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Just Do It: Nutcracker-Messiah

I’d like to tell a story.

About a year ago, I was heading to a Christmas party when I learned that Six Stories, Told at Night had gotten into the Toronto Fringe. That’s a story I’ve told before.

This is a Christmas party with lots of (choral) music-types. Fantastically nerdy conversations abounded. After a few pints, a friend and I were talking in the hallway about Toronto’s two big Christmas shows—Handel’s Messiah and the National Ballet’s The Nutcracker—and how many people tend to be a “Messiah” person or a “Nutcracker” person, and—

“Hold on,” quoth I, “what if you combined them?”

What?

“The music of Messiah,” I continued, flush with possibility and good ale, “and the story of The Nutcracker!

My friend giggled.

“But who may abide the nut of his cracking?” I sang. Then, to the tune of the Hallelujah chorus, “O Nutcracker! O Nutcracker!”

We giggled some more and eventually I went home, and that should’ve been the end of it.

I usually don’t condone liquid inspiration, but…

Except that in the morning, it was still funny. New words to “There were shepherds” dripped from my fingers easily enough. And for a few months, I poked at the idea again and occasionally threatened to put this show on.

“It wouldn’t be too hard,” quoth I (so innocent, then!). “You just need a piano and people who know Messiah.”

On and off, on and off, I wavered back and forth. And then Blythe had the brilliant idea of using it as a fundraiser for Gangway! Theatre Co., and we were off to the races. For the first time, I seriously considered what I needed:

Quartet of soloists

Chorus

Pianist

Conductor

Venue

Thanks to awesome, dedicated friends…uh, we got all those things. Yes, certain parts were harder than I anticipated. Like my poetry, my parody seems to prefer spontaneity—sitting down to a keyboard and messing with Messiah for realsies was less footloose and fancy-free than I expected. Also, as I learned with Six Stories, there are always tiny maddening logistical things that crop up like black flies.

Will it be funny? I mean, I think it’s funny. The choir thinks it’s funny. People outside a cross-section of classical music nerds?

This was an anxiety-making moment over the last week.

But.

But we’re doing it. The hilarious drunk idea has become a real show, hitting the Comedy Bar mainstage (945 Bloor St. West), November 13th at 9:30 pm. And I’m proud: I’m proud of the musicians, proud of my friends, and proud we got this sucker to the stage. We actually went for it.

Comfort ye, my people. For unto us, Nutcracker comes!

Tickets here!

-KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

But of course…

 

The Boy on the Train

I wasn’t going to make this a thing, but I’m still processing it…and writing is the way I process, so here we are.

Yesterday morning, I was on the subway heading to work. And let’s be honest: things haven’t been great for a bit. Everything is kind of A Lot right now, I’m not sleeping well, my anxiety is flaring, huge upheavals are happening. And yes, I’m getting help for those things.

But, context: I’m miserable.

“Autumn Evening,” Eilif Peterssen (1878)

So about halfway to work, a young man gets on the train and sits across from me. He’s maybe a few years younger than me. “That’s a cool jacket,” I think, and then lapse back into sadness.

A few stops later, I look up and notice that he’s crying. Silent tears course down his cheeks.

Uh-oh.

I pretend engrossment in my phone, because public emotion is awkward and I want to give him privacy. After all, I am also miserable. If I started crying right then, I’d want everyone to ignore me until I could regain control.

But then silent tears turn to that thin weeping you do when your heart’s really broken.

Shit shit shitshitshit

My heart’s hammering. We’re almost at my stop. The moment’s poised on the edge: it’s going to tip one way or the other, but which?

I look left. I look right. I take a deep breath.

And I go and sit—not beside the guy, but near him. “Hey, man. Is there anything I can do?”

He jerks upright, scrubbing his eyes. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“No, no,” I say lamely. “It’s just…I wasn’t sure, if it were me, would I want a stranger to reach out or leave me alone? So I needed to ask. That’s all.”

He hesitates a moment, then blurts, “I’m going to the cemetery.”

