life: Hard, realistic…Hopeful as a strategy.

We’re here in Arizona, a land where the voting majority believes in aliens, and where my safety is determined by the proximity of my passport. also, the future is unfurling here. Utopia? Dystopia? Perspective is everything.

As long as the future comes from imagination, there will be divergent paths that are moving in and out of alignment, in and out of conflict. Our ideas of right and wrong shift with time – right now it’s clear to me that something is wrong if it hurts this planet. But if we don’t claim the future, that sense of loyalty to earth, of environmentalism, could become an outdated concept. Kenny Bailey from Design Studio for Innovation shared that recently on a panel called black to the future – that justice, rights, things we take for granted are not permanent.

That affirmed to me how important it is that we get into the game, get dirty, get experimental. How do we create and proliferate a compelling vision of a new economy that centers humans and the natural world over the accumulation of material?

We embody. We learn. We release the idea of failure, because its all data.

But first we imagine.

We are in an imagination battle – Claudine Rankin and Terry Marshall speak of this. Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown and Renisha McBride and all of them are dead because in some white imagination, they were dangerous. And that imagination is so respected that those who kill based on an imagined racialized fear of black people are rarely held accountable. imagination has people think they can go from poverty to millionaire as part of a shared american dream. imagination turns brown bombers into terrorists and white bombers into mentally ill victims. imagination gives us borders, gives us superiority, gives us race.

We have to imagine beyond those fears. We have to ideate together. The poverty that results from our current system allows all of this Imagining to be fed by the results of scarcity economics. We must imagine new worlds that transition us from seeing black people as murderers, or brown people as terrorists and aliens, to ones that can see black and brown people as cultural and economic innovators.

Black lives matter, which has issued a clarion call to us in this time, is brilliant on so many levels. they created products to support their work almost immediately, making the look of the movement irresistable and undeniable. Now they are gathering stories from black people about what the world will look like when black lives matter. This is a time travel exercise for the heart. This is ideation – what are the ideas that will liberate all of us?

The more people who collaborate on that ideation, the more people who will be served by the resulting world (s).

Sci fi is simply a way to practice the future together. I suspect that that is what many of you in this room are up to, practicing a future economy together, practicing economic justice together, living into new stories. it is our right and responsibility to create a new world.

And what we pay attention to grows, so I’m thinking about how we grow what you are all imagining and creating into something large enough and solid enough for a tipping point of humans to cross over?

Ursula Le Guin recently said “We live in capitalism – Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.”

she went on to say It’s up to authors to spark the imagination of their readers and to help them envision alternatives to how we live.

I agree with her. We must make an alternative economic future, as Toni Cade Bambara taught us, irresistible. That was our goal with our anthology, to have a collection of compelling, irresistible stories.

I think you are amongst the protagonists of what might be called the great turning, the change, the new economy.

And I think it is healing behavior, to look at something so broken and see the possibility and wholeness in it. That’s how I work, when a body is between my hands, I let wholeness pour through.

And I think you are healers too – because you are creating possibilities, because you are seeing a future full of wholeness and equity and hope.

I suspect this is in part because you are practicing what i call emergent strategies.

Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions. My mentor Grace Lee Boggs first raised this concept with us in detroit after reading Margaret Wheatley’s work , about biomimicry and mycelium magic. Grace started asking us what our movements would look like if we focused on critical connections instead of critical mass.

We need each other. I love the idea of shifting from ‘mile wide inch deep’ movements to ‘inch wide mile deep’ movements that schism the existing paradigm.

Strategy is a military term meaning simply a plan of action towards a goal. We use it to mean good or bad, but it’s not that discerning. Horrible plans can be pitched as strategic. We must be more precise.

Emergent strategies are ways for humans to practice complexity and grow the future through relatively simple interactions. It was what made sense to me when I was trying to explain the kind of leadership in octavia butler’s books.

It wasn’t just that it was black, female, or young leaders. Or perhaps it was because of all of those things, who leads matters.

But what I noticed is that her leaders were adaptive – riding change like dolphins or surfers ride the ocean.

Adaptive but also intentional, like birds migrating south who know how to get where they’re going even when a storm pushes them 100 miles west. I just came from supporting a meeting naomi klein called in canada, to set an intention to build a clean energy economy. I was so moved by their work to build a shared intention. that is radical imagination.

Octavia’s protagonists were also interdependent, often polyamourous, because the personal is political, because pleasure evokes change perhaps more than shame. right now there is an effort called BOLD, black organizing for leadership and dignity, is cultivating a safe space for black vulnerability and mutual support of leaders, countering the usual model of leader isolation. we all need a place where we can weep and be held and feel our feelings and figure out how those feelings can direct our next evolution. what amazes me is that in the space of such constant black trauma, we get together and we celebrate and love on each other, we laugh, we find the pleasure of community, of interdependence. it feels good together.

