The Danger of Denying the Existence of Dragons

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018)

Here is the complete quote: “People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.”

Ursula K. Le Guin died in January of this year, leaving me bereft of her elfin wisdom. Not entirely, because there are all those books and stories of hers, which I am still plodding my way through. Today, I finished A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1994), which contained three short stories that are to my mind the best stories ever written about space travel. They include “The Shobies’ Story,” “Dancing to Ganam,” and “Another Story, or A Fisherman of the Inland Sea.”

That middle initial in her name, the “K,” comes from her father, Anthropologist Alfred Louis Kroeber. What elevates Ursula from the technoid school of science fiction is her interest in exotic, invented cultures. These are best seen in her Hainish stories, which are my favorites among her works.  There is no end to the writing of fantasy stories, but somehow Ursula’s were special. They might be set in the distant future and on distant planets, but they involve real feelings among real beings. As she once said ,“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel … is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”  Well, she wrote those kind of books. In spades.

The Edition of A Fisherman of the Inland Sea That I Read

In the three stories I have mentioned from A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, there are two methods of space travel:

  • NAFAL, short for Nearly As Fast As Light. To the space travelers, the time expended in travel does not seem so long, but for those who have been left behind, years or even centuries pass.
  • Churten Theory, in which the travel is instantaneous. One could travel to Antares and be back for lunch. Travel via a Churten drive can be highly problematical, however, especially if the people traveling don’t get their stories straight or are incompatible in odd ways. “Wrinkles” in Churten travel can lead to strange results.

I look forward to reading (and maybe re-reading) several more of Ursula K. Le Guin’s work this year.

 

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018)

I’m Going to Miss Her

My two favorite contemporary women authors are Joyce Carol Oates and Ursula K. Le Guin. Both of them are deserving of the Nobel Prize for Literature, but now Ursula won’t be able to show up to collect. She died last night at her home in Portland, Oregon.

I keep trying to find new women writers I like. In fact, I’ve made a concerted effort this month—and I’ve found some good ones, but they’re all European.

Born of a famous anthropologist (the K. of her middle initial stands for Kroeber, as in Alfred Louis Kroeber), Ursula always brought something extra to her novels and stories. There was a bit of the anthropologist in her, too, and it made her best-known novels such as The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), the Earthsea Novels, and the Hainish novels more wise and penetrating than many of her contemporaries. When the New York Times referred to her as “America’s greatest living science fiction writer,” she retorted that she preferred to be known simply as an “American novelist.”

The Library of America has been publishing volumes of her work which I am adding to my reference shelf. After I finish reading her work, I want to start all over again. She’s that good.

 

No More Goodstuff

Allen Reinertsen of Bangkok, Thailand

I am greatly saddened by the recent death of one of my oldest Internet friends, Allen Reinertsen aka GOODSTUFF. Although I have never met him face to face, we have known each other for some ten years—back when we were both blogging on Yahoo 360. Then when we both migrated to WordPress and FaceBook, we re-established contact. I loved his long postings featuring cheesecake from the past, science fiction, and political ideas which, although the opposite of mine, did not arouse my ire.

After all, my dear father voted for George C. Wallace of the American Independent Party several times; and Martine’s political beliefs, also, are considerably to the right of mine. That’s all over and done with now.

Memorial from Reinertsen’s Memorial Service

Reinertsen is survived by his wife Srisuda, and possibly by one or more children, though I am not sure of this. He looks to be in his fifties, which is way too young to die. I would like to have known him, because, based on his posts, he was both gentle and funny. I can only hope that he is in the heaven of large-breasted women and ice cold beers.

It is always sad to see a friend’s passing. May the gods be kind to him and the people who loved him in this life, among whom I number myself.

And remember:

The Ultimate Good Advice from GOODSTUFF

 

 

Death of a Bookseller

Bob Klein and Friend

Time passes, and so do we. I had not been to my favorite used bookstore—Sam Johnson’s in Culver City—for many months. One of the two partners who owned the store, Larry Myers, was seated at the desk. When I casually asked him how his partner Bob Klein was, I was told that he died in June. I was appalled. For over three decades, I have looked forward to my conversations with Bob. Even though his politics were diametrically opposite to mine, we had always got along.

