Ursula K. Le Guin’s Blog
62. A Much-Needed Literary Award
“A Much-Needed Literary Award” is included in UKL’s forthcoming No Time to Spare
You know those poor orphans starving in the snow on your doorstep that Google wants to put to work for Corpocracy Inc? Well, the Brits are after them too. Parliament is considering an “enterprise regulatory reform” bill containing extremely permissive provisions concerning “orphan works.”
What is an “orphan work’? The definition is pretty clear: a copyrighted work (most often a book, story, or photograph) for which the “parent” — the author or copyright holder — cannot be located.
Finding a copyright is easy: the Copyright Office has it on file. Finding copyright holders (heirs who don’t know they’re heirs, etc.) can take time. It’s not always quick and easy to identify an orphan as such.
And here’s where the definition is vulnerable to deliberate manipulation and obfuscation. (I like that word, obfuscation — “making dark.”)
The operative term is cannot be located— which does not mean “hasn’t been found,” or “nobody bothered to look for.”
Increasingly often books are called “orphans” just because nobody is bothering to locate the copyright holder, or even make a copyright search. If stringent requirements for identification aren’t upheld, anyone who wants to exploit the rights to an older work can, after the most cursory search for the copyright holder or no search at all, just declare the book, the story, the photograph “orphaned.”
And if this practice isn’t questioned, they can go ahead without concern for copyright, reproducing and exploiting the so-called “orphan.”
It’s not an orphan at all. It’s been kidnapped.
By now kidnapped works probably far outnumber genuinely orphaned ones. The Google Book Settlement allowed Google to declare books orphaned with little or no pretense of search and then reproduce them busily, steadily, and no doubt profitably. The Internet makes it incredibly easy to do so. The U.S. Copyright Office has generally failed or refused to interfere, leaving the entire onus of proof that the work is protected by copyright to the individual author.
Now the Brits are trying to legalize this injustice — a dangerous precedent for decisions yet to be made in the U.S. And worse yet, if Parliament passes the bill, many American works published on both sides of the Atlantic will be misidentified as “orphaned,” scanned and put online by British libraries and others without the permission of the digital rights holder.
Once that happens, you might as well kiss your copyright goodbye. Your book has not only been kidnapped, but handed over to the pirates. As Parliament lurches along hand in hand with Blind Pugh and Long John Silver, somebody else will be burying your treasure. Arr, arr. Isn’t that funny?
At this point, most of the organized opposition in the U.K. is coming from photographers, photo licensing agencies, distributors of news photographs. This also happened in the U.S. in 2008, when photographers got together and stopped “orphan works” legislation in Congress.
It’s hard to understand why writers, who are just as directly affected, are hard to stir up on this issue. Maybe we’ve had copyright so long that we thought it was genetic, or something?
What’s happening is that the Corpocracy — first Disney, then Google, to be followed by Amazon and the rest — has been working for over ten years now to dismantle copyright in practice and destroy it in principle — and to get government sanction for doing so.
Copyright Office seems to be paralyzed; the Department of Justice is looking away; the present Congress is hardly likely to protect art or artists against corporate greed. It’s up to us, the artists, the photographers, the writers, to defend our rights.
At this point, I don’t know any organization working to co-ordinate us into an effective movement except the National Writers Union. However you feel about unions in general, if you’re a writer of any kind, you might look into this one. It’s small, it’s active, and it’s on our side. Nobody much else is.
Here are some useful links:
Two British resistance websites —
Authors: Authors Rights
Encouraging information here:
In the U.S., the National Writers Union statement opposing the British legislation is at:
And here is the NWU’s warning about what the British bill can do to American properties. It ain’t pretty.
64. The Trouble
“The Trouble” is included in UKL’s forthcoming No Time to Spare
65. Accidental Discovery
The argument for real books against virtual books is often based on the thingness of the real book — the beauty of the binding, the pleasure of handsome design and typesetting, the sensuality of turning a paper page, the pride of ownership. I sympathize with that, but I’m a reader, not a collector — I love my books (and I have lots of them) for what’s in them. Except for a few dear, battered kid’s books that both my mother and I read as children, the physical individuality of a book is pretty secondary to me.
And so, given this priority of the contents, I’ve defended the e-book and e-reading devices as an extension of, not an attack on, The Book — as augmentation, not loss or destruction.
But this piece is about one way e-books do involve a real limitation, a loss. If this appears somewhat inconsistent, consider: what is life without incompatible realities?
It all began (like many novels) with a letter. I hide from fan email and the social media because email for business and with close friends is all or more than I can handle. Sometimes my PO mail is more than I can handle, too, though I always hope to respond. Anyhow, the letter Orion Elenzil wrote me was handwritten on paper, and it was a very nice letter of appreciation. But there was a PS or afterthought that I was particularly struck with. Orion says it’s OK to quote him:
…About traditional paper books compared to E-books… There’s an aspect to traditional books which is lost in even the best electronic reader, which is Accidental Discovery: i’m reading this or that, and leave it laying about the house, and you visit and see it, or you’re perusing my book-shelves to see what i’m up to, and find something which interests you. I’m a technologist, and i worry that this casual, accidental, and as you mention, social means of discovering by talking about books is threatened by devices which need to be explicitly searched in order to find out what they hold.