And so we have Dead Fathers Club: Subway Edition. Blowing past my stop, we talk about death, grief, and fathers all the way to his. “It may never be okay,” I tell him. “But it does get easier.”

He nods. “That’s why I’m alone, this time.”

Then we reach his stop. We say goodbye. He goes his way and I catch a train south to get back on mine.

And for all the sadness, I’m glad I was able to be of service; I’m glad he found the kindness he needed in that moment. But I think it helped me just as much as it helped him. I needed the connection too. I needed to remember that humans are Neat and we really do Try Our Best and that even two random strangers on a train can lighten each other’s burden. I needed to crawl free from my sadness and remember that this life is all about service and love.

But it’s strange: it’s both a beautiful thing that happened, but also I don’t want to make it a big thing. I didn’t do anything special. This isn’t at all about me.

The reason I’m writing this is…I just want us to remember to be kind. I want us to remember that even in the depths of our own darkness, we can still offer light. And I want us to remember that Being Human sometimes means being very, very sad, and also lifting each other up, as we are able.

Thank you, Guy with Cool Jacket. I hope you find peace and healing.

I love this painting, but I’ve searched high and low and cannot find the artist’s name. If you know it, please send it my way so I can link properly!

Be kind. Be well.

That’s all.

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

“Soon Ah Will Be Done” is another spiritual that has a jaunty tune and a heartbreaking historical context.

Frivolous and Practical

It never rains, but it pours! As you may recall from last week, we’d just finished with the Toronto Fringe and Readercon. The last few days have been mostly about recovery, but also plunging headfirst into new projects and deadlines.

We got this.

(We did find out that Six Stories, Told at Night was shortlisted for Best of Fringe. While it would’ve been nice to perform it again in August, the forced break may be a blessing in disguise!)

Also, I’m officially into my last two weeks in the garret before Guinness and I move into our new hobbit-hole.

Amidst all this, I did something pretty frivolous.

While I was out, I saw this amazing houndstooth cardigan. Now, clothing doesn’t usually hold much interest for me. But when I fall for certain pieces, I fall hard. That was the case here: love at first sight.

Beautiful as it was, this cardigan was more than I’d usually spend on a single piece. And I just came back from Readercon. And I spent a lot at the Fringe tent all last week. And I can’t even wear it until fall. And I’m moving to a new apartment.

But it fit so well and it was so me. And I’m trying, you know, to figure out what I actually want, what I actually like—as opposed to what I think I should like. As we’ve been saying for months, this is a transition time, the chaos after a long period of stability.

So you’d better believe I bought that cardigan.

Awkward mirror selfie!

Caveat that I don’t ordinarily condone retail therapy. But also—sometimes, you’ve got to be frivolous. Sometimes you need to embrace the things that are so you, because they don’t always come along very frequently. (Besides, I’m usually pretty responsible with my money.)

In any case, I then did something very practical: something that also felt very me-affirming.

Oddly enough, it also had to do with clothes. I have a pair of boat shoes that I love. But the insoles were badly damaged, and they were covered in dust, and the leather was dry and desperately wanting some polish. So after far too much procrastination, I got new insoles. I cleaned them; I polished them with this special “nourishing” cream.

And they look much better. I feel much better, because I like these shoes, and I prefer when they look good. It’s another case of taking one tiny step in a direction that feels more right.

So there you go: one frivolous thing, one practical thing, both of which brought me joy. Of course, writing this post feels a little frivolous too. Cardigans and shoes—what’s that got to do with anything? With writing, with art?

Because I’m fumbling forward in all parts of my life, and these were two very small, very concrete steps in the right direction. There’s going to be a lot of missteps over the next while. I know that. But these two tiny things? These I got right.

What’s bringing you joy? What steps are you taking towards yourself?

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

I saw Wicked with my family this past week, and goodness, that musical has aged unexpectedly well. The political undercurrents have become sharply poignant—and current events are shining light on new subtext. (It’s about silencing certain groups and fake news and construction of false narratives/images, right?)

