Ursula K. Le Guin

For years, I worked as a high school tutor, teaching kids how to structure their writing. But for the more advanced, we got to my favorite topic of all – voice. Ursula K. Le Guin, another of my favorite writers, was always part of the lesson. When I first read the opening of A Wizard of Earthsea, her voice swept me away with its magic and romance.

“The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. From the towns in its high valleys and the ports on its dark narrow bays many a Gontishman has gone forth to serve the Lords of the Archipelago in their cities as wizard or mage, or, looking for adventure, to wander working magic from isle to isle of all Earthsea.”


Hers are the rhythms of fables, a sense of timelessness and deeds of import. I, for one, cannot get enough of it.

Tying ourselves in knots

Assault weapon fun

Kids playing with toy assault weapons at an agricultural fair (Photo credit: davidfntau)



People live by stories. Some of them are great ones, stories that push us to live up to ideals, to be better than we are. When we tell ourselves our role is to save lives, or teach, or nurture, these are great stories, and ones society needs desperately. But sometimes we get stuck on a particular story, all facts to the contrary, and we can’t let go. Such, I believe, is the story too many people in this country tell themselves about guns.


Since Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, I can’t stop reading the news. As a mother, my heart is breaking for the families of all those lost. As a human being, I’m horrified that we’ve been so reckless as a culture. We don’t have adequate, or in some cases any, support for the mentally ill and their families. We glorify violence on TV and in movies, make heroes of villains, and then, most of all, make access to guns — and assault weapons no less — so easy that almost anyone can get one. And still, gun advocates continue to tell themselves the story that more guns are better. That a society armed to the teeth is the safest one around. Here’s a quote from an article today that made my jaw drop:


“(S)ome gun advocates, like Republican Representative Louis Gohmert of Texas, are saying that the shooting could have been prevented if more responsible adults in the area — like principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was killed when she confronted the gunman — had been armed themselves.

“I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands,” he told Fox News on Sunday. “But she takes him (the shooter) out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”



So this is what we want? A society in which an elementary school principal needs to be armed like a soldier? Where along with pencils and extra notebooks and stickers, she has an M-4 in her office?


When people get so buried in a story about what should be that they can’t see the facts, the world grows twisted. It’s time for all of us to say enough.



We spent this past Thanksgiving with close friends in New Jersey, and some of the kids ventured out into the wilds, by which I mean the mall on Black Friday. Alongside the great deals and the tales of massive crowds, they came home with pictures, and one in particular (above), really caught my eye. It’s an American flag made out of gym shoes.

Shoes have a peculiar power as metaphor. There are, of course, Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Cinderella’s glass ones, which, with their magical properties, take the ordinary or impoverished heroine home, or to the castle, depending on her deepest desires. But shoes as metaphor have been around much longer even than that in both legend and history. According to one rabbinic tradition, when the biblical Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, they bought shoes with the proceeds. And the prophet Amos rails against injustice with a similar reference: “Because they have sold for silver those whose cause was just, and the needy for a pair of shoes” (Amos, 2:6) At the burning bush, God tells Moses to remove his shoes, for he’s standing on holy ground. And then there are the hideous photographs of piles of shoes at Auschwitz, stripped from those on their way to the gas chamber. Shoes can represent disgusting excess, as they did when it was made known that Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, had 2700 pairs of them, or they can symbolize our disconnect from nature, as it does for the new generation of barefoot runners out there.

So what does the flag of shoes mean? Is it a symbol of American materialism? Even the flag is now made of shoes? Or does it communicate inclusiveness? Everyone in this country should have access to the bounty that shoes represent? I’d venture to say they meant it as the second, but it’s probably a little of the first, too.

Fascinating what a pile of sneakers can conjure up.