I answered him right away (by email — he did say he’s a technologist!) I said:
Your ‘minor point’ about books on paper as opposed to ebooks, the quality of Accidental Discovery, seems to me actually a pretty major issue. What it made me think of first was library card catalogues…. The electronic library catalogue has all kinds of uses and virtues, but (at least as far as I can manage to use it) it absolutely lacks Accidental Discovery. Maybe it has a little Planned Discovery, via subject search, but it just can’t provide what the card catalogue did by way of serendipitous blundering into related or totally unrelated books and authors via the drawer of cards you happened to be looking at.
Then of course the library shelf multiplies Accidental Discovery enormously.... My “research method” was to go to the largest library accessible to me, get into the stack where some books about whatever it was were, and blunder around in those shelves pulling off books until I found the ones I needed. I mean, how much can you know from the title? One book on Ancient Roman Sewers will be useless and the one next to it will be a revelation. But riffling through to establish such judgments seems immensely easier to do with an actual bound book than with the page-by-page limitation of a reading device. (Not sure of that, since I still don’t own one, though I’ve played with them — maybe I just don’t know how to e-riffle.)
To this Orion answered,
I think you’ve hit a nail on the head with the process of browsing the stacks of a library, or of a bookstore. I often head into a bookstore without a specific author or type of book in mind, and just walk around looking at titles and covers, or trying out a couple pages in the middle until something catches my eye. or not.
(Of course, of course! — and this activity, browsing, is so important, and so impossible anywhere but in an actual, physical bookstore — the bookstores we’ve lost, because we’ve let ourselves be lured into the pathless jungles of the Amazone…. )
I hold some hope that this organic and somewhat undirected discovery of books may eventually find an analogue in the digital age. I never would have predicted the amazing ways of sharing online we currently have, so I can’t profess to imagine what the e-reader may become in another ten or twenty years. But I absolutely agree with you that the current modes lack the accidental discovery which artifact books have so wonderfully. Altho I confess I’m also criticizing e-readers without having used them.
(Me too — have played with several kinds of e-reader, but haven’t yet felt a need to own one.
(Orion goes on: )
Another minor aspect I enjoy of traditional books which is currently meaningless with their digital offspring is that each book is its own artifact, complete with a small history and story. Many book-lovers would condemn me, but I’m an inveterate marker-of-pages and notes-in-the-margin maker. And it may be a small hubris, but in books I feel a particular connection with, I generally add my own name beneath the author’s on the title page — not as a mark of ownership, but of history. And now that I say it out loud, I realize that perhaps that agrees with your notion that “Reading is a collaboration”.
In any event, I’m positive that reading will remain healthy, and I’m hopeful that e-reading may discover ways to provide these things we enjoy in traditional reading.
I hadn’t even thought about writing-in-books. It’s a subject naturally loathesome to the librarian. And to the kind of collector who encases an unread book in plastic to preserve its virginity. But Orion is right, it’s important.
Underlining whole passages as I used to do, or even worse covering them with neon hiliter, is a lazy student habit that severely defaces a book. But the pencilled exclamation point or question mark, and the “Bullshit!” or “Wow!” or more subtle or cryptic comments in the margin, are only mildly intrusive, and can be enjoyable, adding a lively sense of connection to an earlier reader. A previous owner’s name on the flyleaf or title page gives this same sense of continuity. An old book bought secondhand may have the names of several people who owned the book, and sometimes dates – 1895, 1922, 1944…. This always touches me. I like to add my name and the year, respectfully, to the list.
My beloved friend Roussel Sargent recently gave me a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses printed in 1596 and rebound in vellum in 1604 — a very small, very thick volume, pocket-size, the letterpress still black and clear, imprinted on linen paper that weighs nothing and has worn like iron. For all my lack of the collector’s instinct, I handle that little book with reverence. It is the oldest book I have ever touched, by far. And touch does mean a good deal. So does time.
I know what the contents are, but reading Ovid in this edition would be even slower work for me than reading Latin always is. When I look into it, I’m far more likely to try to puzzle out the writing-in-the-book than the printed text. The margins are full of comments and the close-printed lines are interlineated with translations (mostly into German, or with another Latin word) in various colors of ink, some very faded, and many different handwritings, all tiny and mostly illegible to me. This book has been a scholar’s treasure and perhaps a schoolboy’s torment, it’s been bought and sold and given, lost and found, it’s been jammed into the pockets of greatcoats, thumped about in rucksacks, pored over in student lodgings, it has gathered dust in attics, crossed many waters, and changed hands a hundred times; it contains four hundred years of obscure human histories right along with the two-thousand-year-old words of the poet. Would I prefer it virginal, encased in plastic? Are you crazy?