In any case, “Defying Gravity” always makes me emotional, but it’s punching especially hard right now. No, you’re crying.

Just you and I defying gravity,

With you and I defying gravity,

They’ll never bring us down.

Birthday Post: On Transitions

Hey pals! It’s the end of June, and you know what that means!

Obligatory birthday post!

Yes, yes, my birthday isn’t until Thursday (Turning 27! Whoo!). But next Monday brings us awfully close to the Toronto Fringe, so I figured I’d squeeze the birthday philosophizing in today.

So I’m going to be honest. This is a time of intense transition and transformation. Home, work, life -everything has felt the effects. My solid ground has turned to shifting sands, and quite frankly, it’s terrifying.

You see, I’m the kind of person that set down roots. Deep roots, intense roots. I build routines and systems. When those get disrupted – when I’m uprooted, when the patterns change – I feel terribly discombobulated. It’s almost like I use those roots and routines to anchor myself. When too much changes too rapidly, it feels like I’ve been cut loose on endless ocean.

“The Shipwreck,” J.M.W. Turner (1805). Courtesy http://www.tate.org.uk

It feels like drowning.

Perhaps that’s an apt metaphor. Look at the symbolism water carries with it. Water is chaos, the “formless deep.” Water is death.

Water is also a womb, All life springs from the ocean. If we’re going to broaden the metaphor, mythology is filled with a descent to the underworld – or the ocean’s darkest places – followed by death and rebirth. From Inanna to Jonah, for the true self to be born, death must happen first.

As wiser people than me have said, transformation is a kind of death.

So much talk of death for a birthday post! But that’s where stories and mythologies are useful. They give form and the illusion of narrative structure to a universe that has little of either.

(To be clear: we’re only discussing death on a metaphorical/archetypal level here.)

Looking at my past birthday posts, there’s a constant refrain. I didn’t feel fully-formed. I knew something was missing. Something was immature, unfinished. I knew I wasn’t yet myself, not entirely. It was a caterpillar phase, I guess.

And now –

Now, I think this is the formless deep. And that word “formless” strikes me pretty hard– life certainly feels formless at the minute! This is the chrysalis, the underworld, the chaos and destruction at the end of a long cycle of stability.

But from all of that…from all of that, new life always springs. As uncomfortable as transition is, I really do think it’s bringing me closer to the person I really am. And I think the lessons from earlier in my twenties have laid a solid foundation for finding that KT. De profundis, right? “Out of the depths” has always been a personal motto of sorts.Now we see it in action!

I love this painting, but I’ve searched high and low and cannot find the artist’s name. If you know it, please send it my way so I can link properly!

I’m still hopeful about the year ahead. When I’m not fretting, I’m actually quite excited. We’re getting closer to…to whatever it is, this thing on the horizon. A new chapter is starting. We just have to get there.

-KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

Choir gives me many things…and I greatly appreciate the music it brings me. The right piece tends to find me at the right time. My voice does not fit spirituals easily, but it is some of the most comforting and viscerally emotional music I’ve heard.

 

“How Long Did That Take?”

I’ve been getting an interesting question lately, as a general trend. And it’s a question that’s very difficult to answer.

“How long did it take you to write that?”

It leaves me scrambling because I’m never sure what they mean. Or more accurately, what they think they mean. Is it just the actual sitting-and-typing draft work? Or are we including outlining and research? Does editing time count? The early rambling noodling I do with every project? Or does the clock start the moment the idea sparked in my brain?

For me, at least, they’re all different answers. Generally, I say something like, “Writing the first draft took X time, but I’ve been thinking about it since Y.”

But even then, I need to do some personal archaeology.

Take A CANTICLE OF LIGHT. One of those “On This Day” posts appeared on my Facebook this evening. My former housemate’s cat lies on two whiteboards that pretty clearly show CANTICLE ponderings.

The photo is dated May 2016. Except then I put the play aside for a few months. It ended up being a NaNoWriMo project of sorts—I banged the first draft out in about five weeks. Which sounds pretty quick, but again, it’d been bouncing around my skull for ages.

