Happy Birthday Doris Lessing

Taq-e Gara

And now at Kermanshah the gate
Dark empty and the withered grass
And through the twilight now the late
Few travelers in the westward pass
                       from “You, Andrew Marvell”  by Archibald Macleish
Kermanshah, known as the “Gate to Asia” lies in the Zagros mountains of Iran.  It is the largest Kurdish city in Iran.  It was here, on Oct 22nd 1919 that Doris Lessing was born.
In 1925 her family moved to Southern Rhodesia and it was in Africa that the Nobel Literature Laureate found her unique voice. An Africa that exists no more, where Robert Mugabe renamed the country Zimbabwe and chaotically dismantled the productive economy.
Twice married and twice divorced she left Africa in 1949 leaving her children behind because “There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children. I felt I wasn’t the best person to bring them up. I would have ended up an alcoholic or a frustrated intellectual like my mother”.
Banned from returning to Rhodesia (or South Africa) for her views on apartheid, she was also closely monitored by the British Secret Service for her support of Communism.  A supporter of Communism who was not afraid to denounce Soviet aggression .  She was vocal in criticism of the Hungarian and Afghan invasions.  Also a lifelong anti-nuclear campaigner and vocal feminist.
My favourite thing about Lessing is that she evolved into a writer of Science Fiction.  She moulded her Science Fiction from Sufi Philosophy, a throwback perhaps to the place of her birth, and the sinful Sufi poets of Persia.
Lessing stoutly defended speculative fiction against literary snobs.  You can do that when you have won every literary prize worth having!

Oh Cherry trees you are too white for my heart; by Doris Lessing

Oh Cherry trees you are too white for my heart,
And all the ground is whitened with your dying,
And all your boughs go dipping towards the river,
And every drop is falling from my heart.’

Now if there is justice in the angel with the bright eyes
He will say ‘Stop!’ and hand me a bough of cherry.
The bearded angel, four-square and straight like a goat
Lifts a ruminant head and slowly chews at the snow.

Goat, must you stand here?
Must you stand here still?
Is it that you will always stand here,
Proof against faith, proof against innocence?

Earthrise

Earthrise

The photo of the Earth taken by Major William A Anders from the Apollo 8 capsule slingshoting around the Moon is called “Earthrise”

It changed the way we look at the world.  Captured in the lens are the lives, loves, dreams, hopes and worries of all but 3 of the entire human race, on that day, Christmas Eve 1968.

To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold – brothers who know now they are truly brothers.” ….Archibald MacLeish

Seen in this way, a delicate ark of humanity, an oasis of life in the vastness of space really makes you think.

What is to be gained by man waging war on man?  We should be working shoulder to shoulder to reach out to the stars.

How can we exist on such a vulnerable sphere and allow it to be polluted, abused, over-expolited and poisoned by our own activities?

Why do short term greed, selfishness, personal ambition and crass materialism drive a society which should be planning for the long term survival of the human race?

If you need a resolution for 2019:  work in what small way you can to reduce the impacts of mankind on Planet Earth.  Badger your politicians.  Reject plastics and chemicals.  Eat less meat.  Opt for energy from renewable sources.  Invest your pension in ethical funds.

You, Andrew Marvell; by Archibald MacLeish

And here face down beneath the sun
and here upon earth’s noonward height
to feel the always coming on
the always rising of the night:

To feel creep up the curving east
the earthy chill of dusk and slow
upon those under lands the vast
and ever climbing shadow grow

and strange at Ecbatan the trees
take leaf by leaf the evening strange
the flooding dark about their knees
the mountains over Persia change

and now at Kermanshah the gate
dark empty and the withered grass
and through the twilight now the late
few travelers in the westward pass

and Baghdad darken and the bridge
across the silent river gone
and through Arabia the edge
of evening widen and steal on

and deepen on Palmyra’s street
the wheel rut in the ruined stone
and Lebanon fade out and Crete
high through the clouds and overblown

and over Sicily the air
still flashing with the landward gulls
and loom and slowly disappear
the sails above the shadowy hulls

and Spain go under and the shore
of Africa the gilded sand
and evening vanish and no more
the low pale light across that land

nor now the long light on the sea:

And here face downward in the sun
to feel how swift how secretly
the shadow of the night comes on …

Mind Bending

stairs

I enjoy writers who challenge the way we see the world, and give us a new way to perceive our reality.

A lot of people say they would like to be taller, but it turns out they only want to be a tiny bit taller.  Play “would your rather” and ask if you would you rather be 3 feet taller, or 3 feet smaller!  That is revealing.

Gene Wolfe challenges firmly held conceptions brilliantly in his “Book of the New Sun” series.  He describes dawn in terms of the horizon slipping below the arc of the sun, rather than the sun rising over the horizon.  Throughout his work he challenges the way we look at the world.  He even manages to engender our sympathy for the “Guild of Torturers” as they carry out their work on the condemned.

It is interesting how we celebrate our lives in the time from birth to present.  Funny how sinister it sounds when you point out to a person on their birthday that they are one year closer to the grave.

Time is relative to what you do with it.  A school clock moves only five minutes in every twenty whereas party time clocks always seem to register half an hour in only ten minutes.  The famous choice of Achilles is a prime example of this:  a long and dull life or one that is short, exciting and leaves a reputation that endures forever?  When people ask me if I find my commute to be long I turn it around.  Commuting is just like life, it is not how long you spend on the train that counts, it is how enjoyable you find that time, how productively you use it, whether you engage with others or create barriers to communications.  Me?  I love the train.

Another interesting choice faced Tithonus.  He was granted enteral life by Zeus on the request of his lover Eos, the titan of the dawn (Aurora to the Romans).  But she forgot to ask for eternal youth.  Eventually, when crippled and bent, she could no longer look upon him and had him sealed away.  In some tellings of the tale he was transformed into a Cicada, and spends eternity chirping, asking for death.

Trafalgamorians from Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut are a race for whom time does not exist.  There is no past, no future and no concept of causality.  Everything happens in the moment, and we can move forwards and backwards in time at will and visit any moment of existence at any time.  If you can move backwards in time, how can your ‘past’ actions influence your ‘future’?  That is a powerful concept for a novel.

It is also a theme that was explored by Heinlein in “Stranger in a Strange Land”.  He explains how human speech is too bounded in concepts of time and place for his “Stranger” who is more comfortable with biblical style prose such as “is now and will be for all time to come”.

Seafarer; by Archibald MacLeish

And learn O voyager to walk

The roll of earth, the pitch and fall

That swings across these trees those stars:

That swings the sunlight up the wall.

And learn upon these narrow beds

To sleep in spite of sea, in spite

Of sound the rushing planet makes:

And learn to sleep against this ground.