But the question I can’t answer has to do with content. It’s this: To what extent is the Metamorphoses in e-book form the same book as the one I’ve been describing?
I don’t know.
But thinking about it has made it clearer to me that what there is to a physical book beside its text may be quite important. And it appears that these aspects, these qualities, these intellectual and social accidents, are at present inaccessible to electronic technology: irreproducible.
I hope my generous correspondent Orion is right that we may figure out how to restore human connectivity to the e-book, so that it does not, like so much of what we do on our electronic devices, isolate us more and more deeply, even as we are busier and busier communicating.
25 March 2013
66. The Rehearsal
“The Rehearsal” is included in UKL’s forthcoming No Time to Spare
67. La Guantanamera
After the Boston Marathon bombing people kept talking about Americans standing together, standing tall. I didn’t understand.
Americans grieving together, bowing down in sorrow together — I could understand that. We needed to mourn together for a celebration of joyful bodily health and strength that ended in horror, mutilation, and death. But standing together? Against what?
There is no enemy. This isn’t a replay of 9/11, an attack that did indeed draw us to stand together, briefly, before we cowered down in the quickly-built bunkers of terror-of-terrorism.
This is much more like a replay of the ever more frequent shooting sprees in colleges, malls, schools by sick men with powerful weapons out to hurt and kill at random. They always have their reasons — wretchedness and hatred disguised as personal, religious, or political reasoning, the circular, self-centered, meaningless “reasons” of insanity.
A nation can stand together against a conspiracy of intelligent fanatics like Al-Qaeda, but against a pair of wretched psychopaths? Us, against two sick kids? The United States, against them?
I know a lot of people can only stand together if they have an enemy to stand against — if they are at war. At the moment, a lot of such people here want that enemy to be Islam. As they have counterparts in Islam who are ready to oblige them, they may well get their wish.
It is not my wish. I have a question, instead. My question is: What do we stand together for?
And here I come up against something that really scares me.
How can I stand with my fellow Americans, “stand tall” as we are exhorted to do, what is the America I am standing up for — when I see our government abandon the principles of its Constitution, the moral consensus of mankind, and our national self-respect, by encouraging and prolonging deliberately cruel treatment of prisoners who have not stood trial and are not allowed to stand trial or seek release?
The Congress and the President are directly, immediately, daily responsible for an ongoing outrage of decency, a travesty of justice, the prison at Guantánamo. The responsibility and the shame for dodging it weigh most heavily on President Obama. He promised to deal with it, and has not done so.
On the contrary, he has embraced the Bush policy of “indefinite detention” of “suspects” — the emprisonment of arbitrarily designated “enemies of the government” without trial. War is always the excuse for this policy, as in the mass internment of our Japanese citizens in the 1940’s. Its use is very dangerous to the health of a democracy, and its prolongation could be fatal.
So I am not standing tall as an American, these days. I am sitting alone with my head bowed down, fighting an awful sadness.
I keep listening to an old song. I don’t know if it helps the sadness or makes it worse. Lots of American kids learned it at summer camp, a song as peaceable as “Kumbayya,” a familiar, yearning tune. But the irony of it now...And the sweetness of the words, their generous spirit, make that irony even harder to bear.
Yo soy un hombre sincero
Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera
Con los pobres de la tierra
I am an honest man
Girl of Guantánamo, country girl of Guantánamo
With the poor of the earth
The words of La Guantanamera are by the great Cuban poet José Martí; José Fernandez Diaz put them to the tune. You can hear old, old Pete Seeger singing it, here; or young Joan Baez; or dozens of other voices, Cuban, American....
Sung by Pete Seeger:
Sung by Joan Baez:
Other relevant links:
68. Why Your Library May Not Have the E-Book You Want
While most small presses sell all their books freely and happily to libraries, the “Big Five” publishers continue to be terrified by the idea of letting public libraries have their e-books, and to punish libraries for even trying to get their e-books to customers.
The corporations’ confused and panic-driven search for an “acceptable business model” for the library e-book has led to some truly grotesque solutions:
Perhaps we should be glad that this experiment is being carried out only in parts of New York City.
People in New York City are tough. They will not mind being followed home from the library by a person in a purple cloak and grey tights, known as S&SMan, who will move into their apartment and stay there as long as the book checked out, watching closely to be sure that nobody else in the family reads it or is even looking over the borrower’s shoulder….
And here are some truly remarkable figures:
In October, 2012, a certain best-selling book sold in print for $15.51.
If you bought the e-book on Amazon, the price was $9.99.
If your public library bought the e-book, they paid $84.00 for it.
So, dear reader, if your library doesn’t have the e-book you’d like to read, please don’t complain to your librarian. Complain to your publisher. Tell him to wake up and get real.
