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Dispatches From Anarres, or Don’t Disappoint Denzel Washington

I’m convinced Denzel Washington just wants you to live your best life.

In The Equalizer, he walks into the bad guy’s office with a simple offer: Take some money, make things right, and turn over a new leaf.

The offer’s too simple, though. Denzel’s character is too unassuming — and so the bad guys laugh him out of the office.

Denzel walks to the door and sighs sadly at what’s about to happen.

Then he locks the door, checks his watch, and proceeds to demolish every last bad guy with intense precision.

Guys.

Don’t disappoint Denzel.

I love the trope of an underestimated badass. Maybe it’s the old man who’s secretly a martial arts master. Maybe it’s the little girl who’s actually a psychic grenade. Maybe it’s the shy kid who’s actually whip smart, or the outclassed kid with a secret talent.

Maybe it’s brother and sister shoemakers who are secretly fighting back against the conquerers who are occupying their town…

The Navu officer in his shop is admiring a pair of boots, though frowning at the underslung heel. “Doesn’t that make it difficult to walk?”

“It’s the northern style. Riders prefer them.” Desh turns on his own underslung heel, executing an abbreviated dance step in the tiny space of his shop, his back-step cut short before a display case. “Dancers, too.”

The Navu officer laughs. All the Navu seem to find Cazhitlani fashion and showmanship amusing. Jilli smiles at his back, appreciating his underestimation of her brother.

“I need them for a ball. Don’t you have anything less — ” The officer waves a hand foppishly.

“Bold?” Desh is used to this question from Navus. “For you, of course. I can make something special.”

A few weekends ago, I had the honor of sitting with a handful of other authors on a panel for the Portland Book Festival about Ursula Le Guin, and how her work had inspired our own. The panel was in celebration of a new anthology, Dispatches from Anarres: Tales in Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin.

(The above excerpt is from my story in the anthology, “Black as Thread.”)

On the panel, we were asked what about Le Guin’s work inspired our own, and I picked the way her stories don’t center on the biggest, baddest warriors around.

Le Guin’s characters don’t always seem powerful on the outside; in fact, their power is in the way people to underestimate them.

The dart game scene in Ted Lasso is a fantastic example of this. I mean — who doesn’t love watching an arrogant bastard get taken down a notch by his own shortsightedness?

In my story, “Black as Thread,” a brother and sister who own a shoe shop begin crafting cursed shoes for the occupying forces. Their shoes grow in popularity among the upper ranks of the occupying forces, who never would guess where their string of bad luck is coming from.

You see it in the exchange I excerpted — the Navu officer finds the dancing shoemaker with his passion for color theory to be harmless. Laughable.

Le Guin has a lovely essay called “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” which you can read for free in the Anarchist Library. In it, she talks about whose work — and stories — have traditionally been considered important.

When you see traditionally feminine crafts and hobbies — like shoes and fashion — as unimportant, you’re going to judge them as harmless.

You’re not going to be curious about them. You’re not going to ask questions like:

“What signal am I sending in your culture when I wear green shoos with red buttons?”

“What are those songs your sister is singing in the corner?”

“Why does the thread she’s sewing with turn black under her fingertips?”

You won’t expect danger to come at you in a shoe store.

You can find “Black as Thread” along with an amazing collection of other stories inspired by the amazing Ursula K. Le Guin in Dispatches From Anarres.

(Oh, and I’m thrilled to tell you my short story was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for literary works published by a small press! I’ve never been nominated for a prestigious literary prize, so I’m a bit floored.)

Meet Dispatches From Anarres:

Dispatches

Named for the anarchist utopia in Ursula K. Le Guin’s science fiction classic The Dispossessed, Dispatches from Anarres embodies the anarchic spirit of Le Guin’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, while paying tribute to her enduring vision.

In stories that range from fantasy to sci fi to realism, some of Portland’s most vital voices have come together to celebrate Le Guin’s lasting legacy and influence on that most subversive of human faculties: the imagination.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash