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2047: Short Stories from Our Common Future

I‘m honoured to have a piece included in 2047: Short Stories From Our Common Future, an international climate fiction anthology released last week. My interest was initially piqued when author Tanja Bisgaard approached me with the collection’s premise:

30 years have passed since the release of the Brundtland report, a landmark document from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development that introduced the idea of sustainable development as that “which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.”

What will the world be like 30 years from now?

With the perception that climate fiction (or cli-fi as it’s now called) tending to be weighty and depressing, I decided to inject some levity into my contribution. “NuVenture™ TEMPO-L QuickStart Guide” is satire through and through; the story takes the form of an instruction manual for the world’s best selling budget-model time machine, poking fun at capitalism’s worst impulses taken to their logical extremes.

“So I gathered a group of authors and asked them to write their vision of what the world will look like in 2047. We want our short stories to make you reflect, or provoke you, or bring feelings to the surface while you read them. And hopefully all of them will make you realize that your actions matter and will encourage you to take part in caring for the world and the people in it.” 

Foreword, Tanja Rohini Bisgaard

Partial proceeds from the book will go towards supporting environmental non-profit organizations working to stem the tide of climate change effects. The anthology is available on AmazonBooks, Kobo, Nook, Scribd, and others.

Featured image from the game Affordable Space Adventures, an inspiration for the story’s premise.

On the edge, calling back: An interview with Barry Lopez

I had the recent pleasure of reading a great interview with Barry Lopez that I would like to share here on Ekostories. I’ve long admired Lopez’s writing; Arctic Dreams remains one of the most perceptive and spellbinding books I’ve read in recent years. In the interview, Patrick Pittman chats with the celebrated author on “ethics, hope, death, and the importance of good people in times that are not.”

Lopez comes across as someone who has lived life deeply and reflected upon it a great deal, especially in the last stages of his life, but what I find equally interesting are Pittman’s probing questions on nature, writing, and legacy. I’ve included a few of them below:

On the responsibility that comes with naming:

“You write about places that are relatively untouched by the human hand. Of course, nothing’s untouched, but there’s an idea of land being at least unspoiled. In capturing these places, you make them a known place. There’s a danger in that; there’s got to be some sort of care and obligation when you write about these spaces.”

On the perils of language to entice and attract:

“By finding the language to open up and elevate the landscape that you’re describing, you’re also extending an invitation to people who are attracted to it in the same way that they might be attracted to the description of a new sitcom or something like that, who say, ‘Oh this should be great, let’s go and do it’….’Let’s do the Arctic.'”

The contradiction between preservation and connection: 

“In our privileged, urban lives, we have a problematic relationship with land and wildness. We have a romanticized idea of authenticity and preservation that often means we should go nowhere near something. There is of course often an ethical obligation to not go near, to respect, to stay away. But also, it seems vital for humanity that we do know and connect with land at a profound level. How do we do both of those things simultaneously?”

What it means to write in today’s climate:

“If you take Bill McKibben at his word on climate change, and I do, we’re past the point where we can stop what’s coming. How do you write or engage with hope when there is that knowledge looming over us? We can’t fix it anymore, if we ever could.”

How to engage with a different way of seeing and being:

“When writing about indigenous communities throughout the world as the privileged western writer, even with the trust and invitation of those communities, how do you go about it so as not to be imposing or condescending or imperialist?”

To read Lopez’s responses to Pittman’s thoughtful questions, click the link below for the full interview, or check out Issue 3 of The Alpine Review.

Click Here for the Full Interview

Feature image by AWeith on Wikimedia Commons.

Regarding Lichen, Tin House Online

Happy to announce that my short story “Regarding Lichen” has been published on Tin House Online as part of their Flash Friday series. “Lichen” was inspired by the stylings of the late and great Donald Barthelme, in particular one of my favourite story of his titled “Concerning the Bodyguard” which is similarly built on questions hinting at an underlying narrative. “Lichen” takes a different tone and is written as a love story:

“What are the odds of the lichen settling on this rock? This tongue of rock, jutting out from a sea of permafrost? Is the lichen aware of other lichens, borne on other winds, clones of itself, diaspores settling on bleached shores, on exposed outcrops, or drowning in bogs?”

I hope you enjoy it. I apologize for not posting more in recent months. It’s partly due to the fact that I’m working on a bunch of different projects (like this one) and partly because after a hundred plus essays, I’m running low on stories I want to explore on a deeper basis. But rest assured, the hiatus has been great in helping me find fresh and exciting narratives, ones I’m keen to write about here on Ekostories, so stay tuned!

Read Regarding Lichen Here

 

Six Degrees of Interconnection, Orion Magazine

I’m pleased to have another short essay, “6 Degrees of Interconnection”, published in the latest Orion. Despite the title of the piece, I promise it is 100% Kevin Bacon free.

Here’s a description on the rest of the issue:

Orion 2017 Apr Cover

“In this issue, Robin Wall Kimmerer explores how language can affirm our kinship with the natural world, and John Landretti considers where the line lies between what is real and what is perceived. Other features include Jeremy Miller on an ecological experiment to create a wilderness area, and Anjali Vaidya on what it means to adapt in a post-colonial world.

Also: poetry by Sierra Golden, Kimiko Hahn, Joan Naviyuk Kane, and James Thomas Stevens; plus Simen Johan’s lush photographs of wild animals and Jesse Chehak’s photographs of luminous water and ice in the North and West Atlantic.”