69. The Diminished Thing
“The Diminished Thing” is included in UKL’s forthcoming No Time to Spare
70. What Is Black and White and Orange All Over?
Annals of Pard VI
I was defrosting the freezer, and Pard of course came down with me to survey and re-investigate the basement, which is big and has much to investigate, what with the Pre-Cambrian furnace, and dark corners and odd angles and crowded shelves and storage boxes and picnic baskets and 10-quart boilers and so on, and many spiders, and many spiderwebs. He often comes up from the basement with gluey cobwebs delicately festooning his whiskers and his ears. This time he conducted a prolonged expedition, and when he finally came back upstairs his white muzzle was spotted all over with a shocking color. I thought he’d shoved his face into something sharp and hurt himself. I panicked and got hold of him, and we investigated, and Charles laughed. “It isn’t blood,” he said.
Pard had indeed stuck his head into something or other. Whatever it was, it wasn’t sharp, but it was very rusty.
I tried to wash his face for him with a dishcloth, and he thought I had gone mad. He was civil, but not cooperative, verging on indignant. I wash my own face, thank you! All I succeeded in doing before he got away was spreading the bright reddish spots into a general orange smear all over his jowls and chin. Now he looked like the wrong end of one of those primates with luridly colorful bits of their anatomy. What made it funny of course was that he didn’t know it, and maybe couldn’t know it — do cats even see red-orange? — and if he had known it, wouldn’t care.
He does look at himself in the mirror. I don’t believe any cats have passed an awareness-of-self-image test, as some apes have — for instance, seeing in the mirror a bit of tape stuck to their face, and lifting a hand directly to it to pick it off. But when Pard catches me looking at him in the mirror he often turns his head from that reflected exchange to meet my actual gaze, which impresses me: surely it signifies an understanding of what the mirror image is? Often he sits on the counter in the bathroom beside a mirror that gives him a full-length self-view, and seems to be studying it with calm approbation.
I doubt that merely finding his face had turned orange would change that.
The rust wore off gradually. He is a cleanly fellow and I’m sure washed his face as often as usual, but no oftener. After a day or two there was still a strong yellow tinge around the region of the whisker-roots. Cat’s whiskers are technically called vibrissae, a pretty Latin word hinting at the vibrancy and vibration and bristling of those amazing clusters of sensitivity, that spring like a fountain out of a cat’s muzzle and above its eyes and tell it so much about its world . . . though evidently they don’t always tell the cat not to stick its face into that particular interesting hole, from which it will emerge bright orange.
71. Pard Pix
Annals of Pard VII
The Placing of the Paws is Particularly Pleasing
Pretty Pard Posing with Posies
Pink-Petal Peonies, Pink-nose Pard
72. The Cat Letters
(obediently transcribed by Elisabeth and Ursula Le Guin)
Although incomplete, these letters are of great interest in revealing much concerning the Five Deliberations.
Though practiced openly and constantly by most cats, the actual nature of the Deliberations has remained obscure to most humans. Frederika’s revelation of them by name and her description of the practice to her correspondent Zorro is an epoch in our understanding of feline thought, and should clarify many mysteries of feline behavior.
At the time these letters were written, Zorro was about twelve, and had been in control of two humans in Portland, Oregon, for many years. Orphaned and abandoned as a kitten, he had had little or no teaching from elders of his kind, and had worked out a code of behavior of his own which was not always entirely satisfactory to himself or others. His epistolary friendship with Frederika was a great boon to him.
The growing bond between him and Opal was less intellectual, but of considerable interest also, particularly as regards their discussions of humping and biting.
Frederika, in middle age, was in full control of a single human, in West Hollywood, California. A somewhat troubling element had recently been introduced into her life in the person of Opal, a completely uneducated young cat, whose presence certainly caused Federika to call upon the spirit and practice of the Deliberations more actively than ever. But it is clear that Frederika was an adept, a true sage, ready to teach any who called upon her for teaching — as Zorro did, though Opal unfortunately did not.
There are no pictures currently available of the three correspondents. Zorro always wore tuxedo. Frederika still dresses in subtle and becoming grey; Opal favors a mixture of rather gaudy colors including orange, white, and black.
The opening letters of the correspondence have been lost. It ended, sadly, with Zorro’s death in 2011, only a few weeks after his last letter to Opal.
First Series — December 2010
Zorro to Opal and Frederika
Dear Opal and Frederika,
I wanted to tell you about the mouse I caught. I have let my humans catch the other mice, under the sink in the kitchen, because the mice have an escape hole there, but the humans have this box trap, and all I have to do is stand at the cabinet door and lash my tail and make my eyes into searchlights until they realise that there is a mouse in there and set the trap for it.
The mouse in the attic study was however more accessible to me and after long strategic planning I caught it by knocking over a wastebasket and a few other things in a prolonged, noise-producing, highly satisfying Chase Scene. I then brought it down to the front bedroom, where, naturally, I released it so it could play with me educationally. It played with me a little bit but then cheated and got down into the furnace grate and disappeared, which is unfair. They watched with great interest, I will say that for them, but I doubt they learned much. How can I teach them how to catch mice without traps if the mouse does not cooperate?
I ate the first mouse I ever caught and part of the second one but then decided that they are far more interesting and valuable educationally.
