On March 7, we are presenting at the IFJP conference at Vanderbilt University. While I am solo on the mic, my collaborators Adam Marcus and Chris Falliers are with me in spirit! Here are some words. Happy to share the paper/deck with any and all — and to come out and do a little ECOPOESING with groups that are keen!!!
“The Ecopoesis Project was founded in 2018 by me and two architects, Adam Marcus and Chris Falliers, and is a multi-year sequence of collaborative, interdisciplinary think-tanks, seminars, and workshops exploring front-line concerns around ecologies, climate, and the language and spatial presence of these concepts. It is a collaboration between California College of the Arts MFA Writing Program and the CCA Architectural Ecologies Lab. Our paper for the IFJP conference details our work to date, as well as enacts a form of Ecopoesis through interactions with your questions.
“Each prototype of Ecopoesis helps us to better understand language and visual vocabularies of/for ecological contemplation and agency; messages and means of communication; and the use of speculative representation. This is a form of climate activism derived from locating an aesthetic of climate and a collaborative conversation about how this makes us feel. We see this as a counter to the facts of collapsing ecologies that bombard us each day, from realities such as enormous fires in California, where the word “October” no longer brings to mind autumn, pumpkin spice lattes, and sexy costumes, but the entire world ablaze — harsh, dry conditions ignited by aging transformers and power lines poorly maintained by our privatized electrical company, PG&E.
“We ascribe to a partnership approach in all of our Ecopoesis actions, each of which presupposes an understanding of Earth as Val Plumwood argued, “not as human property to be disposed of for purely human benefit, but as shared with nonhuman species, elements and forces which are seen as having equal tenure.” (Feminist Ecologies, Palgrave MacMillan, 2018)
I head out this week to San Antonio for the annual meeting of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. It’s an orgy of wonderful words and lovely writers — last year in Portland I think they logged 12,000 humans coming through. California College of the Arts MFA Writing will be at Booth #1604 — we are reading Tarot on March 6 – 7. I will be at the booth on March 5, before heading out the International Journal of Feminist Politics conference at Vanderbilt to talk about eco-activism and Ecopoesis.
Of course this all has the shadow of coronavirus over it — and our heads are sorta spinning by how fast this became a reality and how weirdly explosive the numbers are — cases doubled in Italy over the weekend. I read in the Times today that we all should expect to get it at some point. Then the admonishments to not touch, to wash hands, to cough into sleeves. Should I bring my N-95, which I keep stocked due to Cali fires in the autumn? Hmmm. I think that’s a hard no.
These times. These thoughts. Oh! And it’s also my birthday on March 4, and I did this really, really brave vulnerable thing and set up a few moments with some favorites — drinks with Christopher Merrill, dinner with Daniel Gumbiner, editor of The Believer, and my colleague the author Tom Barbash. I usually allow the day to pass quietly. This has been a hard 2020 to date, so decided it was a good idea to change it up.
I was sorta encouraged to do this by a friend who has been pushing me to be more authentic and vulnerable. So. Here we are. Here is where I walk, etc.
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.
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.
When NZ Flight 901, on a tourist flyover to the Ross Sea in Antarctica from New Zealand, vanished from the airwaves 40 years ago this month, there remained hope the plane would yet make it back. That the silence meant the airliner’s comms had failed but they would make it back. The plane and all 257 people on that DC-10 would make it back. As night fell, people held onto that hope and residents of New Zealand’s South Island were told to turn on their porch lights, to create an illuminated path to guide the plane back to Christchurch.
When I arrived in New Zealand as a research scholar in the Antarctic humanities, it struck how this story was not told in any of the Antarctic museums. The crash had reverberated across the country for years — and I met many, many Antarcticans who had either known passengers or who had been part of the recovery effort. Yet it was not considered a public story. In fact, when I asked about the crash, when I started digging into materials about the crash at archives, it was met with tinge that I was a tad vulgar to do so.
I then spent months searching archives in New Zealand towns and cities to parse a story of a horrific Antarctic tourist disaster — particularly eery and haunted research — no surprise given that I was looking at records of a catastrophe and the subsequent lengthy inquiry.
Instead, I focused on the materiality of the investigation and then how the story was told in books, in the news, and in a handful of small exhibitions.
Many nights, from my home in the hills of Lyttelton, New Zealand, I would stare out the window at the busy port, and try to parse the facts as stated. There were so many weird aspects.
On one hand, there were hundreds of rolls of film, taken by the passengers in the hours proceeding the crash. They were tourists, they were all snapping away. I wrote about the look and feel of these images, which were shot from those tiny plane windows, which often appear in the photos, framing the blue and white ice landscape below.
As I read and re-read the expert testimony on the case. I kept coming back to the words of one of the witnesses, Professor Ross Henry Day, an expert in human perception. He talked about how humans might not see a 12,000-thousand-foot volcano in their path.
I wrote, “Before he gave his opinions, he studied passenger photographs and the meteorological conditions at the time of the accident.
“He said that the effects of white out are insidious in the extreme. Even on the ground the effects are not recognized by the affected individual until a gross error has been made, such as walking into a snow bank or falling into a hole.
“But understanding what means to not see in white out required a further explanation of a concept he called the mental set. What can we see in poor visibility conditions, he reasoned, was determined in large part by the expectations of the observer. Thus, as we scanned a landscape, certain aspects of it were privileged over others for more detailed attention. The final step, then, was for the observer to interpret the selected material.
“To put it another way, we cannot see what we are not looking for, or when our physical means of seeing diminishes during white out, the mental set takes over. What we expect determines what we perceive.”
This insight has stayed with me particularly as I think and write more about climate catastrophe and ecologies these days. I wonder if this is not somehow why we don’t act to do more to stop emissions, to eat less meat, to slow down our hyper-capitalist markets? Perhaps it is a question of the mental set in the end and not being able to see what we do not believe because in the case of climate and shifting ecologies, we look out the window and it is yet still a beautiful day.