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  • Lori Brack

Do we need a word?

Synchronistically this morning, two books are in conversation with each other and with our strange times. Or our ordinary ones. I'm not sure we've ever lived without dangers.


In No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, Ursula K. LeGuin (thank you, Kathleen!), says important things about Good Places and Bad Places (utopias and dystopias). She considers how the yin and yang metaphor applies - there is always a little good in the bad places and a bit of bad in the good ones.


Certainly we are living in a time when yang (according to LeGuin "male, bright, dry, hard, active, penetrating") is thrashing around in daily diatribes and bluster. Is virus yin ("female, dark, wet, easy, receptive, containing") and so must come from a Bad Place, therefore dystopian? I'm not sure, especially on a morning when a mourning dove is hoo-hooing nearby. (Does a dove mourn as it sings?)


In Penelope Lively's The Voyage of QV66 (thank you, Berta!), six animals are happily adrift in an England covered with water, all the humans disappeared. Pal, the dog narrator, speaks for the cow, horse, cat, pigeon, and monkey! (certainly a spot of chaos among the mostly gentle domesticated beasts) when he says that humans weren't really their favorite creatures anyway.


Though I picked up QV66 as a light-hearted book to offset the more serious reading I've been doing - books that I hope find their way into my thinking and writing - this morning I am asking questions about an idealized animal paradise where the roads are under water and the cars are rusty hulks and why it seems so important to label our experiences of a pandemic we are experiencing as an existential threat. I wonder about the impulse to seek a silver lining or a label. LeGuin, as she always does, helps:


In the yang-yin symbol each half contains within it a portion of the other, signifying

their complete interdependence and continual intermutability. The figure is static,

but each half contains the seed of transformation. The symbol represents not a stasis

but a process.


Reading is a process, thinking about being in the world is, too. When I have conclusions, I'll let you know.

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