Octavias leaders were also decentralized, and they were generative – resilience came from that decentralization, no one person held the power. Ferguson showed us the power of individuals willing to act without a single leader, their leaderfull example is inspiring others to stand up in real time, offline and online, to change legislation and perception.

Ferguson and other movements right now are fractal, practicing at a small scale what we most want to see at the universal level. no more growth before experience. There’s a group in new Orleans called the wild seeds that’s doing this fractal work – women of color practicing pop up galleries and stores to sustain themselves on their radical creativity.

Rather than narrowing into one path forward, her leaders were creating more and more possibilities. that is what i see here – not one perfect path forward, but an abundance of futures, of ways to manage resources together, brilliant together.

So I have become obsessed with how we can be movements like flocks of birds, underground power like that mushroom under Oregon, the sea shell representation of a galactic vision for justice.

I invite you to join me in writing ourselves into the future, naming the principles of total transformation, building an economy in which black lives matter because every single life, and all that supports life, matters – let us practice in every possible way the world we want to see.

I, Radical.

The role of the ‘radical’ is no longer to be angry – it’s to be visionary, loving and solution oriented.

Can I say this?

I have heard others voice this redefinition, and when I hear it I feel a big amen inside me.

And then I start thinking of solution-oriented direct actions, since that’s my field. Liberating heat and water to communities when the government shuts them off. Guerilla gardens on rooftops and in abandoned lots. Reclaiming space to serve communities. Not thinking of front lines as spaces for aid and help, but as the actual front line in a battle for How we will be as humans, a line which we advance with our actions.

**************

This is on my mind because today I joined my friend Roxana Zuniga, a PhD candidate at Wayne State, to speak with a group of students at Kalamazoo College, where a Center for Social Justice Leadership is being launched. Tomorrow we will speak with teachers and administrators at the college, but today was for the students.

Their questions had a lot to do with how to organize, how to go in and work with “marginalized” and “disenfranchised” communities, and how to make the impact long-lasting.

I realized listening to their questions, and their perspectives on their lives, how radical my perspective has always been, but how my definition of radical has shifted. I have felt and been fueled by righteous anger, but it wasn’t until I started honing my skill in developing vision and solutions that I truly became effective.

I also realized, as I always do with students, that there are key things I wish I had been told when I was a student, full of energy and wanting to change the world.

Here are some key points that emerged from our conversation as essential for a young college radical today:

1. Don’t come to help! Come to work and transform. Absolutely let yourself be moved into action by injustice, but start the transformation by looking around you. Look at your own practices – where you spend money, your taxes, how you treat people. Look at your family, your community…what could you change in your home or community that would have an impact regionally, nationally, or globally? Work to transform yourself and your community before you hop on a plane, train or bus to go “help” others.

2. Always learn (and teach) people to fish. Your impact will multiply if you think of every interaction as a potential exchange of ideas and skills that will continue to serve you and the community long after you leave. Don’t make folks dependent on you, especially if you’re out at the end of the semester or study abroad or summer.

3. Be clear about whether you are making a short-term or long-term commitment. If you’re in a space for a few hours, days, weeks, or even months, don’t pretend you are impacted in the same way that those who live there are, or that you know more than they do about what’s needed. If you chose to be there, and you can leave whenever you want, recognize that privilege.

An additional practice: learn to be in temporary community. Ruckus sets up action camps where folks can practice being in a community of action, equality, awareness, composting, outhouses, camping, and shared chores. We aren’t making a life-long commitment to hold these participants – we’re making a week-long commitment. The clearer we are about our commitment, the more present we can be.

4. The world is yours to experience, not experiment with. Keep a beginner’s mind, a learning mind, and look for the wisdom in everything, but honor and respect all the ways people are surviving in this world. Other humans are not yours to try things out on.

Other thoughts that occurred to me today:

Stop observing! Release the false notion that you can be objective, and recognize that you invest in a path for all of humanity with how you live, breath, think, and spend. Get off the wall and dance.

Read more science fiction! (Octavia Butler, William Gibson, Philip K Dick, Samuel R. Delaney and Ursula K. LeGuin to start with.) (Specifically, Parable of the Sower, Neuromancer, A Scanner Darkly, Dhalgren and The Left Hand of Darkness.)

Also, read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. All the way through. At least three times before you’re 25.

More tomorrow!