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Clouds and Cornfield

All My Best Words Were Hers

My thanks to Entropy Magazine for publishing All My Best Words Were Hers, my essay exploring the legacy of Ursula K. Le Guin.

Over the past several months, I’ve mourned her passing by reading every tribute I can find. Most touch upon her seminal works, on Earthsea and Omelas, on The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness. Yet few seem to speak to the wider breadth of her oeuvre, which ranged from critical essays and genre-defying short stories to translations of ancient texts and funny food recipes. Le Guin would be rankled at that, I think. This piece is intended to shine a light on her lesser known works, reorient her more famous pieces through my own lens, and showcase the woman behind and beyond the words. She would appreciate the gesture, I hope:

“In the evening, my mom sends me a text: Are you ok? I saw one of her quotes @Twitter: ‘Go on and do your work. Do it well. It is all you can do.’

Gensher, of Way. A biological parent, delivering advice from a literary one. If I have learned anything in this life, it is to listen to my mothers. So I sit down at the table and begin once more the work, my work with words, this time plying it to find a road out of the land of dust and shadows, back to the green grove, the sun’s light, the empty sky.”

I chose the headline image partly because I’ve always associated trees and their “great slow gestures” with Le Guin, and partly because a lone figure reaching up towards an infinite sky seemed to fit her as a writer and a thinker.

The title was inspired by Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to a film adaption of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick was one of many authors I would have never had read in-depth if not for a Le Guin essay (along with Lem, Woolf, Saramago, Calvino, Tiptree Jr. – the list goes on). Through care and generosity of spirit she tended the door that opened to new worlds and possibilities; for that I shall always be grateful.

Read The Essay Here

Featured Image credit: Pixabay

Dear Ursula…

When I first began writing seriously a few years back, I enrolled in a local creative writing intensive program. During one of the workshop sessions, we were asked to read something we loved in order to figure out how great writing sounds. Naturally I settled on your writing and found a passage in my battered Ace trade paperback edition of The Left Hand of Darkness. Chapter 18 begins:

“Sometimes, as I’m falling asleep in a dark and quiet room, I have for a moment a great and treasurable illusion of the past. The wall of the tent leans up against my face, not visible but audible, a slanting plane of faint sound. The susurrus of blown snow, nothing can be seen. The light emission of the Chabe stove is cut off, and it exists only as a sphere of heat, a heart of warmth. The faint dampness and confining cling of my sleeping bag, the sound of the snow. Barely audible, Estraven’s breathing as he sleeps. Darkness. Nothing else. We are inside, the two of us, the shelter, at rest, at the center of all things. Outside, as always, lies the great darkness, the cold, death’s solitude.

In such fortunate moments as I fall asleep, I know beyond doubt what the real center of my own life is, that time, which is past and lost and yet is permanent, the enduring moment, the heart of warmth.”

It was embarrassing at first. I was stuttering through the first lines, tripping up on the pronunciation of “susurrus”. But then I eased into things and gained sure through your words that formed the sentences that forged a world. A sphere of heat, the heart of warmth, and then I was there, with you on Gethen, inside the mind of Genly Ai, amidst the darkness and the silence, and moved to try as hard as I could to craft something as haunting and profound as the chain of words I had just read aloud.

I am still trying to this day.

Rest in peace, Ursula. I hope you are walking in your forests right now, deep within the Immanent Grove where tree roots are the roots of being, learning at last what no act or act or power in life could ever teach you, what you had never learned.


Sunflower Briar Patch

The Briar Patch, The Sunlight Press

Happy to have a short piece published in The Sunlight Press, a literary journal for new and established voices:

“…With the site prepared, you and your friends begin to forge something new. There are no master plans, no plans at all. A wire fence, they say, to keep out the rats. Some wood chips to lay, to mark down the paths. You throw yourself into tasks that fill body and mind, and over the course of an easy spring, hard work gives rise to small beginnings. Radish seeds and sweet peas spool forth soft threads, greedy for light. Butterflies wink in and out to drink sugar syrup from trumpet flowers. A new commonwealth sprawls forth above ground and underfoot. Yet part of you still yearns for the manic patch of old, wild and invasive, all-consuming…”

Exploring the healing power of a garden over the seasons, “The Briar Patch” is a piece that fits with the publication’s desire to explore the many ways “people turn toward light and hope”, and also of epiphanies “born from the ordinary and the extraordinary.” Hope you enjoy it!

Read the Piece Here


Emperor Penguins

On Pools and Penguins: Zoomorphic’s Brave Bird

Just in time to wrap up the year, I’m pleased to announce that my short meditation on emperor penguins is out in Zoomorphic: In Celebration and Defence of Wild Animals:

“While doing laps at the pool one day, I came to the conclusion that the penguin is the most courageous and admirable of birds, because swimming is a meditative act, and a cleansed mind occasionally entertains notions of avian mettle. Not the eagle, I decided, which coasts by on piercing looks but is secretly not above scavenging, nor the owl, whose fame for foresight is wholly unearned, bested in wit by any parrot or common crow. No, I concluded as I flipped and pushed off into another length, it is the penguin I revere in all its awkward, earthbound glory…”

The germ of the essay originated during a routine pool session back when I was still disciplined enough to go regularly; somehow movement, especially repetitive acts like walking or swimming, seems to help facilitate the flow of ideas. The piece also ends with a personal resolution I hope to tackle in 2018 – I wish you all much success in the upcoming year!

Read the Piece Here


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.


Arctic Iceberg

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.

Lungwort Lichen

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