Wishing you asparagus, calves’ liver, and sufficient ham,
Your Friend at a Distance,
Frederika to Zorro
Here in our big pink building we do not have mice. I have searched quite extensively. This is unfortunate, and I suspect foul play on the part of the humans. Opal clearly does not know what a mouse is; she is very young and ignorant; how is she to learn the basics???
There have however been birds on occasion. I remember with fondness the last, a young crow that I dismembered at leisure in the living room. The human living with me at that time was thoughtful enough to let me take all afternoon at it.* It is a pity Opal was not there at that time, it would have been a fine anatomy lesson.
However there have not been birds of late and so I have entered upon the practice of the Five Deliberations. I was in the preliminary phases when Opal arrived, apparently to stay. This was fortuitous, since her youthful abysmal ignorance and silliness have provided me with much opportunity to intensify my practice of the Second Deliberation.**
I have few complaints. For some reason Opal’s food tastes consistently better than my own, but this situation is easily remedied. Less easy to remedy is the Usual Human’s consistent unwillingness to arise for the 4 AM Snack required by all true Practicants; but I have found a particular spot to scratch on the headboard of the bed which usually effects a response.
When this is inefficacious, I have been known to lick the tip of her nose. There is, of course, no personal affection implied, consistent with the Foundational Deliberation.***
On this windy night I send you all due Crunchy Treats, and a dollop of half-and-half,
* (note from Human: this was my last tenant but one, Marianna, who wrote me about it while I was in Spain. She is an ardent vegan. She left the scene in dismay, and made her boyfriend clean it up.)
Opal to Zorro:
Zorro to Frederika:
I am deep in admiration concerning the crow. I had quite given up on birds since they have these stupid front leg sort of things (even worse than the humans’ “arms”) which they use to go up off into the air with. It is abnormal and unjust.
My mouse used the Furnace Vent Routes and is now on the ground floor, behind the stove. I spent most of the day crouching and lashing my tail at his exit route. I am glad that the humans have set their little trap there so that I can go up to the blue chair and go to sleeep, I have certainly earned it.
I should like to know more of the Deliberations.
I have certain Practices. One of them I think resembles your Headboard Scratching, but it is a little more direct; it consists of Head Scratching. When the Female Human is facing the wrong way in bed (lying on her left side) she needs to be rearranged, so I come and scratch the top of her head (quite gently, barely any claw extrusion at all) until she turns over and faces the correct direction (lying on her right side) so that I can lie down beside her pillow with my butt in her face and go to sleep.
Head Scratching is quite effective. Has never failed yet. You might try it.
Zorro to Opal:
Your Distant Friend,
Frederika to Zorro:
Herewith the Five as I have been taught them. I hope that you find them useful.
1. Reserve (The Foundational Deliberation) A host of divergent translations reflect regional and philosophical variations: The Cat that Walks by Himself (Great Britain and former colonies); Self-Sufficiency (North America); Cat Tvam Asi (East Asia); and (among Japanese temple cats) Mu.
3. The Warmth Asana (sometimes expressed as an equation, x = 1/b2, where x is the ambient temperature and b2 the amount of fur exposed to air). The physical calibrations required to maintain equilibrium can be enormously delicate in a mild climate such as that of my home.
4. Placement (Feng Shui). Finding the right place in which to practice, relative to current conditions (topography, temperature, astrological factors, misguided attempts at reading by humans).
5. Sameness. That things should be always the same goes without saying; maintaining Sameness in a world prone to lamentable irregularities that are out of our control (I need only mention the terrible Cat Carrier) is said to be the highest discipline of them all. In a certain sense the first four Deliberations can be considered preliminary to the Fifth.
I wish a satisfying outcome to your labors with the mouse.
Opal to Zorro:
I like playing with human underwear, do you?
Zorro to Frederika:
I deeply admire your formulation of the Five Deliberations. It is clear that you have acquired true wisdom. As it is said, Adversity is the Mother of Felinity. I wish you, if Perfect Sameness is unattainable, at least a monotonous Regularity perturbed only by the slightest variations, such as the occasional crow.
The mouse has not evidenced itself recently, so I have retired to the attic furnace grate, which is covered by a carpet which spreads the heat out nicely, thus facilitating the Third Deliberation, and is also near the blue chair where the human sits making those misguided attempts to read from which, by judicious exercise of the Fourth Deliberation, I can often save him.
Your Friend, remotely,
Zorro to Opal:
No. I like humping fleece things while going oww, wowww, do you?
Opal to Zorro:
Dear Uncle Zorro,
Right now I am alone in my Private Place because I got mad at Auntie Fredi and said bad things.
She made me mad because she wanted to go on the human’s lap but so did I. This was Not Fair. And then she went up on a piece of furniture that was higher than me and looked down on me all superior the way she does. Her and her Deliberations, phhht. So I went in the middle of the floor and looked away from everybody and made my eyes all greeny and lashed my tail and said grrrr, grrrr, ooowwwwooo.
And then when the human put me in the Private Place I bit her. I am sorry for that part, but sometimes bites come out and have to be bitten.
