Saturday, December 31, 2011

what moves you?

My Soul and Yours

I have been overwhelmed a lot this semester. I haven’t quite figured out how to balance family with a job that is where I live and that has contributed to a general sense of tired. Some parts of my job are a little annoying, and those parts have weighed me down lately. Recently, things were winding down, I just had some office work left and A TON of papers to grade. Right before the end of the semester, I was packing to go away for the weekend. I said to myself, “I need some Ursula Le Guin”. It had been awhile since I’d read one of her books and I thought that one might help bring me out of the pressure-cooker of stress and administrative tasks that I had been in. I went to my bookshelf and selected one that I had not read before, Orsinian Tales.

Of Le Guin’s writings, the books of The Earthsea Cycle are my favorite. Some of her SciFi books have moved me to tears. I have since finished Orsinian Tales and can say without a doubt that it is not her best work. It doesn’t have the magic that some of the others have. The book is set in a fictional country in the real world and revolves around various people’s responses to political turmoil, love, oppression, loss, etc. In my opinion, Le Guin doesn’t draw the reader into the real world with her stories as well as she draws the reader into worlds she has created. All the same, upon finishing the first of the short stories that comprise the book, I stood up in the hotel room in Chicago in a daze. I felt as though my soul was expanding to the point that I would envelop and consume the mere physical world around me. I felt like I could conquer important problems as well as the systems of our culture that produce important problems. I felt like all the little problems faded as I read and were distant static by the time I stood up.

As I read more stories that weekend and since, I've read one aloud to my wife; I’ve marked up the book like crazy; I’ve underlined and boxed moving sections; I’ve listed ideas for future blogs and conversations and discussion topics with my staff, I’ve drawn smiley faces and stars.
And I’ve wondered why this was what my soul needed.

I tried to write a list of the ideas and themes Le Guin touches on in Orsinian Tales.
Here is part of that list:
Wholeness of Self
Depth/weight of ideas or things – age
Fighting injustice

Obviously, Le Guin’s skill as a writer is a big part of this. Not every story or discussion of freedom stirs my soul; for example, many movies attempt to be deep and moving and just fall flat. There is something special about how profound and evocative her writing is.

Now I have answered my question, at least in part. But I am still wondering about the experience of others.
What stirs your soul?
What makes you think you can conquer all your setbacks?
What makes you ignore your setbacks?
What makes you want to do great things?
What swells your sense of self, such that you feel that you are somehow a bigger human than you thought you were?

A particular movie? A book? Stories of historical heroes? Stories of mythical heroes? Meditation on forgiveness, on grace?

Let me know.

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