Saturday, November 22, 2014

You need more Ursula K. Le Guin in your diet.

People of the Listserve --

When I was thirteen, I was visiting my grandparents and passing a lot of time in the public library in their Portland, Oregon neighborhood. My grandfather was very sick; the atmosphere in my grandparents apartment was tense and mournful, and I was happy to spend as many hours as possible out of the house. I'm a lazy reader and usually turn to familiar books to comfort myself when I'm feeling low, but most of the books I knew well had been checked out, so I found myself browsing through fantasy and science fiction titles for books I hadn't yet read.

I don't have a precise memory of coming across Ursula K. Le Guin's "A Wizard of Earthsea," but I'm certain the endpaper maps of the Archipelago, the island-world of Earthsea, captured my attention right away (maps are endlessly seductive.) I hoped, I think, that the story inside would be similar in mood and feeling to C.S. Lewis's Narnia books, or to "The Hobbit."

What I found instead was very different: there were certainly the trappings of adventure. "A Wizard of Earthsea" is a story of magic, and danger, of a young wizard who attends a school for spell casters, a terrible shadowy being, dragons, evil enchanters, and lots of sailing. But it is also a story about pride and humility, about the precarious balance between human desires and the natural world. And about being and not-being. It unsettled and surprised me -- it was melancholy and strange, utterly memorable but elusive in the way that none of the other works of fantasy I had encountered were.

I finished "A Wizard of Earthsea" within a couple of days, and immediately picked up "The Tombs of Atuan," the story of a girl taken from her family and made the priestess of a deathly religion, and how she gains her freedom. It was even shadowier and more troubling than the first book, and it stayed with me all the more after my grandfather died, during that same visit.

Since that time I've read more of Ursula Le Guin's fiction: all of the remaining Earthsea books ("The Farthest Shore," "Tehanu", "The Other Wind" and "Tales of Earthsea") as well as her books "The Left Hand of Darkness" and "The Dispossessed," which are works of science fiction, but which focus far more on people and their relationships -- and on ideas -- than on any of the usual themes and ideas one associates with SF. It's difficult to describe the experience -- especially considered in total -- that reading Le Guin's work imparts, but anyone who's had an encounter with one or more of her books will know what I mean.

"The Left Hand of Darkness" is a story about (among other things) about a people whose gender is not determinate, but which changes in response to their situation. It was the first book that I ever read that offered me a glimpse of how constructed and totalizing our ideas about "male" and "female" are. "The Dispossessed" is a similarly eye-opening treatment of ideas about freedom, property, and how we make our societies.

Thisis hardly an exhaustive list of her books, but these are (perhaps) her most essential ones. Sometimes I think the only magic that could exist would have to be of the sort Le Guin has written into being. If you haven't read any of her books, I hope you'll pick one up. Write me if you do. Thanks for reading.

Bill Tipper
Brooklyn, NY

Friday, November 21, 2014

I Love My Girls!!!

There are two little girls who I love more than anything on this planet. Isis (yes her name is Isis but she had it 3 years before the terrorists did) is four years old, and Xyana is two. My wife and I are not related to them in any way shape or form. We have just had the great fortune of knowing them since Isis was 3 months old and Xyana's birth. In my 45 years of life I have not experienced anything better than the pureness and perfection of a child. Watching as they learn to walk and talk are great but it is the smaller things that really amaze me. I especially remember the time I first noticed Isis, who knew how to count for quiet some time, learned that each marshmallow she counted was represented by an actual number. Before that, any group of 5 things could have been counted as 3, 8 or even 10. It was so cool to see her count 5 of them over and over, each represented by its own number. She finally understood! Once when Xyana had done something mean to Isis while we were driving somewhere, my wife was scolding her. Her reply after a short time was “can you guys be quiet up there, I’m trying to sleep. They used to spend the night 3 or 4 times a week but now live 10 hours away. It is not easy to have phone conversations with small children but we manage (mostly due to my wife who is a better communicator than I). It is extremely difficult to be separated from them. It feels as if part of me is missing. I have kept a journal of them since their birth. It chronicles the things they have learned, the funny things they say and do, and things we have done and shared together. It will be a gift to them one day. I love reading through it. Words paint a much better and clearer picture than a photo does. It is nice to relive those times in my head.

