Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fantasy Fiction and Reality

Sharon posted recently on her craving for retail therapy and other forms of escapism. I can relate. My preferred form of escapism is fantasy fiction, though I long nurtured the not-so-secret conceit of good taste when it comes to literature. I've been re-reading Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series, and relishing every line of her austere, majestic storytelling. But strangely enough, I had a couple of wallops straight to the gut while reading these novels.

In A Wizard of Earthsea this bit of dialog from the Archmage to Ged leapt off the page and brought me straight back into my own world:

"And the truth is that as a man's real power grows and as his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do..."

And then just last night as I finished up the last novel in the series, The Other Wind, Le Guin returned to this theme and reminded me yet again of what's been happening in my own life:

"Once when my lord the Archmage was here with me in the Grove, he said to me he had spent his life learning to choose to do what he had no choice but to do."

These brief passages spoke to me powerfully. I'd read these books years ago, and loved them. But if I took any note of this idea back then, it was most likely with a sense of dread that ethics might someday constrain my freedom, my choices, frivolity, my ability to indulge my whims.

The world looks very different to me now. I see that each action of mine has consequences. And I know that most of those consequences affect other people - people far away, and people yet to be born, and other living things as well. I have a sense of myself and my place within the larger pattern of life. Yes, the way I can follow now is narrower and, by the looks of things, becoming ever more so. Yet I don't feel constrained. This is not something imposed on me, and it's not a burden I resent. It is my path. I don't claim that it is either easy or perfect. On the contrary, it is difficult and involves a great deal of struggle, and I'm still learning to choose. But I can say that on this path, my heart is less heavy. I choose, more and more often, to do what I have little choice but to do. I can no longer turn away from that responsibility. While the path before me is narrow, there is a deepening, a sense of putting forth roots, of finding my purpose, of integrity and homecoming and wholeness. I'm hinting here at what cannot be fully expressed, but that thing is what allows me to continue willingly and happily.

What began for me as a shift to a more frugal lifestyle has become a life path of much larger dimensions. Frugality is still a part of much of what I do, and I desperately want us to be free of our mortgage debt. But thrift has become almost an incidental. More central now is the idea of restraint, of finding a way to live my life within means that are sustainable and just. And when I have time to raise my head above my own tasks, I have visions of sharing what I have learned. Sharon's Jewish faith charges her to contribute to the "repair of the world." It's a daunting command. As an atheist, religion offers me no motive, neither the promised rewards nor punishments. Nevertheless, motivation has found me, and I am willing and even hoping to be a small part of the repair of the world.

I know this isn't the usual fare here at Living the Frugal Life. Thanks for listening.


Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Great post Kate, a person commented on one my guest posts the other day that people don't change unless they have to... . I don't believe that to be so, and you have said it so well.

Anonymous said...

well said. i am an atheist too, and I have found that i don't need religion to motivate my actions either.

Wendy said...

More central now is the idea of restraint, of finding a way to live my life within means that are sustainable and just.

This is where we are, too. I desparately want to be free of our mortgage. I also want that we be able to live more consciously, which means, to me, that our daily choices don't center around how we make money - that earning money becomes incidental ... like spending less ;).

Someday ... right?

Anonymous said...

I agree with your other commenters, this is a great post. I have often felt out of step with our consumptive culture, but feel at home here. And thanks for the reminder of this series, I too read the series as an adolescent, and loved them. Time for a read through with adult eyes!

Kate said...

Thanks, all, for the positive responses. I don't often venture a post that is entirely introspective or reactionary. I usually prefer to share something I hope others can use. But this post has been brewing for a while, so it's good to have it out there.

T@TC, I'd love to read that post if you care to add a link.

pmh, glad to "meet" you. Thanks for stopping by.

Wendy, yes. I hope someday to be debt-free and to be at the point where we only need to earn enough money to cover the taxes and a few things here and there. Convincing the spousal unit of the plausibility of such a life may take as long as getting to that point.

Ali, hope you enjoy the series through adult eyes. To my way of thinking, this is a series for almost any age. Le Guin's writing is accessible at so many different levels.

jewishfarmer said...

Lovely post. I should just observe that Judaism doesn't really offer rewards or punishments for tikkun olam ;-). Judaism is resolutely silent on the subject of what happens after you die, so there are no virgins or heaven in promise. Nor do we have hell. That's a much more Christian or Islamic content. You do what you do because we're here now, and it is the right thing not because of the promise of what you get later. The idea that religion motivates by promises of later rewards and punishments is true for some faiths, and absolutely not true for others.


Kate said...

Sharon, thanks. I wasn't speaking specifically of Judaism, but was speaking from an obvious ignorance of the details of your religion. So thanks for clearing that up. My upbringing in Catholicism certainly was uppermost in my mind when I wrote this post.