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Italo Calvino’s Marcovaldo: Seasons in the City

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Marcovaldo – A custom book cover by Cecilia Ruiz.

Bedridden with the flu on a recent writing retreat, I had resigned myself to focus on recovery rather than to get any writing done. I had not expected, between the coughing fits and the fever chills, to find new inspiration from a familiar source. But there it was, sitting eye-level on the third shelf of a corner bookcase at a stranger’s vacation rental, all 128 pages of glory: Italo Calvino’s Marcovaldo, translated by William Weaver.

My experience with Calvino is uneven. On more than one occasion, my awe of the Italian author’s way with words outpaced my ability to keep up with the quickness of his intellect. I gave up halfway through The Castle of Cross Destinies because my mind could no longer hold the labyrinth of interconnected narratives together, and while I admired and strove to emulate the stylings of his Cosmicomics, many of those journeys across time, space, and imagination remains beyond my comprehension.

Yet when Calvino’s work connects, he leaves an impression upon me unlike any other author. Even as I have professed my love for Invisible Cities in detail here on Ekostories, I feel like I have barely grazed its surface; it is a dream I dream of time and again. Despite having only recently finished it, I find myself feeling similarly about Marcovaldo, a series of linked shorts about an unskilled labourer with an eye for nature, chasing hopes for a better life through the revolving seasons.

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Rhythm, Hippocampus Magazine

I’m pleased to have a flash piece published in the January issue of Hippocampus, an online magazine dedicated to entertain, educate, and engage writers and readers of creative nonfiction.

Rhythm is a 750-word meditation on the “zone” one can attain while playing a sport or writing a story, along with the fleeting joy that ensues from tapping into the flow. There is a part towards the end where I compare this mode with what it might be like to be an animal, of being wholly present, fully embodied in the here and now, the beauty in that certainty of being:

“… For one length, the twenty-second out of the thirty-four I would eventually complete, I was a seal, dark and torpid, and my arms were fins with which I used to shape the world. For one length, just one, I shed all meaning, instead was meaning, until nothing was left but presence, before strength failed and form broke, and I was human once again.”

Read the Piece Here

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Art, Animal, Essence: The Drawings of Charley Harper

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped drawing. I don’t mean the occasional doodles I do now; I mean before, when drawing was like daily bread, a childhood mainstay. I mean the classes, the contests, the urge to recreate images I saw in books, from movies, outside, everywhere.

It was definitely before middle school, before that one time in English class where we had to speak about one of our hobbies and why it meant a lot to us. Being a teenager with no particular aspirations, I chose to pluck something from the past and spoke about drawing. I talked about how I would spend hours tracing and retracing, how time would dissolve while depicting a new world, the pride I would feel after finishing. After class, my best friend at the time pulled me aside.

“I have never seen you draw. Like at all.”

He was right. One day I stopped. I dropped the old ways and went on. But the memories were still there. The drawings, too.

A few months ago while visiting my mom, I asked if she still kept some of the old sketches from when I was a kid. She returned with a pile of drawings, preserved in clear cellophane sleeves. I sifted through an illustrated and alliterative alphabet book I did while in ESL (“The K was killed by a knife!”), blueprints of spaceships complete with lasers and engine specifications (NASA, if you’re looking schematics for a dual-powered nuclear fusion/ion drive shuttle capable of doing 90 million miles an hour, let me know). But the majority of drawings were of animals, of zebras and apatosaurs and giant ground slothes, by themselves, on grasslands, stretching into the prehistoric past. That seemed about right.
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Mind of a Clam: Driftfish, A Marine Life Anthology

In light of International Remembrance Day for Lost Species, I’m proud to be a contributor of Driftfish, a new marine life themed anthology put out by Zoomorphic, a UK magazine and micropublisher dedicated to writing that deepens our connection with wildlife and the more-than-human world:

“From the hundreds of submissions that we were privileged to read from poets and prose writers from all over the world, we have curated an anthology that we hope reflects Zoomorphic’s core principle: to defend non-human species, we must reconnect our imaginations to them.”

– co-editors James Roberts and Susan Richardson

My short story, titled “Mind of a Clam”, is inspired by Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics, in which the late and great fabulist takes a germ of science and spins a tale around it, and by Roderick Sloan, a seafood supplier and diver from Norway who was featured in one of my favourite shows called Mind of a Chef – from which this story took its name. An excerpt:

“…The entrée won’t be coming for a while, so we have time. Time. Putting up the rings certainly gives you that, to think and mull things over. Regrets? Not really, more a yearning you could say, to have known then what I know now. Who doesn’t look back at their bachelor days now and then, to bask in that warmth of larval camaraderie, living moment-to-moment, free from form and ambition? When you’re young and adrift with the will of the world behind you, everything seems possible. But nothing lasts forever, though I am grateful for that even, especially now, near the end. Still… if I had known about the limitations that would come from settling down, on how being shelled would come to shield me in and seal me off, or how the monotony of filtering day in and day out seduces one into a life of nacreous comforts that slips away, quick as a snap… well. Let’s just say I would have relished the freedom of youth more.”