I had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Bread Loaf Orion conference with Anjali Vaidya, so I’m naturally delighted to have my work featured alongside hers. Titled “Native or Invasive”, Vaidya’s essay navigates two tangled histories, one personal and one floral, arguing how attempts to reduce each to fit easy categories does disservice to their rich complexities. I won’t spoil the piece too much as it’s a great read, but I will highlight one of my favourite parts towards the end:

“Scars have a certain ugliness, in that they never let us forget the underlying shapes of old wounds. They never let us forget that resilience came at the cost of purity; that a body, or a nation, or an ecosystem, will never be able to return to what it used to be. But scar tissue is also what helps us move on after an injury, like the quick-growing plants that cover land after a fire. The adaptations that come with new realities may not be pretty, but I think jugaad can have a beauty of its own.”

– Native or Invasive, Anjali Vaidya

These ideas around native and invasive, purity and corruption, and the power of language to shape intention remind me of other stories I’ve covered on Ekostories, including Emma Marris’ Rambunctious Garden and Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. “Wild and Invasive” makes me reflect upon my own history as a child of a post-colonial society, as an immigrant negotiating between two cultures, and as an urbanite drawn always to the margins of nature. Marvelling at the scar tissue, I suppose.

Check Out the Latest Issue of Orion Here

Related Ekostories

Featured image from Orion Magazine.

What Matters, River Teeth Journal

Recently, I had the honour to contribute a short-short to “Beautiful Things”, the online section of River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative. River Teeth is one of the most well-known creative nonfiction publications around, and in my opinion has the most inspired name. On its origin:

“…there are hard, cross-grained whorls of human experience that remain inexplicably lodged in us, long after the straight-grained narrative material that housed them has washed away. Most of these whorls are not stories, exactly: more often they’re self-contained images of shock or of inordinate empathy; moments of violence, uncaught dishonesty, tomfoolery; of mystical terror; lust; joy. These are our “river teeth”-the knots of experience that once tapped into our heartwood, and now defy the passing of time.”

David James Duncan

On what “Beautiful Things” look like:

“Glimpses, glimmers, meditations, moments, reflections, refractions, interrupted shadows, river shimmers, darkened mirrors, keyholes, kaleidoscopes, earring hoops, slabs of cracked granite, cracks where the light gets in. Beautiful things.”

River Teeth’s website

I won’t spoil “What Matters” since it’s less than 250 words, but I will admit that I was tickled when the editor told me that she would have never thought to see “Cthulu” and “meatloaf” in the same sentence. Sort of. You’ll see. Happy reading.

Read the Piece Here

 

Featured image by popejon2 at Wikimedia commons.

Ekostories and Ekphrasis

It’s been more than five years since I started Ekostories. In the About section, I wrote that I originally chose the “Eko” prefix because it was a derivation from the Greek word “oikos”, meaning home or household, which was the root word for ecology, meaning the study of home or household. Over the years I have learned through happy coincidence that the name and this blog has taken on another meaning, of ekphrasis, which is the retelling of art through interpretation and re-creation.

I’ve tried to engage in this process on several occasions, particularly with art-related Ekostories. Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at the 2017 Iceland Writers Retreat with Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan as she tackled the subject of writing about art and artists:

“How do we begin to describe the sound and texture of music? To convey the act of painting, or the effect that that painting has upon the viewer? How do we express in words the flavours in a thoughtfully made dish? Can verisimilitude ever be achieved? In this workshop we will look at excerpts of published works, as well as pieces of student writing, with an eye to grappling with this cross-genre “translation.”

– Workshop description

Moving from Homer’s shield in The Iliad and Keat’s Ode to a Grecian Urn to contemporary depictions of music (Madeline Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing) and ceramics (Edmund De Waal’s The White Road) in prose, we examined various forms of ekphrasis before attempting our own. Drawing upon a set selection of paintings, Edugyan tasked us to provide a technical critique along with a more creative interpretation.

After touring through the desolate landscapes around Hvalfjörður (translated as “whale fjord”) in Western Iceland the previous day, I found myself gravitating towards one particular painting called “Uplands” by Canadian artist Ivan Kenneth Eyre. Here is my attempt at something lyrical, polished up from the exercise. (I like how this looks on the page, but this is not a poem, and I’m not a poet, so please excuse the line breaks.)

***

He streams past the blue asters in bloom
Vaulting off the chalk cliffs
The distant shore unheeded
So eager is he is to grasp the point
Now vague in hindsight through the mists of time
That he cleaves the wilderness in two
Severing all other possibilities
To focus on the extreme operation
In years and resolve
The briar and mires exact their tolls
Until he craves nothing but to pause and curl
Into the embrace of old pines
But their branches break under his burden
and he cannot climb them
and he cannot stop then
forced to shuffle on
an agent of gravity and inertia
to seek always the low place
Until one day he finds himself at the sea
And as he looks back at the white perch he once stood
He sees his route and journey all at once
Whole
As he has never seen it before
Will never see again.
The waves murmur and he turns
to return the word
in the breath that was given him
Before looking up at the sky
waiting for night to fall
The still stars to show.

***

As I wrote, the exercise became less about the painting and more about the time I spent in a foreign place, my mind turning over this land of fire and ice that I barely had time to graze with my eyes. For a while now I had felt that I was in need of a recharge in mindset and setting, so this meander in body and spirit, this interlude between act and act, might have been just what I needed to get me going again. In the next while I hope to refocus my energies here on Ekostories. Until next time.

Italo Calvino’s Marcovaldo: Seasons in the City

marcovaldo-custom-cover

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 Crossed 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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