What’s the right answer? Very few people want to hear about skull-bouncing time.

Besides, that’s not even counting editing. As far as I remember, I had a table read in February 2017. I forget when Missed Metaphor offered to produce it, but it must have been summertime, because I do remember a) wearing shorts, and b) walking home through a warm, sticky night.

Then things got busy, so I put edits on hold. The final draft got finished around December.

So was it five weeks to write? Was it a year? Was it a year of editing even though I took months off to deal with other projects?

But here’s the kicker. I remember sharing very, very early CANTICLE thoughts in 2014. One character had a different name, the ages were different, and the plot wouldn’t have worked—but it was still CANTICLE, in zygote form.

Really, all my projects are like this. Quick drafting times, really long gestations.

And all of those phases are “writing.” The long periods between editing where the story reshapes itself in the dark. The white-hot rush of fingers on keys. The sporadic poking at outlines and characters.

Sitting on the bus, musing about a boy with two sisters.

Our three siblings! Rose, Paul, and Cathy Langley, played by Blythe Haynes, Peter Mundell, and Meghan de Chastelain.

It’s similar to the museum, where visitors look at a saddle or a tin lantern or a dress and ask, “How long does that take?” I mean, I get it. It’s an easy hook in. A yardstick. It’s a way to quantify something overwhelming, and to relate it to one’s own experiences.

But the honest (if frustrating answer) is, “As long as it needs.”

How very true, for all our arts.

Also, while we are here: CANTICLE and SIX STORIES updates!

SIX STORIES has begun rehearsals and now we’re sourcing props, costumes, and set. The landing outside my apartment has become an impromptu theatre storage space.

CANTICLE’s fundraiser was a delightful evening! Great talent, great people, great fun! Tickets are available to purchase here! (We run May 30th – June 2nd.) Next stop: the Box Theatre!

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

You know I keep it honest here. When things get particularly stressful, I bust out the Anglican chants. The repetitious tunes help calm the squirrel-brain—it’s my comfort music!

Six Stories: Crowdfunding Conclusion

Whoa! Here we are, back on the blog! It’s not Monday—what gives?

Our GoFundMe campaign for Six Stories, Told at Night wrapped at midnight, and a Facebook post wasn’t going to cut it!

When last we saw our plucky co-producers, they had tweaked the campaign after blowing past the initial goal on the first day.

“Well, we were going to offer a vlog,” quoth I. “And I can write a seventh story; I’ve got some ideas. And…oh man, okay. What about…Coxwood Season Two?”

“Are you sure?”

“We’ll set a ridiculous target,” I said, all confidence. “We’ll never make it.”

And so the campaign trucked along. It was wonderful! Blythe and I spent a very pleasant week feeling warm fuzzies, writing limericks, and recording messages for donors (if anyone out there is Fringing It Up, drop me a line when you’ve decided what you’d like Blythe to record for you!).

We closed Monday at $730. “Cool, cool,” I said, “we’ll see how far we can get by Wednesday night.”

Tuesday passed. We had enough to cover the admin/festival expenses, plus a chunk of production.

“What if you make it to $1500?” a friend asked.

“We won’t,” I replied.

Wednesday arrived.

“I think we’ll hit $1000,” I said, coming home on the subway. “I’ve got a good feeling.”.

On arriving home, I made our final “ZOMG last few hours!!!” post. Then I sat back, ready to relax into a job well done. The box office would probably still take a hit, but not a huge one. If we were careful, we could probably manage pretty good shares when it came time to divvy up the takings…

And then—

Incredibly, you guys carried us to our ultimate goal.

We got very excited:

And then the lurking migraine I’d been fighting burst forth, I threw up, and we called it a night.

But now it is morning! So—we made our ultimate stretch goal. What does this mean?

For SIX STORIES:

We can have a kickass show. There are festival/administrative expenses associated with the Fringe. Those are covered. Set, design elements, costumes, signage, programs, handbills/buttons…all that just got so much easier. We’re entering Fringe from a strong position. A lot more is within our grasp!