Things I like (besides Isis and Xyana).
Laughing, talk radio, Rice-A-Roni, pizza, Chinese food, potato’s in any form except raw, pie, macaroni and cheese, licorice, and my cholesterol and blood pressure medication. Food is defiantly my drug of choice.

I am overweight by about 30 pounds. Loosing weight is very hard for me. I go up and down between 230 and 250. I quit smoking 15 years ago and found it to be very easy to do so. I have never had a craving. Really, I never have. But food is a whole other ballgame.

I hope one day to live close to my girls again so if anyone in or near the western part of Michigan’s upper peninsula needs a hard working honest man, please let me know.

My favorite emails are the ones that tell something about that persons life, the least are those that offer advice. My favorites, in the order I received them have been from:

Deva Niaz (when I was notified I had won I thought it might be a hoax because of your story.)
Garrick Van Buren
Josh (from Ohio)
Taylor Hesselgrave
Steve Ngapo (hope Ella is well)
Warren M.
J. from IN
Brandon (DE)
Andrew (WI)
Fred (Boston)
Megan (Houston)
Gary Marshall
Kristen Teraila
Jonathan Kaufmann
Randi S
Victoria Mark
Wendy (Atlanta)
JP Erkelens
Anonymous (MidAtlantic)
Warwick Poole
Kim D
Cattie (Missouri)
Lauren (Brooklyn)
Kat Hurley
Jessica Friedman

Thanks for your time,
Michigan, USA
(3 words to spare)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Better Days Ahead

These days, lots of people have access to an unprecedented amount of information on how to live a better life. Here are ten ideas I try to practice as often as possible. I always believe we all have better days ahead of us.

1. Call your parents once a week and tell them you love them. If not your folks, call someone you love. Never underestimate the power of your voice expressing affection upon someone.

2. Live below your means and work to save at least 20% of your salary. Set up automatic withdrawals to a separate account. Maximize your retirement contributions. It is never to late to start saving and yes, every penny does count.

3. Little habits make all the difference in life: Stretch & Touch your toes in the shower every day. Brush your teeth. Put your fork down between bites.

4. Do something nice for someone once a day. The cumulative effect of random acts of kindness are worth striving towards.

5. Eat less meat, processed foods, and exercise more. Little changes will always add up.

6. Read more - just not on electronic devices. There’s beauty in focusing some time to shutting off all distractions and reading a book.

7. Music - Make more music, or listen to more Classical, Jazz, and ambient music. All great genres to help meditate.

8. Never stop learning: Learn something new every day. Read something different, draw something, cook something new.

9. Be Optimistic. Before you say or do something, think. Take your time, choose your words carefully, and always be optimistic. This time will never come again, make it count.

10. Save a life - adopt a pet. You may find that your pet may be the one saving your life.

Hope some of these ideals resonate with you all.

Mohit SantRam

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A class of responses

I heard about Listserve, through a class activity around three months ago. Our assignment was to detail what brief statement we would say to 1,000,000 if we had the opportunity. This intrigued a of few my peers and I, which led us to finding The Listserve and subscribing. Miraculously enough I won. I am going to share with you a select few responses that my peers and I had!"Appreciate those around you, whether they are loved ones, friends or just acquaintances, and just for a moment, acknowledge what they mean to you. You never know when they might leave." -Nick G

"People will find that if they take the time to stop, talk to others and listen to their stories, they will find aspects of themselves. They will soon come to the realization that they are not as different as they once thought." - Trevor K