But now I am feeling better and softer and when the human comes to the door she will bring me a treat because she always does.
What is humping?
Frederika to Zorro:
I forgot to mention a refinement to the Fourth Deliberation with which you are doubtless familiar; it concerns computers and tails. With practice, and constant delicate flicking adjustments, it is possible to cover a surprising number of the keys that the human wants to tap upon. This can often result in being invited, even if somewhat ungently, onto the Lap. That is where I currently reside.
P.S. Of course I do not look down on anyone even when I am superior to them. I am Ignoring; but the ignorant do not recognize this.
Zorro to Opal:
Dear Young Opal,
You must not say phhht to your Aunt Fredi. Saying phhht is excessively kittenish and you are not a kitten any more. Consider, for example, that you have a Private Place, in which you may withdraw, or be withdrawn, to practice both the Foundational and the Great Fifth Deliberations at leisure. Kittens have no Private Places except momentarily inside cartons, drawers, cupboards, etc. and then another kitten or two or six always crowds in, rendering Reserve impossible and destroying all hope of Sameness. You are a fortunate young Cat and should behave as such.
I entirely understand and approve of your philosophy of bites. If I had not lost my lower fangs (when a foolish and trusting youth, I was attacked by a viciously unstable small end-table), my own practice of the custom would be even more effective than it is. I favor the wrist, which bleeds most satisfactorily, do you?
As for humping, I feel perhaps you should consult your Aunt on this subject. It concerns gender, about which I find my ideas not as clear as I should like them to be. I know that gender is what divides us into Toms and Queens, but having begun life ( I am quite certain) as a Tom kitten, I do not seem to be a Tom cat, yet am quite certain that I am not an old Queen. Perhaps fleece blankets and shirts do not have the peculiar fascination for you that they have for me, so I shall say no more about humping at this time.
I wish you excellent, crunchy, utterly undeserved treats.
Zorro to Frederika:
Ah what poetry is in your saying: “I am Ignoring, but the ignorant do not recognise this.” I deeply sympathise with your being required to live with a young and ignorant companion. When I had a companion we were both young and ignorant. I bit him all the time. He never bit back, which was annoying, though I now understand it as showing that he was more advanced in the Foundational Deliberation than I. The good die young. Perhaps to you, an advanced Practicant, biting is on the same low order as saying phhht? I hope not, as I still truly enjoy a good lightning bite every now and then. I was glad to find, however, while I was carrying my mouse around, that my control was as good as ever; the mouse was entirely undamaged. And how did the humans receive this careful, thoughtful presentation, when it got up and ran off? With shrieks and lamentation! I shall never understand them.
May the food of Opal taste ever better to the Aunt of Opal.
And if, as I think may be, you are about to go into the House of Exile, may your time in the Horrible Carrier be brief, and may your mastery of all Five Deliberations make your time there pass like the dream of a winter's night.
The Second Series of Letters, Jan-Feb 2011
Fredi to Zorro:
There are things I do not understand.
My human is sitting (of which I approve). She has been sitting most of the day (better still). She is working with her tablet that vibrates and emits light and occasionally noises—I know you must know whereof I speak, these tablets seem to accompany most humans—and of course I help her. I keep her lap suitably warm, and when her tension level or my desire to snack rises beyond a certain level, I invoke Sameness distract her and reestablish balance. I am used to her sometimes irritable responses to this and I do not mind them because they always eventually result in my getting what I want.
All of this is well known. The part I do not understand is her consistent failure to understand and appreciate my artistic applications of the Fourth Deliberation tail techniques. Over time I have practiced the artistic tail placements designed to enhance the beauty and usefulness of any work surface, duly adapted to the tablet: Tip Rests on Delete Key; Delicately Brushing Trackpad; and so on.
Today, to honor her for spending such an unusually long time so nicely seated, I invoked the rare and exquisite Full Length Cross Keyboard Adornment. She was utterly unappreciative. Indeed I found myself summarily upon the floor, as if I were a mere kitten. I was quite offended...I wondered whether you had had any similar rebuffs and how you dealt with them.
PS now however I am doing it again and she is letting me, by typing gently around and beneath my tail...perhaps progress can be made after all. Persistence and steadfastness are key.
Zorro to Fredi, February 2011:
Some time ago you wrote me a letter, which I apologise for not replying to sooner, concerning your human's odd behaviour in relation to your refined application of Fourth Deliberation Tail Technique.
I should shrug (if I had shoulders to shrug with) and dismiss this as typical human lack of appreciation of many applications of the Fourth Deliberation — such as their objection to one's gracefully sudden Placement between their face and a book or newspaper, their resistance to proper Bed Feng Shui arrangements, etc. — if it did not concern the tail.
I have a great interest in tail management. My tail is one of my best attributes. I carry it rather low, lion style. It is not full and fluffy, of course; I pride myself on my shorthair ancestry. It is very long, very black, very flexible, and I employ it with immense variety and eloquence.