And of course, compensating our cast and crew is a massive priority. This is why this campaign has meant so much to us—we wanted to give as much box office to them as possible. From the entire “Six Stories” team, THANK YOU.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

For rewards:

You’ve unlocked everything, you wonderful people!

ROAD TO THE FRINGE PODCAST!

Once this blog posts, I’m pulling out the calendar to figure out a release schedule. Get ready for interviews, chatter, shenanigans, and rehearsal snippets!

BEHIND-THE-SCENES VLOG!

Can’t make it to Toronto? We’ve got you covered! Meet our fab cast and crew, see bits of rehearsals and design elements, and make the leap with us from pure audio to live theatre!

SEVENTH STORY!

I’ve been noodling some ideas. I definitely know the direction I want to go in. And oh…oh, I think it’ll be so cool. For this, I’ve got to consult with the team a little. I’ll keep you all posted.

COXWOOD SEASON TWO!

I’m gonna admit, I didn’t expect to make it to the ultimate goal. But we did! So—back to Coxwood for a second mini-season! I’m not entirely sure how many episodes it will be, but I’ll be taking a look at this after Fringe finishes in mid-July.

If we can release it by the end of 2018, amazing! As always, I’ll keep you posted.

And so…

Thank you, everyone. Seriously, from both of us—thank you, thank you, thank you. We are stunned that you believe in our show like this. We’ve spent the last fortnight feeling incredibly humbled and loved.

And now the work and fun begins! Our first production meeting and rehearsal is Friday. We can’t wait to get started!

Many hugs!

KT and Blythe

What I’m Listening To Today

There’s really only one option. Pulling up the Six Stories theme song, written by the amazing Alex White (whose Alien novel THE COLD FORGE has been getting awesome reviews, by the way!):

 

Tapping on Glass

Okay, okay, I’ve known that having electronics on the nightstand is bad for me. Plenty of studies agree: blue light messes with your circadian rhythm, it’s bad for your eyes, and the temptation to check one more email stimulates the brain when it’s trying to wind down.

“But I can use the night-time setting and get rid of the blue light.”

Great. It’s still distracting.

“But I like to read before bed.”

Since people somehow read at night before the advent of tablets, I got a bed-side lamp.

“But my tablet is also my alarm.”

That stymied me for a while. Guinness makes sure I don’t sleep too late, but he usually gets hungry around 8:30, and I often need to wake earlier than that.

And so I would read with the book-lamp, but the tablet was still right there on my nightstand. Ostensibly it was pulling alarm duty only, but really, it was watching. Waiting. Biding its time. And you know what? It didn’t feel good. I didn’t like that it was so tempting. I didn’t like the gritty tiredness in my eyes.

“You know,” quoth I, “there is a device specifically designed to wake people at pre-determined times…”

And so I got an alarm clock.

On one hand, it’s much less efficient. My tablet combined many functions: alarm, book-light, the book itself. But that intense streamlining isn’t always for the best. Part of me resists coming overly-reliant on any one thing (to be honest, this is why I’ve skipped the “Sign in with Facebook!” option as much as I can—and I’m really happy about that now). But also—

I felt like I was always looking at glass. Tapping at glass. Our world is becoming one of flat surfaces and sharp lights. In some ways, we’ve never been more connected, but in others, there is always a barrier between us and the world. “I feel like I’m watching the action through glass,” is a comment I often give when I’m editing manuscripts—lately, it feels like I can apply that comment to increasingly large swathes of my life.

There’s a certain joy in some inefficiencies. They force you to slow down. And in that slowing, you’re forced to experience things more deeply, more fully. With my tablet safely in the kitchen, I can’t Wikipedia my midnight musings. In the depths of the night, I have to visit with my own thoughts. I have to sit with myself. It’s important that we’re able to do that, to inhabit that still quiet space inside.

