29.1.18 Back garden in sudden sunshine
Once a month, I will spend at least one full day hand-writing envelopes. It is a long and tiring job - there are a great many subscribers to my monthly letters now - but I look forward to it and I let it take its time.
Hour after hour, I rest one hand on the stack of papers filled with names and trace a finger down the line, touching each name and then letting the shape of it work up my arm and down the other. I write each one with deliberate, cursive strokes, trying to let the word out in a single, smooth movement. I say the sound too, letting it fill my head as I make the marks, remembering that it holds a whole person inside of it. That's how you should write a name, I always think. That's the right way of doing it. And it is the names that make this something to look forward to. Many of them are your names and I treasure every one.
When I was unwell yesterday, I went to bed with The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin who died last week and whose own name and stories had bewitched me as a girl of nine or ten. It's been nearly 30 years since I read those books and yet every sentence, every image, feels familiar. I remember the pull of excitement in my belly as I read about Ged and the world of secret names he inhabited, names that could be known only through deep study or gifted in trust, and thinking, yes, this is what magic consists of, this true naming of a thing. There is a turn in the tale when Ged first comes to the School of the Wizards and meets the Arch Mage of Roke and the story goes that:
"In that moment Ged understood the singing of the bird, and the language of the water falling in the basin of the fountain, and the shape of the clouds, and the beginning and the end of the wind that stirred the leaves: it seemed to him that he himself was a word spoken by sunlight. Then the moment passed, and he and the world were as before, or almost as before."
It is a promise: a promise of what could be if he applies himself to his study of names and the nature of things. A glimpse of his potential and his future.
Whether it started with Earthsea or with a dozen others, I can see now that I have spent much of my time since chasing what Ged felt in the courtyard at the beginning of his story. And what's best of all is that some days now, I do, I do feel like that, or close at least. There are moments where it feels like the thinnest of veils between me and everything else, that maybe with just the right kind of leap, I really could call down sparrowhawks from the sky and call up each stone by name. It takes a long adult life to slowly shake off the magic you wish for and to discover the magic there is, but gradually you realise that it's all the same in either case. Magic is simply clear-seeing, and once you know that, even the mundane life you're dealt - one of grotty side-streets, not enchanted islands - can still feel a scholarship at the school you've always dreamt off. Then, the language of water and wind is just a matter of sitting and watching with a notebook and a pen, same as it was for all the wizards that came before you.
It all starts and ends with names, with taking the time to know things for what they are, and to appreciate them for that too.
These are the things I thought as I wrote your names today and every one of you felt like a word spoken by sunlight.
I am so very glad I get to know you.