My female has, I am happy to say, a quite admirable admiration of my tail, and distinctly appreciates its rhetorical and ornamental flourishes, as well as some of its subtler Placements, such as the slow draw across the cheek when napping, and the evanescent wrap about the leg when requesting treats.
Obviously, your tail, like mine, is faultless. Therefore I wonder if the problem is with the tablet, rather than with the tail?
The tablet is, I have come to believe, a very evil creature. It is not alive, but it definitely has powers — not crude ones, such as the horrible Vacuum Monster, which destroys one's self-possession by mere roaring and bellowing as it runs about — but subtle powers, to which the humans become deeply in thrall. It absorbs their energies in a strange way, leading them to ignore even Us.
I have found the wisest course to be total avoidance of the tablet. I do not set paw upon it even when it is shut up like a box. I do not attempt to sit upon the female when the tablet is casting its spell of vibrations, lights, and clicking noises on her. If I want something while she is under the tablet spell, I walk around and around her chair, using the delicate and charming evanescent tail wraps I mentioned above, leaning warmly against her legs, purring ostentatiously, looking up sweetly, etc.
If this does not work, and such is the malign power of the tablet, it often doesn't, then I unsheath. I begin to scratch alternately at her pants leg (very lightly) and on the wall next to her (rather loudly). I believe you use this latter technique on the headboard of her bed when she is violating Bed Feng Shui? It is quite effective, is it not? After a while she always hisses and gets up and goes downstairs to serve me my Soupy Supper so that I can ignore it for several hours before I eat it in the middle of the night.
You might try this form of Placement in order to obtain your wishes. But I am so sorry your female does not properly appreciate your tail. It is very sad.
Zorro to Opal:
Dear Young Opal,
I don't know why it is, but you bring out something feral in me and so I have been wanting to ask you if you get violent impulses that overwhelm you so that you just go and do them?
The female human was petting my wonderfully thick, dense, silky, warm fur and I was purring away in full observation of the Third and Fifth Deliberations, when like lightning the desire to bite came upon me, and like lightning I bit.
I have only two fangs ever since the table attacked me, but they are extremely effective fangs. It was a forearm slash. She hissed furiously and swatted my elegant, slender backside quite hard. It was almost a cat reflex — but she can't unsheath, so it did no harm. I hissed back at her, leapt off the bed, and departed with dignity, while she was still hissing and bleeding. I felt good about the whole thing. Do you ever do anything like this?
I scarcely want to ask Fredi. I am sure she always observes the Deliberations, and I have a feeling that this behavior is, somehow, not quite in accord with any of them.
73. Walking through the Bottomland
This has been a prime week for unzipping political penises and seeing what they look like in public. In Paris Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been charged with “aggravated pimping,” which is legal French for encouraging, abetting, and exploiting prostitution. In New York Anthony Weiner has been busy sexting again, what a surprise! What a thrill! And — descending from these international heights of public lechery — here in Portland our county chairman and one of his subordinates left an email record of erotico-nepotism that has thoroughly screwed both her career and his.
Strauss-Kahn — I hope the arrogant old man feels his humiliation and understands the reason for it, though I doubt he can. Weiner appears to be far too deeply stupid to know what shame is. As for Jeff Cogen here in Portland, I feel a desolate disappointment, which is what drives me to write this piece.
The most promising local politician we had throws away his personal reputation and his sound career — for what? It doesn’t appear to have been love, but mere self-indulgence encouraged by ambition and a naïve sense of entitlement.
You have to ask, does any degree of power translate in a man’s mind into sexual license? Does giving people responsibility invite them to act irresponsibly?
His playmate, equally promising in her field, apparently felt as entitled to transgression; the tango was definitely a twosome. Women given power don’t often interpret it directly as privilege to fuck where they want — the power is usually less, and they’re likely to pay more, and more immediately, for the privilege. But women do of course use sex as rungs on the ladder of ambition.
Ms Manhas lost her job as soon as the story came out. Mr Cogen, though asked to resign by his fellow commissioners, has not done so. He says he wants to be judged by the law, not by public outcry. As the outcry has been relentlessly amplified by the local newspaper, he has a kind of point there. Portland has just survived a mayor who started out his term by having an affair with an underage intern, lying about it, and getting away with it. At least the county chairman and the health department manager are both adults, and so far, more or less, unperjured.
Maybe he can survive the scandal. Maybe we can have another tainted mayor. And then she, like his honor, will be just a casualty of his career.
But — but — what were they thinking? Did they imagine that emails and textings are secret? That privacy exists?
I guess they’ve been living where Anthony Weiner lives.
I wish the countries where we all live didn’t overlap so largely with that bottomland of imaginary entitlement and sordid, selfish folly.
74. Notes from a Week at a Ranch in the Oregon High Desert
“Notes from a Week at a Ranch in the Oregon High Desert” is included in UKL’s forthcoming No Time to Spare
75. Doggerel for a Cat
“Doggerel for a Cat” is included in UKL’s forthcoming No Time to Spare
76. Steens Mountain Region, August 2013
This is what a lot of it looks like. It is the northernmost part of the Basin and Range country, high desert, altitude over 4000', annual rainfall under 12" except for Steens Mountain, nearly 10,000 feet, which gets up to 40" as rain and snow.