Of course, as a writer, I’m stuck with screens to a certain extent. Screens are how I’m talking to you right now. I need screens to practice my art (I could write by hand, I suppose, but my handwriting is so torturous and slow that it tips from benign inefficiency to pointless frustration). But for me, that’s all the more reason to find alternates in other parts of my life.

The “book” at top left opens into a lamp!

After all, glass is beautiful. But it’s also very cold and hard. I’m ready for a little softness and gentleness. I think my eyes will appreciate it, too.

-KT

PS. Totally burying the lede here, but I’ve announced it quite enthusiastically elsewhere on social media: I’ve sold a story to Lightspeed Magazine! “Ti-Jean’s Last Adventure, as Told to Raccoon” is an odd little piece and I’m thrilled that it found its home. Plus Lightspeed is one of my dream markets, so I’ve been glowing all week. 🙂

What I’m Listening To This Week

I haven’t thought about “Into the Woods” for years, but the finale popped through my head this week. (One of the few things that infuriated me about the film was that they cut this piece, thereby undercutting the entire theme, but that’s another rant.)

“There are always wolves, there are always spells, there are always beans, or a giant dwells there…so into the woods we go again! You have to every now and then!”

A good point, in general.

 

Some Perspective 

Heavy weekend, my friends. Between the astonishing images from the March For Our Lives, the shattering speech from Emma Gonzalez (if you haven’t seen it, please do), and loss striking several friends, words are a little hard to find right now.

But it’s been a weekend for perspective.

I’ve been so worried. Deadlines and submissions, work and striving. But in the end—well, those things seem small compared to everything else. If nothing else, this is a good reminder to come up for air and actually look around at life—to remember who we are, what we cherish, and what kind of life we want for ourselves.

This isn’t to say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” mind you. Sometimes, the small stuff is the most important. Having a picnic brunch on the choir room floor is small stuff, but honestly, the fellowship and love fed my soul more than anything else this weekend.

It’s the unimportant stuff that gets in the way. The chatter, the noise, the pettiness that creeps like invasive vines through our lives. And it’s hard, because those things often feel very important. The trick is to find the signal in all the static, and lock onto it with everything you’ve got.

When the chips are down, when the clock’s running out—what matters most to you?

Go that way. We’ll walk together.

KT

What I’ve Been Listening To This Week

A story title got Gibbons’ “O Clap Your Hands” stuck in my head. It’s like clockwork: wind it up and watch it spring forth to its natural end:

 

Beer-Magic Playlist

So the big news this week is that I finished the Beer Magic novel. It was as exciting and exhausting as one might expect, and now my plate feels strikingly lighter. We also forged ahead with our callbacks for “Six Stories – the Neo-Wagnerian Opera.” Plus a whole host of various and sundry projects.

But Beer Magic. That’s the point of this post. It was such an odd novel for me to write. First off, it took a comparatively long time. I think I started midway through November? For me, three months is definitely on the lengthier side. Partly, there were more false starts than usual; this surviving draft was the fourth after a series of gut-and-revamps.

Beer Magic required some very important research.

And it’s very different than any other novel I’ve written, which probably contributed to the hesitation and self-doubt.

But hey, we’re done for now. At this point, it goes into the deep freeze (because ahahahaha March is nearly as busy as February). I’ll likely pull it out in April, take a whack through, and then send it to betas.

That’s the plan, anyway.

But one thing was consistent in this process! The Beer Magic novel had a pretty solid soundtrack, with a shortlist of songs that contributed in some way. Some helped me understand character; some set mood; some just made me want to work on this story.

So without further ado:

The Beer Magic Playlist!

Hunter (Heather Dale)

Dacw ‘Nghariad (Welsh Traditional)

The City (Ola Gjeilo)

Look What You Made Me Do (Taylor Swift)

The Reproaches (John Sanders)

Homecoming (Thomas Bergersen)

Together Again (Evanescence)

Once Upon a Dream (Lana del Rey)

 

I See Fire (The Hobbit, via Celtic Woman)

Three Ravens (English Traditional)

Stabat Mater – Introduction (Pergolesi)

 

An eclectic mix for an eclectic book! Warm fuzzy feelings abound at the moment…though I shan’t rest on my laurels for long. A writing retreat beckons!