"The world needs more of those who are kind to others and brave in facing their daily struggles. I believe that you who are reading is beyond capable of taking action, whether big or small, to spread love in this world no matter how hard." -Natalie S

"Everything that I could say and everything I should say has left my mind. I am lost in a sea of mediocre thoughts and yet I am still asked to talk to more people than I ever had before. I believe that this in itself can be a lesson to me and maybe to some of you. But it is interesting in the two different ways you may look at it. On one hand maybe I should have been more prepared, ready to address this many people at once. So that I could been seen as intelligent, professional, and have my thoughts respected. Yet without this preparation the experience is entirely different. This frantic search to find something worthwhile to say. It makes me feel a rush of many different emotions, the excitement of being encountered by this new situation, the nervousness of failing, and the joy of having it finished. In the end it gives me a respect for words which I did not have before. A want to pick and choose every word with love and care." - Connor S

"A world in which everyone loved themselves would make more room to love other people fully. Right now, most have negative views towards themselves and in turn project it onto others. If everyone could love themselves, we could spread so much more positivity. I think everyone would be happier." -Kylie C

"We are trained to always be rushing to the next thing. Our schedules fill up too quickly and we end up having to pick what we have time for and what we don’t. Take a quick break from life. Put down the smartphone and go someplace where there is no evidence of human civilization. Experience the beauty of something untouched by man. Take the time to 'stop and smell the roses' because life does not have a point without the simple pleasures." -Andrew N

"I would rather walk off the stage smiling, than be asked to leave." - Nikola M

Thank you all for reading!

Southern California

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Good Stuff

Here’s the thing. I don’t know much, really, about anything. Still trying to figure so much out and I turned thirty this year, which felt big. I’ve always been in love with stories- on film, on TV, in books, music, photographs, canvas… I think our art showcases the best and worst in us and that always moves me. Beyond that there’s not much I can say for certain.

What I do know about is people. I’ll give you a couple reasons why.
I’m the colour of a roasted peanut, ‘cafĂ© con leche’ in Spain. My mother’s side of the fam is Jamaican. A few generations up our family tree is a slave who fell in love with a Scottish landowner who loved her right back, building a home on his land for them and their family. My father’s side is Puerto Rican and my grandmother insists there’s native Taino on her mother’s side while my grandfather was mostly of (the conquering) Spanish descent. The point is this- where we’re supposed to hate sometimes we love and pretty soon nature reclaims the building prejudice is housed in- the vines grow until the cement cracks and the glass disintegrates, leaving nothing but a frame for life to grow, take root, flower and bloom in.

My parents divorced soon after I learned to walk. They both remarried and divorced again- one was a peaceful negotiation, division and sharing of responsibilities and assets. The other was sprawling, vicious warfare that left a crater with an irradiated zone in the middle of my teenage years. Not an unusual story, just a painful one.
I grew up in the USA during the summer with my father and Ireland for the rest of the year with my mother, visiting my grandmother on a hill in the Puerto Rican countryside or lingering over curry goat with my Jamaican grandmother and her church music in her house in Long Island, getting ready for the house to be filled with drinks and reggae when aunts, uncles and cousins came pouring in later.

What I’ve picked up from my family history past and present is how we’re all the same. We all seem to be recipes that require the same ingredients: home, safety, food, water, love… (music, books, movies and art I would argue too but that’s just me)
Having had a front seat to three divorces I can also say that you love someone by listening without judgement, by accepting that everyone is just a person prone to mistakes- lover, parent, sibling or friend. Trying to be kind and trying to understand changes everything, for everyone. It’s hard work because we’re all a work in progress. Sometimes I work in a library and I’ve seen how some people crave kindness like a person parched. There’s no reason it should be that way.

Anyway, after panicking about being picked, I thought I’d share this. Hope you all have enough to make life happy. Thanks for all the stories. Keep ‘em coming. Drop me a line and let me know what moves you.

