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6 Degrees of Interconnection

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

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Featured image from Orion Magazine.

Giant Steel Crab George Norris

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.

Outside Laxness Museum Iceland

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.

marcovaldo-artwork

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 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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tennis-john-catbagan

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

octoberama-charley-harper

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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mahogany-clam

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.

driftfish anthology
DRIFTFISH, A Zoomorphic Anthology

Related Ekostories

Featured image screenshot captured from Mind of a Chef.