Eco-Thoughts: Chris Merrill

I write the Eco-Thoughts column for The Believer magazine and this is one of the true delights of my life at present. My editor, Hayden Bennett, is a gem and it is so fun and fascinating to talk to smart, kind, focused humans about ecologies and their take on life on Earth.

January 2020 finds me in conversation with Christopher Merrill. Check it out and send me some comments!

Good Writing Clarifies Matters

This was the subtitle of the talk I gave on my book Here Is Where I Walk: Episodes from A life in the Forest, January 2020, at The Hivery in Mill Valley — it was for the New Year, New Moxie event that Moxie Road has put on for the last four Januarys. It was among the most attentive group of listeners I have ever spoken to — and while I had prepared a paper, and read from it — I often digress and pause and share asides. One emergent aspect for me — this is the third version of this talk I have “gigged” — each time I refine and hone in on my main points — is how much we all need to talk with power and accuracy about the trauma in each of our lives, the trauma that shapes us. I grew up in an environment where shaking things off and moving on was the main mode of being.

However, when I was 18, I was in a car accident, a car I was driving, and my best friend died. This, too, was meant to be “shaken off” — as in, you are lucky, lucky, lucky to be alive! Now go out and grab that life! But the fact is, it’s actually been more work to assume this pose for most of my life. At this point in my life, I think the actual pathway is to pause quietly, curtains drawn, and allow the feelings of this and other traumas a little more room in my heart and mind. Rather than stuffing them down, I am opening up to them. I am feeling and hearing myself in many ways as if for the first time. This is deeply moving and I wonder how my writing will be effected?

Awake/Asleep: Thoughts for January 25, 2020 Craft Talk

Looking forward to my craft/let’s-get-writing-with-more-power-and-accuracy talk at Moxie Road gig in Mill Valley, California, on January 25. (Link at the end of the post.)

Awake vs asleep: I am talking about a few ideas around writing craft; for instance, one of my observations over the years is how my writing students and clients want to tell me a story but they don’t know what the story is about. What does that mean? All stories are the story of thought and the story of action in different proportions, in different modes of covert and overt. Just having a story to tell is not enough. You need to know why you are telling it. Otherwise, you might as well just go the local cafe or bar and hold court.

My children in Iowa City when I was a graduate student in the MFA program. Yes, I had two young children, ran a magazine, taught undergraduates, and took a full load of graduate writing courses. I am very proud of each of these accomplishments, with the mother part being number one.

Moxie Road productions: January 25, 2020 — come see me!

Creativity in Times of Ecological Collapse


It’s us on a Sunday in Northern California, a day when there is bright sunlight and the peachy amaryllis is blooming in some quasi-pornographic explosion of color and form.  It’s a day when we are yet partially frozen in position on the grey couch, staring out the wide sliding glass doors at the sea. It is a day when we are trying to parse what is the role of creativity in times of ecological collapse.

It’s us holding each other close with our voices and words and thoughts. We are not hiking today although we could hike and talk. Instead we are simply sitting, holding one another’s wrists. We both write about ecologies and think about ecologies and some days this makes us sad. We try to not allow the sadness, the sense of loss, to wash over us relentlessly. But we have learned to embrace the feelings as we embrace each other, as we bat ideas around.

We’re talking about ecological collapse—the sixth extinction and we are talking about creativity. I am asking this question: Is creativity simply another form of distraction when we face down all of these existential questions around the death of ecologies as we know them?

We’re trying to understand our own compulsion to write on a sunny day when Australia is on fire and the Iranians have withdrawn from the nuclear agreement.

We’re trying to talk about climate crisis, which is often our topic and we are talk about how complex and broad it is. And in one manner of thinking, it is. But what if the problem with our thinking is that it is not complex at all? That we have been trained to think that it is complex. See, little lady, this here’s a complex world and you cannot begin to understand how complex it is. What if we stop thinking about complexity and instead think about simplicity.

We’re trying to sort through this concept, this idea of environmental thinking being overly dominated by ideas of not doing things, like driving cars and eating burgers and buying plastic bottles of shampoo. It’s about doing more of the good things, like standing still and staring at the sky, thinking about the cosmos.

We’re also trying to grasp our ecological presence and how we represent ourselves in words and build worlds with our writing and art — this is a topic of keen interest to us. The concept of being one, unified ecology on Earth — all of us, from the bees to the clouds — has been for a me quite a profound aspect of daily life. The idea that aspects of ecologies live in a spatial and temporal scale that is super-human, as in, we cannot know it because it’s too massive to be known.

Philosophers write about this in the language of philosophers.  What we are thinking about is how most of us are not philosophers in the classical sense and that’s a good thing. We are thinking about how art and writing help us to understand what it means to be human and in these times what it means to be human means what does it mean to be a colleague in all these changing circumstances, in our case equally with the banana slugs, the coyotes, and euc trees, who reside with us here. Here is where we walk. Sundays are good days for sharing quiet, ordinary thoughts about ecologies.

I am speaking about creativity on January 25 at this lovely Moxie Road event. I hope to see you there — we’ll be talking about how we maintain and nourish a robust writing practice within our complex (and simple) lives.

4th Annual New Year, New Moxie Writing Retreat
JANUARY 25, 9 am, The Hivery, Mill Valley

Eco-Thoughts: How the interview activates listening in these days of distraction

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I am completely in love with my genius Eco-Thoughts editor at The Believer, Hayden Bennett. He and I have never met in person, we talk via keyboards and sometimes phone. He offers so much support and warmth across this collaboration.

We are collaborating, with our interview subjects, on a new monthly column for The Believer, Eco-Thoughts. Here is the latest one, with Joanna Zylinska!

I am thinking about how important the interview is as a form, and thinking about how we should teach it in the MFA program at CCA. The interview is an exercise in close listening and the interview is a stay against the distractions of our times. It is about seeing and hearing another human. Its very form, the interplay, the tossing back and forth of ideas, slowly building.

I am thinking about how much is revealed about the human soul and heart and mind in the form called the interview. I am thinking about how when it goes right, and when there is a meeting of brains, a sort of sweet, smart knowledge is generated that can only happen in that form.