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Saint Ursula
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So I first ask my Catholic friends and family to forgive me if this offends them. I don't really have a working knowledge or understanding of saints. Jews don't have saints. I'm not a very good Jew anyway. But I'm not religious, not observant, never very good at it. Okay, so actually, I'm not a theist at all. Er, but I'm Jewish. It's so complicated.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, so saints. So I have mine. "Idols" sounds too teeny-bopper and "role models"? No, I don't particularly want to BE or even be LIKE these folks. I admire them, even revere them. Honor them. If I were more romantic or ritual-oriented, I'd light candles to them. But I only light 3 memorial candles every year; one on my father's yahrzeit in November, one at the end of April for Bob Sparks and one on September 11.

They aren't performers of miracles, but often wondrous acts, marvelous deeds. My working list of saints includes Saint Barbara Jordan, a woman I so admired and think it terribly unfair we still don't have her brilliance and her pragmatism and her pride and her eloquence and her daring. Saint Harriet Tubman. Saint Dorothy Parker and Saint Margaret Sanger Saint Agnes deMille. Sacajawea might be a Saint. Saint Mary Jones. Saint Susan Anthony and Saint Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Saint Helen Keller. Saint Dorothea Lange. Saints Emily and Elizabeth Blackwell. . Yeah, I notice they're all women too. . Okay, there's Saint Abbie. Saint Jim Henson. Mario Savio is one of my saints.

And I know it's like being on a postage stamp - you don't get the status until you're dead.

So it's not appropriate what I'm really saying here, but I don't care; this week, I'm putting Ursula Le Guin up for sainthood. For her brilliance and her warmth, for getting me through some bleak times, in the past and in the present, for her gentle humor and her ability and talent and for defending my beloved reading - genre work like fantasy, science fiction and mystery - with a vengeance, a fury and an articulate panache.

Last month, I read _The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1_ - and gotta finish the review for it. It's wonderful and chock full of all sorts of stuff worth reading. But I cheered, I mean I actually raised my fist in the air, pumped it, yelled out loud while reading an essay by Saint Ursula entitled "Genre: A Word Only the French Could Love" which is a positive, defiant, on-beyond articulate, clear explanation of why genre is not to be sneered at. Why it's what Le Guin writes, is proud of writing and why it deserves to be read. And then some. (This piece was offered to the Public Library Association, when it met here in Seattle in 2004; I wasn't there that day, or I would have embarrassed myself testifying, swear I woulda. Jews do NOT testify.) While there are works of fiction in this anthology that were so good that I did immediately seek out other work by the author, this essay is the reason I'm going to make sure I always know which pile this book is in.

Then there was _Changing Planes_, a wonderful collection of strange essays - or a strange collection of wonderful essays - by Le Guin about the ease of traveling to different places, different planes, accessed through a series of distinct movements. And poof, there you are. Some of the worlds, or rather planes, seem an extension of familiar Le Guin themes, some not. All made me think and as often happens while reading Le Guin, made me think in ways I hadn't thunk before. Assumptions are tipped over: I always assumed, without even really knowing it, that most societies, most cultures really do prefer to settle down and get along. Not denying warfare, superiority, clashes, but as a whole, life is usually lived by us animals at a lull - isn't social theory a sort of assumption that we want to get along, to stay settled. We compromise, we create social contracts, government, peer groups,. And she offers a plane where the "default" setting is rage. The inhabitants are "an angry species". Their social life consists largely of arguments, recriminations, quarrels, fights, outbursts of fury, fits of the sulks, brawls, feuds, and impulsive acts of vengeance." This is the norm with the Veksi. Damn, she made me think. Again. And I wasn't planning to think that hard that day. Had a lot on my mind.

Yesterday, I turned to another Le Guin book; yeah, well the library books are due next week and I've been sick and distracted and unable to focus on fiction, so _The Wave in the Mind; Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination_ got grabbed up out of the library box. And included is the text of a talk given in 1997 at the reopening of the renovated Multnomah County Library (hmm, the library thing again). In it, Saint Ursula talks about a familiar feeling, the rapture of the public library to a book-loving child. The library in Saint Helena (hm, another saint reference) California was a little Carnegie library where the family was, I guess, spending their summers, she and her brother Karl were allowed to visit while mother did her weekly shopping. And in a sentence that made me just explode, she says "Karl and I went through the children's room like word-seeking missiles." Yes, YES. That's what I was. Am.

Later, in a different work she talks about Sauvie Island, where the Willamette River enters the Columbia. And with that quintessential bubble of warm humor, Le Guin writes that every year, the island flooded. It was full of dairy farms, so the farmers had to round up the cattle and move them to high ground whenever the water rose. "There they waited out the flood, some of them mooing and some of the chewing tobacco, I imagine."

Doesn't say who. Leaves it to the reader, I imagine. And I blurt out little giggles for several minutes at the possibilities. This, to me is as much the richness of Le Guin as the humanity of Ged, and the only books for years that had dragons in them that I could stand (ok, except for the Popcorn Dragon but no one's ever heard of that one) the astonishing lessons on gender and the possibilities of love, nature, and strength that we learned in _The Left Hand of Darkness_. The wit and understanding about how to write true real fantasy shown in "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie". Cows that might chew tobacco. Farmers that maybe moo.

In still a third piece, Le Guin takes on the famous and hallowed first line of _Anna Karenina_ cited as Truth, quoted by people - even people like me who never read the damn thing - as Le Guin realizes she might be taking on Tolstoy. As she says these are words "so often quote as if they were true" - that line about happy families being alike and unhappy families, yeah, yeah, yeah. And while she has a point to make and she makes it - succinctly without reams of paper going into textual analysis and pre-post-modernist deconstructionist whatever, she ends the piece with a wonderfully perfectly wry comment reflecting her awareness that well, maybe this ain't earth-shatteringly important after all, saying "My next essay will be about whether or not I want to be told to call a stranger Ishmael."

And I wanted to hug the damn book.

Not that many writers, wait, not that many _people_ on the planet get to bring out that much admiration, humor, appreciation, understanding, awe, wonder and delight in me. Strikes me as a perfectly good reason for beatification. All in favor - oh, wait we're not voting. I have spoke. It is so.

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