Anon,

KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

This piece got me through the past-midnight marathon session that saw the novel nearly finished, particularly underpinning the climax. Another piece by Ola Gjeilo, I especially like the back-and-forth between the two upper voice parts. And Christina Rossetti poem is lovely, of course!

Catching Comets: Ursula K. Le Guin

I was getting ready to go out when the news of Ursula K. Le Guin’s passing broke across my Twitter. An odd little noise slipped my mouth—somewhere between an “Oh!” and a gasp. Then I burst into tears.

I rarely cry at public figures’ deaths. (The Queen is an exception—I guarantee you, I will cry when the Queen goes to her rest.) But Ursula K. Le Guin is different. She isn’t just a “public figure,” or even just “an American novelist.” She was one of the greats: a lodestar around which to orient.

Over the past week, many people have written many touching tributes. I can really only flail and sputter, “But—but—but—Le Guin!” But I’d like to point out something interesting about this whole writing thing.

You can apprentice with any damn writer you like. Putting your words—your brain-stuff—into print creates a certain kind of immortality. And if you’ve got an author’s words, you can learn from them. In an odd, beautiful way, we can dialogue with the dead.

“Gossip,” by George Agnew Reid (1888). (www.ago.net)

This is what people mean when they ask, “So who are your influences?” Who shaped you, who spoke to you, who made your heart sing, who taught you?

Who are you arguing with?

Who are you writing back to?

Who do you secretly (or not-so-secretly) want to impress? To connect with?

Over time, I think, we build an inner gallery of teachers. Sometimes, we’ve actually worked with them (I have internalized several Stonecoast mentors’ voices—hi, Jim!).

But sometimes, we’ve come to know them through their words alone. I never met Le Guin. In the back of my head, I maybe hoped we’d one time stand in the same room, but it seemed kind of like hoping to catch a comet.

So I read her fiction and loved her fiction. It made me look at things differently and re-evaluate not only my writing, but my life, my baseline assumptions about the world’s workings. Like all good teachers, she challenged and prodded and pushed me further than I thought we’d go.

But beyond her fiction—it was this particular book.

The Language of the Night is a collection of essays about science fiction and fantasy, theory and craft. It is one of my personal Foundation Texts, underpinning the way I understand fantasy.

Consider this:

Now, the kind of writing I am attacking, the Poughkeepsie style of fantasy…is a fake plainness. It is not really simple, but flat. It is not really clear, but inexact. Its directness is specious. Its sensory cues—extremely important in imaginative writing—are vague and generalized; the rocks, the wind, the trees are not there; are not felt; the scenery is cardboard, or plastic. The tone as a whole is profoundly inappropriate to the subject. (Le Guin, “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie.”)

Or this:

When the genuine myth rises into consciousness, that is always its message. You must change your life. (Le Guin, “Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction.”)

Or this:

For fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life that they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom. (Le Guin, “Why Are Americans Afraid Of Dragons?”)

You see it, right? In her essays, she’s doing precisely the same thing she did in her fiction. She is challenging us. She is pushing us past the solar system’s last orbit, into the vast wealth of interstellar space beyond; from the shallows to the open sea; to what feels comfortable to what is Truth.

She did that not just for us writers individually, but for the genre as a whole. She lifted speculative fiction to what it could and must be; the thing we were too timid to dream until she showed us how.

So now we’ve lost our lodestar. But we have her map, in the form of her words. There’s only one thing to do, really. Keep going. That’s what any teacher wants, in the end: for their students to drift free and explore past the edges of the map.

Thank you, Ursula K. Le Guin. You will always be our teacher.

-KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

I love Vivaldi, and I’m absolutely fascinated with this piece. The title’s a total spoiler, but I was researching female tenor/basses for reasons, and I can’t stop listening!