For me, it’s playing music loud, a good book to hand and maybe a movie later. Cooking good food, loved ones and maybe the odd adventure. The sea. Sunshine. Forests. Mischief and silliness. Writing. Podcasts. You know- the good stuff. Everything else is gravy.

Be well :) xx

Dublin, Ireland

Monday, November 17, 2014

Life with Fewer Regrets

Last week my dad turned 60. Next week I will turn 27. For years now I have wanted to go on a father-son trip with him for a couple of weeks somewhere around the world, while his health still allows him to do so. It seems like an ideal opportunity to know him more as a friend and gain his wisdom in the context of adulthood.

For three years we have both made excuses as to why we should postpone this trip - obligations with family, work, school, etc. My fear is that time will pass and this trip will never happen. Three years will pass, then another three, then another...until it's finally too late.

Life is short. What is something that is important to you that you want to accomplish or see done before you die? It could involve a relationship, a personal goal, a work project, a non-work project, a career move, conquering a fear, starting something, ending something, gaining something, losing something, etc.

I have shared mine, and I would love to hear yours. It may help me in my approach to life as well - travisrutledge[AT]


Travis Rutledge
Southeast Asia

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Dear fellow Listservians,

What a joy and honour to write to all of you today! (no pressure)
l'll show you a glimpse of a deep life passion: traditional Argentine Tango.

At age 19 I heard Piazzolla's music for the first time. Tango, I was told. It was so beautiful that it brought me to tears. The thought of dancing to this touching music was extremely attractive - but hey, there's no point in starting to learn to dance when you're an adult, right? All this difficult, profound stuff like Ballet, Flamenco, Tango is an art and to make something out of that, you should begin at a very young age, when the body and the soul can still be moulded...

So for a long time, I thought that Tango was my Grand Missed Opportunity in life and that I - rooted in Northern Europe - should definitely reincarnate in Buenos Aires instead of in Holland next time ;-)

How wrong I was!

I had my first Tango lesson at age 34 and I dance for 7 years now. It is fantastic.

Argentine Tango originates at the Rio de La Plata (Buenos Aires, Montevideo) around 1900.

Although the appearance seems quite traditional, it is still a young dance and in constant development up till today. It's danced all over the world. However, it is also a kind of hidden sub culture and a secret community if you're not into it.

It's all based on walking-together and pure improvisation. Much more than steps, you learn about a system of movement and a posture, about stretching and relaxing your body (and your mind...) at the same time. About how to interpret music and rythm in a very personal way. You learn about a close embrace with a dance partner and about subtle communication through body language.

Tango is also and especially a social activity.

We go out to Milongas ('tango discos') and dance with different partners. Every joy, every sorrow and even every dull moment can be expressed in Tango. The music is carrying us through, when 20, 50 or 180 couples are sharing a dancefloor together and moving in lanes like on a highway, creating a common flow.

We are 20 or 80 years old. We dance together. We're female, male, hetero, gay, transgender and of any skin colour. Tall or petite, fast or slow, skinny or heavy. Full of energy or dreamy and easy - wearing our best dresses or our favourite jeans. You can be extrovert or introvert, macho or soft or both. We dance together. In an open or close embrace, sharing a heartbeat. We are the truth of ourselves when we dance.

In Tango there is always music, movement, oxytocine (a happy hormone) and the prettiest shoes you've ever seen. There are many friends and fellow dancers to meet, at local or exotic far-away Milongas. The dance is about connection, intimacy, awareness, physical contact and concentration, all immersed in music. There are many broken or healed hearts on the floor. The moment is ours, life is ours, again and again, dance after dance, night after night…

So if you like or need a plan B in life, put on a smile, look for Tango lessons and find your way to the Milongas. A truly fascinating world of music, dance and connection is there to be found!

For the picture: I'm female, Dutch, 40, divorced, a dedicated high school teacher, a student at university (again), a fanatic book reader and a happy Argentine Tango dancer.

I hope you're having a glorious day today :-)

Take care out there -

Gouda, the Netherlands