Ursula K. Le Guin died this week. I had another plan for this post but now she has died and it’s all I want to write about.
When I first heard the news on the radio, my heart dropped. I was almost home and my big red van was cresting one of those small hills in my neighborhood. My heart dropped with the van as I realized I would never get to hear Le Guin speak. I had a chance when she came to the Puyallup Library a couple years ago. But I missed it.
I think hearing that a skilled and gifted writer left this earth hits me harder than some other deaths of well known people. I feel the loss of all the books they will never write along with the loss of their maker.
Anyway, she’s gone and I am left with one of her books on my shelf. I pulled it off and cracked it open again to smile once more at the loving way she treats those of us who go to her pages to improve our craft.
“I offered the course,” she says about her Steering the Craft workshop, “because I’d been meeting a good many workshop writers who were afraid of semicolons and didn’t know a Point of View from a Scenic Vista.”
All of this missing LeGuin has given me another harebrained idea.
What if I knew another writer or two who wanted to work through her craft book with me? Maybe we could meet once a week and learn some navigation skills together with a woman who is no longer on this earth but lives on in her words.
If you are interested, let me know.
Omniscent third person POV is not the easiest thing to master. I may never get it. That’s okay. I’m still going to give it a go because of what Le Guin said:
“To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit. To learn to make somethign well can take your whole life. It’s worth it.”
We met last Sunday and dug into the first session of crafting our SoulBooks. If you missed it, you can still come ot the next sessions. Talk to Diane, Ruth, or me and we can help you get set up! Or just come. We love party crashers.
Here are the specs once more. It turns out we have one date on the SuperBowl so be sure to check in. That may change, depending on our group.
And now for Part 5 of the high school band fiction “East and West.” In this last installment, Hannah sits alone, finds a surprising friend next to poisonous plants, and works up the guts to ask the guy out.
The gym steps were my favorite place. The painted white concrete steps formed a small circle. During the dances, I might sit out here with Ally in the old days. I thought of her now as I walked toward the steps covered in darkness with the only light off to the left.
I wasn’t really surprised to find myself trudging toward the steps of the gym. I texted mom again to let her know I was waiting there instead of over by the field with all the chaos. It was much easier, I told her. Fewer people. She could drive right up to the front and I’d walk around when she got there.
The danger, of course, was that a couple would be there making out. But, lucky for me, not tonight.
“Hey, Hannah!” This was from the lone person who sat there in the darkness. I peered toward the space to see Sophia with her braided ponytail now finally at rest, falling down her back. She was turning the pod of a Japanese lantern plant through her fingers. Although I didn’t want it to, the scientific name Rachel had told me earlier popped into my head: Physalis alkekengi.
Sophia waved me over. I wasn’t sure I wanted talk to her. I didn’t know if she’d been together with Ally on the set up deal. I hesitated a moment, hovering outside the circle of the stairs where she sat, perched up at the top, looking down toward me. She plucked another pod off the bush next to her and held it out toward me. Rachel would have a fit if she knew Sophia was denuding the plants her committee had worked so hard to get set up here. The Halloween Dance was tomorrow night.
“Check this out,” she said and held the tiny orange lantern out toward me. “You know in a little while the berries on these don’t taste half bad.”
The unripened fruit, I knew, was poisonous. When the Halloween Committee put the potted plants there, I asked why they didn’t plant them in the ground so next year they wouldn’t have to drag out the pots again. Rachel was on the committee and looked at me with a sparkle in her eye. She loved telling everything she knew about plants.
“Invasive. They spread if you plant them. The school groundskeeper went on for over an hour about not sticking weeds in the grounds. So we stay with the potted version.”
I moved up the steps next to Sophia and reached out to take the poisonous pod.
“Rachel told me about these,” I said. I didn’t often mention Rachel to anyone, a fact that made me feel ashamed. I almost felt better thinking about how she was not talking to me now. Almost. But not really.
“Yeah. I’m on the committee with her,” Sophia said. “She told me a bunch of stuff about how they are poisonous at first, how the outside will turn to a green husk surrounding the fruit and can symbolize protection, something we need at a spooky dance. She sure does get into the plant stuff, doesn’t she?”
I saw the moment then, hanging before me. It was the moment when I could make fun of Rachel. I paused and looked away, still holding my finger out to the side and not wanting to consider how mean I could be sometimes.
“I like that about her,” said Sophia.
I turned to look at Sophia then. She was now twirling the seedpod by its stem between her index finger and thumb. I couldn’t do that now with my aching finger and wondered how long it would take my mother to get there from the other side of town.
Looking away, I worked up the courage to say what was on my mind. In the distance, I saw the football team. Things were wrapping up. We were losing as usual. The scoreboard read 57-10 in favor of the other team. Michael’s team.
“I didn’t like how you set me up through Ally,” I said in a low voice. I wondered if she could hear me even with the crowd noise so distant.
“Wasn’t my idea how it went down. I just thought you might like him. Didn’t know she was going to be mean about it,” she was leaning in now, trying to catch my eye. “You don’t have to be so desperate about her you know.”