In addition to being a bookseller of some repute, Bob had taught English at Santa Monica College for decades. There was frequently a steady parade of students who regarded his bookstore as an extension of his office.

He was also an author who has written three books under the name R. E. Klein:

  • Mrs. Rahlo’s Closet and Other Mad Tales (New York: Time Warner, 1988)
  • The History of Our World Beyond the Wave: A Fantasy (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998)
  • The Way to Mt. Lowe: A Southern California Tale (Los Angeles: Sam Johnson’s Publishing, 2005)

I have the read the last two of these and loved them. I always hoped to see Bob write more books. In fact, I always wanted to interview him as an educator, writer, and bookseller and write a series of blog posts about this singularly talented man who was also my friend. But the opportunity was lost.

Sam Johnson’s Bookshop on Venice Boulevard

The bookstore was not always at this location. I got to know it when it was located on Santa Monica Boulevard, near where I was working at Urban Decision Systems. My lunchtime visits to the store led to my discovery of G. K. Chesterton, who has become one of my favorite authors.

With the passing of Bob Klein, Los Angeles has lost a civilizing influence; and I have lost a friend.

 

A Death in Tax Season

My Late Friend Don K. Yamagishi

My Late Friend Don K. Yamagishi

I would give anything not to have to write this, but today I lost a friend and co-worker. Don Kiyomi Yamagishi was an accountant and an attorney, and one of the most friendly and approachable people with whom I have ever worked. Although the above photo is twelve years old, Don did not look very different in this, the last year of his life. When we learned the news late this afternoon, there was not a dry eye in the company.

Don served as the tax manager of the accounting firm for which I work. He was a real scholar, a man of knowledge and consummate professionalism. He also served as the accountant for the Union Church of Los Angeles in Little Tokyo and as a volunteer working at a summer camp for disabled children.

Most of all, though, he was a friend whom I will miss deeply. Some people, when they leave us, leave many holes in our lives. Such was Don. May God have mercy on his soul and reward him for just being himself. Which is the best I could say for anyone.

Frida Kahlo: “A Ribbon Around a Bomb”

Frida Kahlo Self Portrait

Frida Kahlo Self Portrait

In all of the New World, there was never so beguiling and striking a painter as Frida Kahlo. Today is her birthday. If she were alive today, she would be 109 years old. But, alas, she died in pain at the age of 47.

At the age of 6, Frida came down with polio. For the rest of her life, her right leg would be thinner than her left—a fact she disguised by wearing only pants or long dresses. At the age of 18, she was in a bus accident in which she suffered, according to Wikipedia, “a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder.” Also she was able to walk again, she suffered excruciating pain, had multiple surgeries, and became a world-famous painter.

She married the painter Diego Rivera, had numerous affairs, including with Leon Trotsky, and was, despite her health issues, beautiful and proud. Of her, André Breton said of her art that it was “a ribbon around a bomb.”

Nude Portrait of Frida Kahlo by Julien Levy

Nude Portrait of Frida Kahlo by Julian Levy

In the end, after she died, Frida’s fame only grew, such that her work is more recognized today than that of any of her contemporaries. If ever I should return to Mexico City, I would like to visit the Casa Azul, the Blue House, in Coyoacán, where she was born and where she died. Today it is a museum dedicated to her life and work.

Frida’s Self Portrait with Broken Column

Frida’s Self Portrait with Broken Column and Nails


Asked why she appears as the subject of so many of her paintings, the artist said “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”

Muhammad Ali’s Long Journey

It’s Been a Long Journey

Somewhere Enroute, He Became a Beloved Hero

He was handsome. He was strong. He was a big time bad-ass. Cassius Clay seemed to flout all the standards of the world of the 1960s. Then, when he converted to Islam (influenced by another bad-ass: Malcolm X), the now Muhammad Ali seemed almost Satanic in his majesty.

Today, the same boxer who frightened us out of our wits died an old and much-beloved hero. He may have floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, but he became ever more enlightened and benevolent as he aged. In 1996, he reached his apotheosis by lighting the Olympic Flame at the Atlanta games.

Although it was not unexpected, I am still broken up by Martine’s announcement of his death as I was on the last page of a biography of French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Somewhere along the line, we are all on the last page of the book of our own lives.