Do I need me some inspiration as I face the new year? Heck yeah, and I’m getting it from a few good women.

Did you see Ursula Le Guin’s remarks as she accepted the Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 2014 National Book Awards the other week? The clip is on YouTube, but in the meantime, picture a small, silver-haired woman with a kind and deeply lined 85-year-old face lobbing a grenade into a roomful of tuxedoed publishing-industry bigwigs. Those people didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. I promise: it’ll be a long time before that much truth gets told inside of six minutes again.

“I think hard times are coming,” Le Guin said, “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.” Mostly, she said, “We will need writers who can remember freedom . . . who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art.” Not even her own publisher was spared; the industry had caved in, sold out, and now suffered under the lash of its corporate overlords, who, predictably, were stalking editorial offices. She challenged writers to be brave enough to resist and reminded them that “the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.”

Jane GoodallI also got some uplift the other day from the regal Jane Goodall, who at age 80 still travels the world on behalf of primates and the rest of the planet. She was in Atlanta to accept the 2014 Exemplar Award from the Captain Planet Foundation, the organization founded by Ted Turner and now run by his daughter Laura Turner Seydel.

Goodall is worried about worldwide deforestation—and the two forces that drive it: poverty and its evil twin, consumption. “When you’re living in poverty, you’re going to cut down trees to grow food for your family,” she told the AJC’s Jennifer Brett. “You haven’t got much choice. You’re going to buy the cheapest goods and not care how they’re made. On the other hand is this materialistic, wasteful culture. If you have a date, you must have a new dress.”  Probably not a remark we care to ponder as we sort through the season’s new sweaters, shirts, and socks, but Goodall is one of the people keeping the big picture in focus.

Senator WarrenThen there’s good old Elizabeth Warren. You remember a few weeks ago when we were all so relieved that the $1.1 trillion budget bill passed. The House passed it. The Senate passed it. President Obama signed it. Yay! The government is working. It fell to Elizabeth Warren to point out that the government was working exactly like CitiGroup wanted it to—by passing a budget bill that included a provision to weaken the rules of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. The provision was pretty much written by Citi lobbyists—who clearly have balls of steel, since it wasn’t that long ago that Citi made off with $500 billion (yes, billion) in bailout money.

Senator Warren took the floor on December 12 to rail against the relentless accretion of power by this Wall Street behemoth: “And now we’re watching as congress passes yet another provision that was written by lobbyists for the biggest recipient of bailout money in the history of this country. And it’s attached to a bill that needs to pass or else the entire federal government will grind to a halt. Think about that kind of power,” she said, “if a financial institution can become so big and so powerful that it can hold the entire country hostage.” Tell it, sister.

Needless to say, any survey of the women I’m counting on to help me get out of bed during the new year has got to include The One Who Matters—Dede, who for many years to come, I hope, will amuse me (even when some of her funniest lines are about somebody she calls “Peepaw,” whom I don’t believe I know); instruct me on an astounding number of subjects—do’s and don’t’s, let’s call them—about which I am often very fortunate to receive such instruction; and love me almost unconditionally (all bets are off if I forget one more time to turn down the thermostat before I come to bed).

  1. Bring it on.
Photos: Ursula Le Guin Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 2014 National Book Awards via YouTube; Jane Goodall from JaneGoodall.org; and Senator Warren from Warren.Senate.gov.
John Yow

John Yow

John Yow has written two books about birds, both published by UNC Press: The Armchair Birder: Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds (2009) and The Armchair Birder Goes Coastal: The Secret Lives of Birds of the Southeastern Shore (2012). His blog, "From Pumpkinvine Creek" (frompumpkinvinecreek.blogtspot.com) is generally concerned with the fate that awaits birds and all other species if we don't stop trashing the planet. Yow and his wife Dede live in the woods in northeast Paulding County.