Rainwater and snowmelt comes roaring down the NW side of the mountain as the Donner and Blitzen River and many smaller creeks, spreads out in lakes and marshes in the valley, and stays there. This is Knox Pond. There are a good many ducks and wading birds moseying around in it.
The P-Ranch barn near Frenchglen. Peter French ran a cattle empire for absentee bosses over the whole area before it began to be homesteaded. His great barns are admirable structures.
Inside the P-Ranch barn — long unused, of course.
Red Crater, in the Diamond Lava Beds, a state park, site of many recent small but fierce volcanic eruptions. This was one of them.
I am standing on the edge of Red Crater, shooting across one corner of it to the high point. The person on the skyline gives some sense of the scale.
Malheur Maar, the end of the road in the Diamond Lava Beds. The tiny lake inside the crater always has a pair of ducks living on it. A memorably strange and silent place.
I photograph this old ranch outbuilding every year. It’s a little more decrepit every time, but not much more.
Taken from the front steps of the ranch house where I sit every morning to watch the sun come up. That butte with its rimrock edge is one wall of the narrow valley. This picture was taken at evening, with the sinking sun throwing the shadow of the similar butte behind the house onto this one.
Work on the ranch.
77. Pard, Autumn 2013
Annals of Pard VIII
Pard Regards the Jungle Out the Window
Pard Surveys the World from Above
Pard Prefers his Water Fresh
Help, police, 911! There is a mad cat in the bathtub!
After the sixteenth request last month to blurb a book, I lost count. They kept coming; there must have been about thirty in the month of October. Five of them came in the form of the novel itself arriving unsolicited in my postbox with a cover letter from the author or editor. The others are letters, mail or email, describing the book and requesting me to read and blurb it. They all express admiration of my work, and most seem to be familiar with it, though some sound as if their familiarity was limited to my name.
Is something wrong here?
Am I not doing my duty by my fellow writers? Should I have read a novel every day last month and blurbed each one as the shatteringly brilliant gut-wrenchingly thrilling replacement for Game of Thrones/Girl with the Whatsit Tattoo/War and Peace?
If I did, what good would it do?
As you know, Jim, commercial publishing is collapsing into the production of bestsellers by the publishing subsidiaries of international corporations, who focus their PR on books expected to sell big & quick. And as newspapers and other traditional carriers of book reviews also collapse, reviewing dwindles into Kirkus, bestseller lists, informed or uninformed blogs, and amateur online ‘interactivity’ such as meaningless ‘likes’ or the ‘reviews’ at amazon dot com, much of which is mere self-promotion.
But what can authors do, if their publishers won’t do PR for them — or won’t even publish them, so they have to self-publish — what can they do but self-promote?
The how-to-sell-yourself guidebooks tell you all about the wondrous results of shamelessness. Uh-huh. Boasting works, for a while. Then it hits resistance. Self-praise is always rightly suspect. A crowd of people all shouting I Am The Greatest! at each other? Useless, boring. . . . Hence the frantic search for the blurb.
A blurb-seeker of even middling intelligence won’t approach bestseller celebrities, knowing the request will be simply dumped or brushed off by a staff-person employed to dump or brush off. But many writers consider giving a fellow writer a blurb as part of their job if they can do it honestly; and a moderately successful author, having no dump-and-brush-off staff, may be approachable.
So the self-published author hopefully makes a list of useful established authors and writes them blurb-me letters. And even the author who has found a publisher may discover that the days when the editor wrote the blurb-me letters are gone: the publisher now expects, demands, that the author write them. It’s all part of the prevailing idea that authors should sell themselves while publishers do more important things.
The trouble is, these days, that any moderately successful author who ever blurbed a book is at this very moment being approached by other authors and probably some editors — and not two or three of them a month, the way it was ten years ago, but many, many, and from all sides — like a lone impala on whom are converging a pack of wild dogs, a horde of hyenas, a pride of lions, three leopards, two aardwolves, and a leopard in a pear tree.
This is not a workable PR system. This is no way to publicise or sell books.
While standards of publication, reviewing, and advertising on the Internet remain incoherent, and while corporate publishers refuse to spend money to publish or publicise anything but the safest bets, we’re supposed to pretend that authorial self-promotion and the relentless inter-exploitation of writers for blurbs can maintain the whole business of literature?
Well, it can’t.
Meanwhile, this impala wishes say to every author and editor and aardvark who has sent her a book to blurb or a please-blurb letter this month — and all those who will send her their book or their please-blurb letter in coming months — Thank you! I am honored by your confidence in me and very sorry I cannot reply in any way but I have urgent business about thirty miles away across the Veldt right now, goodbye!
“TGAN” is included in UKL’s forthcoming No Time to Spare
80. Kid’s Letters
“Kid’s Letters” is included in UKL’s forthcoming No Time to Spare
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