WHAT’S ON MY MIND? Ursula K. Le Guin…

                                    URSULA K. LE GUIN:                                         WHO PROVIDED DIRECTION…

Science Fiction Writer Ursula K. Le Guin

from Sue Wurster

This week, we lost one of the brightest lights in our science fiction cosmos:  Ursula K. Le Guin.  Over the course of her 90 years, this prolific writer added more than 100 short stories, 4 collections of essays, 7 volumes of poetry, and 19 novels to our collective shelves.

While I devoured much of all that she provided us, it was two of those short stories and one speech that taught me how to see…and, thus, think.  The two stories are Direction of the Road and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.  Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons? she asks in a speech delivered in Clarion, Pennsylvania in 1974.

Direction of the Road  is a short, dramatic monologue about Progress beginning  with the line, “They didn’t used to be so demanding.”  The speaker is an oak tree who talks, essentially, about the relativity of motion–growing and diminishing for the drivers/passengers who travel her road.  As humans begin to travel that road at higher and higher speeds, her abilities are severely tested until, at one point, a driver “completely violates the direction of the road” and hits her.  It is in hat moment that the tree loses her immortality–the driver saw her in her fullest being and saw nothing else ever again.    It is this loss that the tree protests.  (to read the full story, click here:  Direction of the Road)

The story was apparently inspired by one particular tree that was situated along the side of a country road Le Guin often traveled in the Portland, Oregon area where she lived.  The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas was also inspired by her Oregon drives–specifically, the sign she saw, backward, in her rearview mirror:  “You are now leaving Salem, O.”  In this compelling short story/utilitarian philosophic exploration, Omelas and its inhabitants live serenely, happily, and without guilt…on a foundation constructed of cruelty.  (to read the full story, click here:  The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas).

Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons? was delivered at 1974’s Clarion writers’ workshop at Clarion State College.  In that address, Le Guin talked about the place (or non-place) of fantasy in our society.   I was totally able to relate to her opening story about going to the children’s room of her local library to find a copy of The Hobbit only to be told that “Oh, we don’t keep that in the children’s room.  We don’t believe that kind of fantasy is good for children.”  So, she went to the adult room only to be told that “Oh, we don’t keep children’s books here.”   For quite a long time in this country, we had this sort of “logjam mindset” when it came to fantasy.   (to read the full speech, click here:  Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?)

Le Guin, born Ursula Kroeber, was raised in Berkeley, California.  Her father was the noted anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber, and her mother was the writer Theodora Kroeber.  Clearly, intellectualism and scholarship were valued when it came to her upbringing.  And she reveled in it.  She graduated from Radcliffe and studied at Columbia University before settling in Portland, Oregon to write.

Several of her novels–including The Left Hand of Darkness, her first major work of science fiction–have been heralded for her ground-breaking and radical utilitarianism.  Other strikingly effective pieces include the powerful novella, The Word for the World is Forest as well as The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, and the children’s fantasy series, The Wizard of Earthsea.

Le Guin  received the National Book Award, five Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, SFWA’s Grand Master, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Howard Vursell Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the L.A. Times Robert Kirsch Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, and the Margaret A. Edwards Award.  She was a  finalist for the American Book Award (three times) as well as the Pulitzer Prize.

What did I learn from Ursula Le Guin that has stuck with me all these years?  To paraphrase a line from Direction of the Road, “if human beings will not understand Relativity, they must come to understand Relatedness.”

Thank you, Ms. Le Guin, for providing so many truly unique standpoints from which to view our world!

BOLLI Matters Co-Editor Sue Wurster

Speculative and science fiction give  me a chance to stand on my head in a way I was never able to do in P.E.  Other favorite writers include Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut, and, of course, that wonderful word man Ray Bradbury.

 

JANUARY’S “CHEF’S CORNER” WITH JOHN RUDY: EGG-LEMON LAMB WITH ARTICHOKE HEARTS

EGG-LEMON LAMB WITH ARTICHOKE HEARTS

from John Rudy

In Greek, it’s: αρνί με αγκινάρες, pronounced ar-NEE meh ahg-kee-NAH-res

A Greek classic but made differently by every family.  Be sure to include bones since they are a traditional part of this dish. The tangy egg-lemon sauce (AVGOLEMONO) is the crowning touch,  added just before serving.

Many years ago, we went to a restaurant in Cambridge called The Acropolis and had this dish, or something like it, maybe 3-4 times a year for 25 years.  Then they went out of business.  Years later, the chef resurfaced in a restaurant in Arlington, and I tried to get the recipe from him.  He kept putting me off, and then, that restaurant went out of business too.  I scoured the cookbooks, and then we went to Greece.  We ordered this dish a few times but it wasn’t right, but eventually, we found it, and the chef gave me a “sketch” of the recipe.  After a lot of tuning,  this is the result.

