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!

Plastic, I Love You

red and white mouth plastic toy and food plastic toys
Photo by on

(This is the first image that came up when I searched “Plastic Love” in Free Photos. Interesting. As a lover of plastic food models, the cupcake is particularly appealing.) This is the beginning of an essay I am writing for my next collection, The Late Great Golden State. (The title essay comes out Fall 2019 with The Bellingham Review — thanks so much Suzanne Paola for inviting a piece and for accepting it.) Here is the current draft. I am really vibe-ing on writing short these days. Let me know what you think.

On Plastic

Plastic is a miracle and I love it. Right now we are all talking about how we hate plastic but why should we do that? It’s like burning your own house down. Plastic is in all of us and in everything. Plastic is better at existing on Earth than humans are! It takes so many forms and it never, ever vanishes, like human bodies do. No! Not plastic. Resilient. Noble. Forever.

My forever love.

Think of this substance with tenderness: We can mold it into anything. It absorbs and emits light, it can be ductile or rigid, it is so strong, yet so magnificently light. You can see why humans fell in love with it. A substance of our design imbued with so many gorgeous qualities. It seals, it insulates, it protects. Plastic serves us. 

However. Now are days when we wish this service had been more curtailed. We love you, plastic, but we are also now terrified by you. What have we created? And, gulp, can we get rid of you? Yet you are our intimate. Each day, I touch you in your many forms. I sit on a plastic toilet seat at dawn, I drizzle eucalyptus-scented soap across my arms in the shower — from a plastic bottle. (I think about how glass bottles in the bath would be so dangerous!) 

And so I meditate on your brilliance. How many of us have you saved? I know you saved me after a car crash, formed into so many tubes lacing into so many holes in my body. Plastic: Stranger blood flowed into me, guided by plastic. Nourishment came to me. You protected all the sterile gauze and pads when my babies were born. 

But oh! Plastic how we misunderstood you. How we had this craven desire for you, how we pushed you to be all things to all people. Yes! How we enslaved you to our capitalist markets, how we found you could be made into cheap versions of coveted animal materials — tortoise, bone — how we called you vegan leather. 

Capitalism: You made this possible in the late 20th century. You were ready to serve, unjudging, ready to be useful. And now what is your recompense? You are 

Or. Maybe you had a plan from the beginning. Maybe you wanted to be not simply of us but in us. And so you waited and waited and saw how with each painful accommodation, the heat, the chemicals, the hours of molding, you might have a shot. What if you could break free from our systems and, for instance, go for a swim in the ocean? Your larger plastic brain saw the ocean from so many perspectives, from sunscreen bottle to chair to strap around handsome lifeguard to buoy slung across handsome lifeguard, to straw, to cup lid. What if, you imagined, you could find a way to live in that ocean, that great gelatinous sea? What if indeed? 

And so. Here we are. I am you and you are me. You made it into that ocean, so hard to see you there, you exist as a microscopic cloud, you fold into my skin as I dive into the waves. Uncapturable. 

I hesitate to say this but now I wonder: Do I get a vibe of you do you, and I do me? Is that what we have here? Because I want you to know, I do not blame you. I am deeply, madly, deeply in love with you.

What did Roland Barthes say: Ubiquity made beautiful.

We Are the Loop: Feel Its Tug and Pull


We are the loop. And we love the loop, don’t we, particularly the delusional but understandable idealism that is applied to how we buy and use objects, stuff, all the many things we tote around. Late-Capitalism has us in a very fast loop now and we buy, consume, and discard at a rate that boggles zee mind. Except that it doesn’t really boggle our minds — that is, create a sense of marvel (and if you spell “boggle” with one “g” it means demon or phantom, which I secretly love.)

The thing is, there are people in the world who know this is a real problem, all this buying and trash sorting and not using things for more than five seconds. The thing is we are the loop and we can create some friction to slow it down. How do we do this? Through words and symbols. Through creating processes to slooooooow things dooooooown. Through pausing with people, known and strange to us, to talk about how we feel about it all. Every time we pause to speak to this, read to this, write to this, we slow down the loop.

I gave a talk at the Maldives National University on July 24, 2019, about the ECOPOESIS Movement, which I founded with Adam Marcus and Chris Falliers, and a loop image-object came along for the discussion.

But not any old loop: This is the loop we humans were gifted in 1970, to describe structured reintegration of our waste, through industrial systems, and then back in new and exciting forms. We were not creating too much, for instance, plastic. We were energizing the loop.

ECOPOESIS wants to react to many things: The dearth of language, our need for new signs, the instantiation of ecological discussions in science/political/philosophical circles — often feeling far from the rest of us humans and non-humans. The speed of the loop.

Some of the words I said: “We are also reacting to the current state of ecological messaging and symbols, which we feel are out of date. For example, this ubiquitous American recycling symbol that proposes our plastics are in a perfect loop of reuse. One swim in any of the world’s oceans proves this wrong in the 21st century.”  Gary Anderson, then a 23-year-old student at USC, submitted this design in 1970 for a contest run by the Container Corporation of America — and the brief was to illustrate the path for recycled paper.

I then took off one of my shoes, designed by Rothy’s here in SF, that used re-cycled plastic as its material. I feel good about myself for buying shoes made from plastic (a fantastic material, by the way, which we choose to falsely deify and then demonize to keep Sauren’s Eye off of us as individuals? Perhaps?) To make this point: There is a loop, it is not one that is over there — a glyph to assuage feelings of guilt about your stuff.

You are the loop and the loop is you.

My next post is going to talk about my own love affair with plastics.