“Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.”
February already? If you must.
But the first peeps of spring come with a great honor: a few weeks back, I was kindly invited by Kristina Carroll to participate in this year’s Month of Love art challenge project. It’s headlined by some insanely talented folks who produce jaw-dropping work (and it’s set to become a no-doubt highly-sought book project soon!). Last year, I joined in on a few of the prompts for the sister project, Month of Fear, which runs in October - and found it to be very energizing in terms of setting a pace and theme. Sometimes you just need the right kind of limitations to stretch creative muscles.
The final act of one of my favorite stories, The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin, sees its two protagonists, driven out onto the largest glacier on the wintry planet of Gethen.
The story is somewhat inscrutable, you’re thrown into a wonderfully wrought culture as abruptly as Genly is. There’s days of the week to learn, jargon, mythic histories of the Gethenian people woven in throughout. The story plays with bias, point of view, with what’s left unsaid. In the end, there’s understanding and love: romantic love, friend-love, and love of home …but each is the kind that’s tinged with regret.
Genly Ai is the First Mobile, a lone Envoy from the federation of planets to which Earth belongs, and he’s been sent to attempt to convince the political rulership of the world’s nations to join. But nothing is simple. Gethen’s culture is rich, its history is long, and, to Genly, its people are wholly baffling: the Gethenians exist as both male and female at once, and enter a sexualized state every month. Individuals can be fathers to some, mothers to others. There has never been a war on Gethen. Genly is wholly unprepared for a society and political system without political system without a sexually-derived dichotomy. There has never been a war on Gethen. His one advocate, Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, sacrifices her career as an influential minister to save the in-over-his-head Genly. (Written in 1969, the book uses the “he/him” pronouns for Gethenians in a neutral nonsexual state. In later books, when Le Guin refers to Gethenians, she uses “she/her").
Eventually, they’re forced out onto to the ice. There, Genly and Estraven haltingly bond - they’re truly alien to one another. But they learn to trust, and be comfortable with their differences in order to complete an unprecedented 81-day trek across an inhospitable landscape. During the journey, Estraven enters kemmer - the sexualized Gethenian state - as a female, and Genly, who thinks of her as neutrally male, ignores the implications. Their actions ultimately lead to sweeping change across the entirety of the planet. History will view them as heroes.
A bit narrative-heavy for the first shot out the gate, I suppose, but I get really excited when there’s a rich story working under the surface. That being said, quite a few elements of this piece were some refreshing non-comfort-zone subjects for me - corporeal people, for one, and people wearing bulky clothing, for two. The lighter, stormy color palette came about when the piece was nearly done - I washed a crisp blue sky out in favor of an overcast one. Snow and ice were also a particular challenge - I haven’t seen much of either, so much reference was needed. I’m a forest creature at heart.
Anyhow. I can’t say this enough, but I’m so thrilled to be included on this project! More to come next week!