The Pleasures and Pains
Of being in a listening body in the sixth mass extinction
Boozhoo! Aaniin! Welcome to another midweek(ish) version of An Irritable Métis. In this case ... well, given I’ve seemed to have fallen into a one-a-week schedule lately, maybe this should be the odd week version of the newsletter? The one where things are usually a little more random, a little less … irritable? Perhaps. I’ve been busy with some deadlines for some cool stuff coming out, plus a book to edit. I’m doing my best! If you forgot what all this is even about, you may remind yourself here. If you want to help keep a writer out of hard labor, well….
Happy May Day, friends! Lots of things to think about, aren’t there? Beltane, perhaps? I like that one. International Workers Day? I like that too, even if there is some dark history involved. Stuff best not forgotten, if you ask me. Not to mention the daily horrors of what seems to be percolating around the world.
I’m thinking about how this time last year I rolled into Crested Butte, Colorado, on the first day of my month-long residency there, after waking up in a bus in Cisco, Utah, that morning.
What an experience that period was in my life, not to mention its aftermath. I was slated to return there for their literary fest at the end of this May but then my schedule of previous commitments changed and I had to bow out. I’m feeling particularly bummed by that, but there’s always next year.
Meanwhile it’s quiet this morning at home outside of Missoula because there isn’t much bird activity outside my window. This is on account of my feeders being pulled, as advised by the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks:
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus was detected in a snow goose from Canyon Ferry and a Canada goose from near Belgrade last week. HPAI was detected earlier this month in domestic poultry in Judith Basin and Cascade counties. Several more birds from around the state are currently undergoing testing for the virus.
Avian influenza (AI) virus is a naturally occurring virus in birds. AI viruses are classified into two groups, based on the severity of disease they cause in infected poultry. Low pathogenic AI viruses generally cause no clinical illness, or only minor symptoms in birds. HPAI viruses are extremely infectious and fatal to poultry and some species of wild birds.
Bird flu is no joke. One hears tales of flocks of chickens being taken out. I’ve heard graphic stories of huge turkey farms taken out, related in person by the people engaged in suffocating them to gruesome death by the thousands with foam. Then there’s this horror story from earlier this week out of Iowa. This all speaks to the inhumanity of our industrial food system, for one thing, not to mention being a labor issue and a climate change issue. This is me continually beating the “everything is connected!” drum and feeling guilty, once again, that I haven’t moved entirely to vegetarianism.
So my bird feeders are down, at least for now, and it makes me a little sadder and a little lonelier … but it is also the absolute least I can do in the face of all this.
Speaking of Spring
No wonder it’s felt slow in coming this year….
My friend Holly Haworth has gotten a book deal and we are all going to be better for it. Trust me on this. Now she has created a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to allow her the time and attention to actually finish writing it. This is her making her ask:
As a writer of creative nonfiction, I immerse myself fully in my subjects. My writing requires intensive research and reporting, which I then work at crafting into what I hope is thoughtful and imaginative literary prose. Right now, I need the most support I've ever needed so that I can accomplish this work. Your support will enable me to temporarily step away from the overwhelming duties of teaching and the hustle of publishing regularly in magazines so that I can fully focus on this in-depth project.
This is what the book is about:
In this book I explore the pleasures and pains of being in a listening body in the sixth mass extinction, and the possibilities for coming to our senses. When the protagonist of Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha finds himself hopeless and resolves to end his life, the world intervenes, and he experiences two miraculous instances of listening and being listened to. In these exchanges a mysterious alchemy brews. He finds his place again within the pulse of life. To bring someone back to their senses is, in one sense, exactly that: to revive a body to consciousness so that it might use the five senses to know and feel the world. It can also mean to bring them back into a capacity to reason and understand. To have your senses about you is to be a participant in life. A Field Guide to Listening is a book to bring us back to our senses.
Holly is a magical writer. But don’t take my word for it: check out THIS PIECE that appeared in the Autumn 2021 issue of Orion magazine.
I have been so uplifted by the support I have received through this newsletter that allows me to broaden my efforts in the work I do. For example, today I am heading north to address a conference of defense attorneys in the morning, then do a couple workshops. That kind of work – the opportunity for some folks to maybe hear a voice and perspective they might not have heard otherwise – is important, and I would never be able to be part of it without your support. So in the spirit of patronage, of mutual aid, I am hoping some of you will rally for Holly’s work too. I figure if 10% of the people who read this newsletter pledged a mere $5, she’d have a big chunk taken out of meeting her ultimate goal. This is important, friends. Truly. I thank you, and Holly will too.
This Week Missoula Area People!
Still Open Spots
There aren’t many places I like to be better than on, or beside, or in, a “big, beautiful river.” And lucky for me I get to do another summer workshop with my beloved Freeflow family on the magical Big Blackfoot! This one will be about place. You may register HERE. This is the lowdown:
Many of us feel defined by place. Places important to our lives or our livelihoods. Places we have come to love through our travels, whether in the real world or through the stories we love. What is North America without the story of how many Indigenous cultures came to call it Turtle Island? Who cares about the One Ring if not for the landscapes of Middle Earth? Would we know Ellen Meloy’s name without the deserts and rivers that sustained her? What about Ed Abbey, or Amy Irvine, or Terry Tempest Williams, or Craig Childs? What about Tommy Orange’s Oakland? What about James Welch’s Hi-Line? What about Louise Erdrich’s Turtle Mountains? And what about your place? Are you a freelancer trying to get people to care about climate change? Are you a novelist building your own world? Or maybe you are a poet exploring land and rivers and want to make your images glow.
This workshop will be a study of place. Places important to you, places of cultural significance, the history of your place, even your imagined places. What what makes them special? What makes them worth fighting for? What makes you love them? What are the details that can make a place a character in the story? There are many ways to get to know a place; through story, through science, through history. We will discuss them. In the end, we will all be better writers when it comes to exploring these wonderful places.
These are always invigorating for me; days on a river always are. Hopefully they are for the folks who come out for them as well.
And there are only a couple more weeks to register!
AND DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE SCHOLARSHIP! Another opportunity largely made possible by the support I’ve gotten through this newsletter that I’m taking advantage of to help give back a little.
A little “labor poem” I wrote during my time at the bookstore a few years ago that I sort of forgot about. It amuses me now, but at the time … oof.
Thanks, as ever, for your support. It is everything.
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