It is hard to find decent artichoke hearts.  I get them from the salad bar at Whole Foods.  Lamb shanks are really best but not easy to find.

Yield: serves 6

Ingredients

2¼  lbs      artichoke hearts

4 Tbs         lemon juice (2 lemons)

2 tsp          salt

⅔ cup        olive oil

2 small       spring onions, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces

4½  lbs      leg and shank of lamb, bone in, chopped into large chunks OR 3 pounds of lamb, cut into large chunks and 1 pound of lamb bones

3½ cups     water

 

Egg-lemon sauce

2                eggs, separated

6 tbs       lemon juice (about 3 lemons)

 Instructions

  1. Rinse artichoke hearts with cold water, put in a bowl, and cover with juice of 2 lemons.  Sprinkle with salt and set aside.
  2. Put the oil, chopped onion, and meat (and bones, if separate) in a pressure cooker over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover (don’t seal) and brown for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in 3 1/2 cups of cold water and bring to a boil.  Seal, bring to full pressure, reduce heat and cook for 20 minutes.

Use fast-release of pressure and open the pressure cooker. Drain the artichokes and add to the pot. Bring to a boil, seal, and bring back to full pressure. Reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, use fast-release of pressure, and unseal the cover, leaving it on top of the pot.

  1. Make avgolemono sauce:In a mixing bowl, whip the egg whites to the soft peak stage. Still using the high setting, beat in the egg yolks until frothy, then beat in the juice of 3 lemons, 1 tablespoon at a time, making sure it’s well melded after each addition.  The mixture will be rich and foamy.  Reduce mixer speed to medium and add 5 soup ladles of the meat broth, one at a time, making sure each mixes in well before adding the next.  Slowly pour the egg-lemon mixture into the pot, and shake to distribute evenly (do not stir).
“Chef’s Corner” writer John Rudy

John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)

MEMOIR WRITING FROM STEVE GOLDFINGER: TWINKLE TOES

The Writers Guild prompt was “Show us your fancy footwork!”  which took Steve back in time.

Memoir Writer Steve Goldfinger

TWINKLE TOES

by Steve Goldfinger

They don’t call me “Twinkle Toes” without reason.  No, they do it for laughs.  In fact, they call it”Danse Macabre” when I get on the floor.

It all began–or, in truth–didn’t begin when my mother insisted that I take dance lessons from an adolescent neighbor.  The girl was 2 years older and  7 inches taller than me as we partnered in her parents’ living room.  As her Victrola played out scratchy tunes, I looked up at her slightly sweaty, acne-laden face.  I watched her nod as she counted out the rhythm.  My feet would plunk down on the spots on the floor that she pointed to with her eyes.

I told my mother not to worry because I would never fall for a girl who liked to dance, so there was no need for me to acquire that particular skill.

And please, Mom, I do not want to take elocution lessons.

*

When I married Barbara, she had just graduated from Brooklyn College where she had been president of the modern dance company.  It was a culmination of years of classes, practice, and performances.  I loved watching her dance.  I loved everything about her.  I foresaw a marriage challenged only at bar mitzvah and marriage celebrations when hired bands would blast out their dance invitations.  She was really pretty good at leading me around the floor, smiling as though enjoying herself and not wincing when one of my feet would squash one of hers.  Thanks to a lot of at-home practice, the one dance we could do passably well was the cha-cha.  I somehow thought of it as a Jewish dance, probably because it was so popular at all those celebrations.

My friend Sam knew only one dance step, which I saw him perform in ludicrous manner many years ago.  It was at El Bodegon, a very good Spanish restaurant in Washington that had a small stage facing the tables.  Once each evening, the music would boom out from speakers, and two beautiful girls in frilly costumes would come out and perform wild flamenco dances.  Then, invariably, they would try to get one of the diners to get up on the stage with them.  The Latin music blared when Sam was cajoled into joining them.  Then, he launched into the one step he knew…the Charleston.  It almost worked if you had drunk enough Valencia.

My most ridiculous dance experience occurred during my internship year at the Massachusetts General Hospital.  On a weekend when Barbara was visiting her folks in Brooklyn, my resident–a charming and very persuasive guy–asked…no, virtually commanded…that I “double date” with him.  He was going to a square dance with his girlfriend, and her housemate was to be my partner.

And so, she was.  Guilt shrouded every second of my time with her.  Betrayal, thy name is Stephen!  Abandon, ye, all hope of reparation!

I wonder if Myrna is still telling the story about the deaf mute who once took her to a square dance.

*

Share your memories with the BOLLI community by submitting memoir writing (of approximately 500 words) to BOLLI Matters co-editor Sue Wurster at susanlwurster@gmail.com