Driftfish is launching at the One Network for Conservation and the Arts Gallery (ONCA) in Brighton on December 2nd. For more details about the launch, visit onca.org.uk. Copies complete with illustrations and art cards are now available for purchase online.

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DRIFTFISH, A Zoomorphic Anthology

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Featured image screenshot captured from Mind of a Chef.

Me and Gravity

Me and Gravity, Orion Magazine

I am honoured to be a contributor in the latest double-issue of Orion, a fantastic magazine that explores ideas around nature, culture, and place. If that tagline sounds familiar to Ekostories, it’s because Orion was one of my chief inspirations for taking up the pen (keyboard?) years ago and remains one of the few publications I relish reading from beginning to end. I’m thrilled to have my short piece, “Me and Gravity”, included as the coda. But beyond the thrill of seeing the work in print, what I am most grateful for  – and it was something that came as a delightful surprise – is to be part of an issue that focused on diversity and perspectives, especially pertaining to the environmental movement.

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Soon After the Monsoon, by Shonto Begay, Dineh.

So here is my request: If you haven’t already, pick up this beautifully produced, completely ad-free publication and see what it’s about. But don’t do it because of my silly little story. Don’t even do it for the amazing writing by personal craft heroes like Joe Wilkins and Barry Lopez (both of which are featured in this issue and are amazing.)

Do it for Navajo artist Shonto Begay’s stirring cover titled Soon After the Monsoon.

Do it for Gary Ferguson’s musings on what his baby boomer generation’s environmental movement got right and got wrong.

Do it for Zachary Slobig giving voice to the indigenous Guna community of Panama as they deal firsthand with the realities of climate change resettlement.

Do it for Jennifer Case’s personal essay on shifting ideas of connection and place in modern motherhood; for “Whose Parks Are These?”– a collection of voices speaking on the issue of race and national parks; for Laurel Nakanishi’s weaving together of wilderness and sexual identity (“In the wilderness, no one cares who I’m kissing.”)

Do it because the brilliant art and stories contained within will lead you down different paths and unexpected journeys.

Do it because the voices featured deserve to be heard, and because they have the power to expand and enrich us all.

Check Out The Latest Issue of Orion Here

Related Ekostories

Featured image by Noah Klugman taken from wikipedia.

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The Cost of Change: Star Trek Deep Space Nine’s Progress

“This may be the last time we’re all together. But no matter what the future holds, no matter how far we travel, a part of us – a very important part – will always remain here, on Deep Space Nine.”

– DS9’s finale, What You Leave Behind 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s finale aired 17 years ago, and as much as the new films have brought the public back to the classic science fiction franchise, Star Trek always worked best for me on the small screen, telling human stories through actors with rubber prostheses attached to their faces. I miss that type of Trek, the tales it told.

Deep Space Nine is my favourite Trek. While other shows in the franchise featured starships flying around the galaxy in search of new life and civilizations, DS9 stayed put, concerning itself with the day-to-day happenings of its sprawling cast living within its constructed universe. Onboard this ramshackle space station situated near Bajor, an alien world emerging from decades of brutal occupation, actions have weight, carry short and long-term consequences. Unafraid to experiment with a range of subjects and storytelling styles, DS9 found excellence in everything from devastating chamber pieces and detective noir tales to the grand season-spanning sagas that have since become staples on the modern television landscape. Rewatching the series on Star Trek’s 50th anniversary (it being finally available on Netflix), I was delighted to find that the show’s core has held up after two decades, and that part of me, indeed, still remained on Deep Space Nine.

Progress is a quiet little episode that aired during the first season when the show was still finding its footing. It would be a prelude to the type of tales the show would excel at telling, strong character pieces that blend great performances with nuanced stories that acknowledged and embraced clashing worldviews, hard choices, and lasting change.

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Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will

The first place I ever felt at home in was on an island. My grandparents lived on Cheung Chau, an island ten kilometers southwest of Hong Kong. Literally translated as “long isle”, Cheung Chau is shaped like a dumbbell, its two granite masses joined in the middle by a sandbar. As a child I spent weekends and summers there fishing and swimming, and even now the scent of saltspray and sewage sends me back to that grimy old fishing village.

This fondness for islands stayed and deepened. When I moved to Canada and started to read English I found myself drawn to Earthsea, the fantasy archipelago world of Ursula K. Le Guin. On each of her conjured isles laid not only magic and adventure, but moods intrinsic to and defined by geography. I connected to Astowell, last land before the open sea; Gont and its snow-capped peak rising up like a sharp spire; Osskil, raven realm, icebound and alien. Many times I have sailed in my mind to the shores of Selidor at the westernmost edge of the world, that farthest shore where dragons dwelt.

I have been fortunate enough to have visited islands in real life: Most of the Gulf Islands in the nearby Salish sea; Tobacco Caye off the coast of Belize; the garden isle of Kauai; and soon, Iceland and its raw and elemental landscapes. As time passes the allure of islands has only grown stronger, and I find myself more and more captivated by the isolation, desolation, and wholeness they embody and evoke. When I chanced upon Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot on and Never Will at a local bookstore, a story collection of fifty islands from all corners of the world, I knew that it was time to travel again, even if it were only possible on the page.

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