The Telling, Part 2

In The Telling, Ursula K. LeGuin creates a world, Aka, in which the chief form of cultural exchange is the telling, an oral and written tradition in which the lives of every person, every thing, every act, is named, spoken, recreated, preserved. It's a cultural tradition that is nearly destroyed after the Akans first contact with the people of Earth and the more technologically advanced cultures of the Ekumen.

A work of science fiction, yes, by one of the world's best science fiction authors. I think, too, it must be a memoir. Ms. LeGuin has spent her entire life telling stories, as did her father, the noted early 20th Century anthropologist, Alfred Kroeber. Kroeber told stories of the native peoples of California, LeGuin has spent her life telling stories of the people of imaginary worlds.

I tell stories, too. The ones I tell are almost always about my life, or the people in it. On many occasions I have been told that I'm vainer than vain, egotistical beyond all sufferance, for always insisting on telling my story. I've always been flabbergasted by this criticism. For one, I've always craved hearing the stories of others. For another, I've always thought telling MY story was self-effacing, not self-aggrandizing. For me, the real ego would be presuming to tell someone else's story. I can't aspire to even garden variety talent in that area. It's not that I lack empathy, more than I'm overwhelmed by the prospect of getting it wrong. Too many times in my life people have told me what to think, what to feel, for me to feel remotely comfortable ascribing thoughts and feelings to others. I can observe their pain or their happiness, I can speculate, but I can't get inside someone else's skin, I can't get inside someone else's head. That's not a talent I have.

What I can do is tell my story, whatever it happens to be, and it's always changing. One thing I've found over the years is that for everyone who wants to slap me down for being an egotistical brat, there are are two or three others who say, "you spoke for me." And while I don't really think that's the case, I do think that as individuals we don't tell nearly enough -- and that when one of us does, we're helping make up for the ten who don't.

In a different way, this was Jeremy's talent as well, one of so many. His telling, unlike mine, had an amazing ability to touch other people. Even now, nearly four months after his death, I hear from people who have run across his webpages and tell me they feel like they KNOW him. "I know that sounds weird, never having met him," they'll say, and I'll point out that it's only weird out of context, the context being that it's happened so many times it's not weird at all.

(I'm missing him tonight, more than usual...)


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