Ursula K. Le Guin at the National Book Awards

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Ursula K. Le Guin accepts the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014.

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality…

…Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable.

So did the divine right of kings.

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.”

- speech excerpt

What Earthbound Means to Me

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Earthbound Banner

Before delving into the next Ekostory, I want to take a brief side trip. I want to share a work is a major touchstone to my childhood. It’s one I regularly revisit over the years, and one that’s celebrating its 20th anniversary. It’s a video game called Earthbound.

“What is the video game, Earthbound?
Even today, it’s so hard to answer that question.

It was like a group of children taking dolls from a toy chest.
Old dishes no longer used in the kitchen.
Nuts and bolts found inside a toolbox.
Little flowers and leaves from the backyard.
And they were all laid down on the carpet with everybody singing made-up songs.
Ready to talk all day about that world they just made.
That, I think was how Earthbound was made.”

- Creator Shigesato Itoi

Chances are that you’ve never heard of this quirky role-playing game (RPG). Deemed a commercial failure in North America upon its original release, Earthbound has since gained a fervent cult following. While its fanbase is still small, few fandoms rival Earthbound devotees in sheer dedication. Businesses have been founded and books have been written around this game. A $100,000 Kickstarter project was just successfully funded for Earthbound community documentary. But what really blew my mind was one fan’s video that manages to capture the spirit of this game that’s so very dear to me:

What is it about Earthbound that can make someone spend years crafting such a tribute? Earthbound’s graphics are simple. Its gameplay is dated by modern standards.  Yet most who play it seem to know that they’re playing something special. The soundtrack is ambitious and experimental, featuring everything from jazz and electronica to ambient echoes and saccharine pop. The writing by Shigesato Itoi (described by one author as “an ad-man turned philosopher”) and translated by Marcus Lindblom, is both endearing and bizarre. Game scenarios frequently alternate between the absurd and the profound. In no other game, in no other work, have I ever encountered exchanges like these:

Earthbound features many fourth-wall breaking moments that help draw the player into its strange world, an outsider’s idyllic take on North American suburbia. It felt post-modern before I knew what post-modern meant. As I grew up, I recognized Earthbound as being brilliant satire, but I also knew that its parodies were never cruel or mean-spirited, but instead guided by a strong sense of whimsy and tender sentimentality. Earthbound is a labour of love. Perhaps that’s why my teenage self managed to connect so strongly to this game, discovering within it that ineffable quality few works manage to express, of heart.

“All sorts of people tell me about their memories,
about all the things I left in the playground called Earthbound.
From the tiny safety pins, broken pieces of colored glass to the withering leaves.
When I ask them, “how do you remember so much?”
With their eyes gleaming, they say,
“I love that world so much I remember everything about it.”
I reply right away saying “me too.”

- Shigesato Itoi

I’m not going to talk too much more about Earthbound, because as much as I love it, it’s not really an Ekostory. My brief detour does serve a purpose, as over the next while I’ll be cover Earthbound’s sequel, a game titled Mother 3. It is even more obscure, having never officially been released in North America. But Mother 3 is crafted with the same care and skill as Earthbound, and with themes much more relevant to Ekostories: Notions of progress and change, the corruption of nature, the fragility of utopian ideals. Its tagline: “Strange, funny, and heartrending.” I hope you can join me in this latest venture.


Shigesato Itoi. What Earthbound Means To Me. Retrieved from http://earthbound.nintendo.com

Images of Earthbound © 1994 Nintendo, Inc. All rights reserved. Featured image from nintendolife.com

Margaret Atwood Journeys to Earthsea

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“I would call [A Wizard of Earthsea] a fantasy book for adults. You might call it young adult or fantasy, or one of those categories—which are really just there to help people put things on bookshelves. But because it is really talking about life and mortality and who are we as human beings, and what is the relationship between our darker side and the rest of us, I think it can be profitably read by anybody over the age of 12.”

- Margaret Atwood

Nature and Music: The Work of John Luther Adams

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Bold Peak Chugach Mountains Alaska

I am probably one of the few who looks forward to my commute. Not because I get on far enough away to grab a seat on the train, or that my mind requires the extra hour of warm up to function properly; both are true, but more important is that the commute allows me to enter the world of radio podcasts. Daily I have time to listen to stories from CBC’s Ideas and Wiretap, and from NPR’s This American Life and RadioLab. Steeped in narratives of art and science, psychology and philosophy, anthropology and history and everything in between, I find myself constantly awed by the power of voice and ambience to build imagery. I listen and feel inspired.

A recent Radiolab episode tuned me into the Pulitzer-winning work of composer John Luther Adams. Excerpted from a longer interview on another program called Meet the Composers, hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich delve into Adams’ compositions – music that is more akin to a primal and elemental force. You can listen to the fascinating half-hour podcast HERE – I’ll be referring to timestamps throughout the piece if you would like to follow along.

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Art and Science, Wonder and Wisdom

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Science Art Wonder

If there’s one website I never seem to tire of, it’s Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings. “A subjective lens on what matters in the world and why”, Popova’s curation of articles are consistently thought-provoking and inspirational (to the point where my Twitter feed is replete with pieces from her site!) A place of intellectual, creative, and spiritual exploration, Brain Pickings is what I aspire Ekostories to be. While I write through an environmental lens, I am striving to emulate Popova’s approach, to draw insight from a range of disciplines and convey a connective whole.

One recent article that caught my eye was titled Art & Science: Leonard Shlain on Integrating Wonder and Wisdom. As someone who has spent his life moving between these two modes, I was naturally intrigued by what Shlain, a surgeon, had to say. Popova highlights a series of illuminating quotes from the book – I would like to share some of them with you today:

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Beyond Human Rights: Building a World On Empathy

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“When we embrace wounds instead of escaping them, when we are broken open from the prison of self, we become worthy of deeper connections and different understandings. When we surrender fear so that we can know the pain of longing, we enter into a wondrous journey of discovery, transported by the eternal dance between self and other. The ultimate source of power is the courage of empathy.”

Payam Akhavan, 2014 Vancouver Human Rights Lecture