“Desperate?” I felt the color rush up into my face and thought I must look a lot like the red lantern she had now stopped twirling and was slowly picking at with her manicured fingernails.
“Ally can’t help who she is. And sometimes friendships don’t work out. People move. People change—“
“People’s dads lose their jobs and don’t have the money to buy the right clothes anymore?” I asked. Now I had picked my own pod and had it peeled down to the killer fruit inside.
“You know that probably only made it end faster with Ally. I bet it would have happened eventually. She’s not much like you, you know.”
I looked at her. Who was she to tell me all this? She never had a moment of not belonging anywhere.
“What do you do on the weekends?” she asked me. She’d put down the pod and we both stared out now into the darker side of the field away from where the final cheers sounded like one giant roaring after the latest score for East.
I shrugged. “Sit at home. Watch TV with my dad. Mess with my homework. Maybe call Rachel to see what she’s doing,” I looked at her now out of the corner of my eye. Where was she going with this? She was like some sort of peer counselor. I didn’t much like it but had needed someone to help me for so long I let her keep going anyway.
“What do you want to do on your weekends?” she said.
“I don’t know. Maybe that’s what I do want. Except maybe go on trips. And maybe go on a date or something.”
My mom texted me then and I stood up.
“Nice talking to you, Sophia,” I said.
She nodded. “Rachel and I are going out to Duke’s Chowderhouse tomorrow. We got some coupons and have enough to share. Cost about 10 bucks after our discounts. After that we were thinking about going to the corn mazes. Call me if you want to come.”
I had no idea they hung out. She must have seen the shock on my face.
“I told you. I like her. It’s okay to move on, Hannah. We’re going to be at this school almost another two years, right? All kinds of things could happen.” As she said this, my stomach clenched again, thinking of how much I wished I could still be friends with Ally. I wanted to think next summer we’d be out on the sailboard. But the truth was, even if Ally turned around tomorrow, asking to hang out with me, I wouldn’t do it. We were broken. The trick was to stop wishing we weren’t broken, I guessed.
“I’ll think about tomorrow. You sure Rachel would be okay with it?”
“Well, you might have to say you’re sorry.” I began to feel irritated at that but I saw where she was coming from so I nodded, giving the pod a squeeze and feeling it burst under my two good fingers.
Another text buzzed in from my mom as the crowds began to stream out of the stands. The game was over. I texted her back, asking her to wait one minute.
“Thanks, Sophia,” I said and tossed what was left of the plant. Hopefully, it wouldn’t seed itself and get the groundskeeper in a knot.
I stood up and moved against the crowd, pushing and diving like a fish swimming against the stream. Going back over to Michael was a crazy idea but I couldn’t shake it. I had to try to make something good come out of this messed up night. With any luck, I wouldn’t die if he said no like some spawning salmon.
Ally moved passed me, ignoring me as usual. It was almost a comfortable familiar feeling now when she pretended not to see me and I pretended not to see her back. Somewhere in my head I wondered how much effort she had to put into her end of the act.
“Michael!” I called as I saw him packing up his horn after pulling it into two pieces.
He turned with one hand on the mouthpiece, the other on the body of his trumpet. His eyes crinkled into a smile as he saw me and I felt relief wash over me.
He wasn’t annoyed at the weird girl calling out to him. My heart did a flip. It was better than the stomach thing that happened with Ally. Much better—not in the least bit comfortable or familiar.
“So, I know I could text you but,” I started and then took a deep breath because I had gotten a bit winded from upstream swim to get to him before he left.
“Nah. This is better. One sec,” he snapped his case together and turned to look at me. “So what’s up?”
“Tomorrow night we’re having a Halloween Dance.” I forced the words out before I could think much about what I was saying.
“Yeah, I think I heard that,” he waited and ignored it when the rest of his band mostly left, heading toward their buses for the hour long drive back to East.
I couldn’t get myself to look him in the eyes.
“So since it wouldn’t be giving into them like you said…” I fumbled around with my trumpet case and felt my finger throbbing full force when I moved it wrong.
“Sure,” he said, smiling even bigger now. “I’d love to go with you. What time?”
While we made plans, I couldn’t help wishing I would be able to tell Ally all about it. I didn’t know exactly when I’d stop. But I didn’t seriously have much time to worry on her with him looking at me over his shoulder as he walked off.
I could hear Mom texting me again, miffed, I’m sure, because I had left her waiting so long.
I smiled and nodded at Michael, full of gratitude for him and the new ache I felt. Sure, I’d have to deal with mom, the crumpled Bach Stradivarius, and my finger. But in this sliver of time, I had new friends–or at least the hope of them. I also had the strangest sense that I already had everything I needed somewhere deep inside like some Chinese lantern pod starting to take root.
I laughed out loud at the idea of the plant and hustled back over to the gym and mom’s warm car. When I told her about my horn, I even managed to not cry. Somehow, mom said, we’d figure it out.
And I knew we would from that place deep inside.