Year: 2015

Hong Kong Cityscape

Place and Memory: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities

I’m not sure how to describe Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. It isn’t traditional fiction on a structural level, having no story arc or a defined ending. Nor is it conventional fantasy, doing away with the worlds it creates almost as soon as it forms them. Even the broadest definitions of historical fiction and magical realism don’t quite fit, as Calvino blends real and imagined details into a concoction of seemingly irreverent tales. Invisible Cities is a travelogue to places that do not exist. It is a work that brushes aside conventions of form and narrative to ruminate on ideas of memory and place, touching on everything from trajectory of civilizations to the limits of communication. At times delightfully whimsical and intensely melancholic, Invisible Cities is a testament to the power of an author at the height of his powers to provoke, enthrall, and connect.

BreadLoaf Conference Nametag

Thoughts on the Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference

To say my time at the Bread Loaf Orion Writer’s conference was transformative is not quite right. The change I feel is more subdued, more covert, still unfurling after a week. It will take a lot longer to fully unpack, but I suspect that something new has taken root, and that things have been shaken loose. Perhaps this is how one feels after summoning the courage to start going down a new and uncertain road. Fitting then that this came about in the presence of Robert Frost’s cabin, in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Oak Tree from Wikimedia

Orion Bread Loaf Conference for Environmental Writers

Excited to be attending this year’s Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference at Middlebury College in Ripton, Vermont from June 1-7. A bit about the conference: “The Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference is an annual week-long writers’ conference, based on the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference model, that’s designed to hone the skills of people interested in producing literary writing about the environment and the natural world. The conference is cosponsored by the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Orion magazine, and Middlebury College’s Environmental Studies Program.  … This week-long conference of workshops, classes, lectures, readings, and discussions is for writers who want to improve their writing about the environment; for writers who seek to become better advocates for the environment through their writing; for poets who are drawn to writing about the natural world; for teachers and scholars who wish to write for a more general readership; and for environmental professionals who want to bring better writing skills to bear on their work.” I’ll be part of the non-fiction workshop led by Craig Childs, author of …

Ekostories Reconnect: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Harbouring soft spots for cute critters seems like the most natural thing in the world, and sometimes it seems like the internet runs solely on pictures of fuzzy kittens and roly-poly pandas. But it takes a different form of consideration, a different way of seeing, to extend that admiration towards the greater living community, towards the diminutive, the grotesque, and the overlooked. Over the course of my life, I’ve been privileged to meet some of those people or be touched by their work. A professor passionate about even the lowliest of parasites. A eagle-eyed guide wanting to learn the English and Latin names of all that he sees. A colleague that extends empathy towards everything from monkeys to office mice. A canonized essayist who saw beauty in one synonymous with ugliness. It was in fiction that I first became sensitized to this ecocentric worldview. Seeing Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind at the age of five, I found a heroine who loved life in all its manifestations, from puny fox-squirrels to hulking …

Ekostories Reconnect: The Farthest Shore

While A Wizard of Earthsea was a major childhood touchstone for me, it is the sequel The Farthest Shore that I return to time and again. Over the years I have found both comfort and strength within its pages during times of loss. For death is what the book, even though it is a YA novel (a National Book Award winning one at that), is really about: “The Farthest Shore is about the thing you do not live through and survive. It seemed an absolutely suitable subject to me for young readers, since in a way one can say that the hour when a child realizes, not that death exists – children are intensely aware of death – but that he/she, personally, is mortal, will die, is the hour when childhood ends, and the new life begins. Coming of age again, but in a larger context.” – Dreams must Explain Themselves, The Language of the Night And so inspired, here’s my tribute to the tale of Ged and Arren as they travel beyond the farthest shore, into the dry …

Ekostories Reconnect: A Wizard of Earthsea

I think it was the sheer awfulness of this cover that persuaded my eleven-year-old self to pick A Wizard of Earthsea out of the class bookbox during reading period. Expecting a time wasting filler like so many others before, I had no idea at the time that I had just stumbled upon one of my most treasured and revisited stories in my life. Bless that ugly cover! Unlike the cover art, Ruth Robbin’s small but intricate illustrations that marked the beginning of each chapter made a positive lasting impression on me. So, as tribute to Robbin’s drawings and in time for BBC Radio 4’s recent dramatization of what is regarded as one of the seminal fantasy series of the 20th century , I present my sgraffito Wizard of Earthsea ceramic coasters! “It was only the dumb instinctive wisdom of the beast who licks his hurt companion to comfort him, and yet in that wisdom Ged saw something akin to his own power, something that went as deep as wizardry. From that time forth he believed that the …

Ekostories Reconnect: Majora’s Mask

Since late last year, I confess I’ve been rather absorbed with ceramics. Over the past few months, I’ve discovered the many parallels that exist between sculpting with clay and working with words. Both mediums possess their own temperament; brute force and thoughtless acts generally results in spectacular failures. Both mediums draw from the same creative pool, requiring time and distance for replenishment. The limitations of each medium forces one to devise workarounds, leading to new insights and unexpected results. The pleasure that comes from breakthroughs and completion feels similar, is intense but fleeting, and afterwards one realizes that it is the process that must ultimately provide the sustenance. Finally one must accept the work is never perfect, never finished. With all this in mind, I found myself in recent sessions drawing inspiration from the narratives I’ve explored on Ekostories. This got me thinking about pairing a few of my ceramic pieces with past essays in an attempt to reconnect with past works through new creations. I hope these combinations will spark renewed interest and insight for …