Creating in the Midst of Big Change

Emerging Form interviews non-fiction writer Craig Childs and poet Aaron A. Abeyta

If it feels as if things are falling apart, here’s some advice from Toni Morrison: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

Preview: Creativity and COVID-19

In Thursday’s episode, we explore creative process by going into big time with adventurer and non-fiction writer Craig Childs, and in the next week’s episode, we hear about creativity in a very small town with poet Aaron A. Abeyta. Both episodes touch on the benefits of staying in place. In episode 21, Craig Childs helps us set our present chapter into the larger book of the past and future. In episode 22, we learn how in trying to get kicked out of school, Abeyta found his voice in a book and dedicated his life to helping others do the same.

What We’re Reading:


· My favorite novel of all time is The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern. Now I am reading her second novel, The Starless Sea, a complex weaving of many, many stories (dozens?). It’s not for everyone—not at all plot driven—but I’m utterly drawn into her fantasy world. I started by not wanting to put the book down. Now I almost don’t want to pick it up because I don’t want to be closer to the end. Rather to stay in the middle of it. A bibliophile’s fantasy.

·  I’ve been re-reading poems by Langston Hughes, a poet and playwright known for his contributions to the Harlem Renaissance. This poem in particular, “Let America Be Great Again,” powerfully speaks to this moment.


·  As the U.S. surpasses 100,000 dead from COVID-19, the New York Times reminds us that these are not just numbers, they’re human lives. Here are some of their names, an incalculable loss.

· Remember, No One Is Coming to Save Us: Roxanne Gay on the pandemic that is disproportionately affecting the black community. “Eventually, doctors will find a coronavirus vaccine, but black people will continue to wait, despite the futility of hope, for a cure for racism. We will live with the knowledge that a hashtag is not a vaccine for white supremacy. We live with the knowledge that, still, no one is coming to save us. The rest of the world yearns to get back to normal. For black people, normal is the very thing from which we yearn to be free.”

· Katie Anthony on Five Racist Anti-Racism Responses “Good” White Women Give to Viral Posts and The Only Kind of Response That’s Acceptable. “Do not say that. Say ‘I'm sorry,’ ‘I see you,’ or ‘that's awful,’ an expression of condolence and connection that isn't about you and your feelings.” “Say something one human says to another human when they see their pain.”

Poem from Our Guest Aaron A. Abeyta:

untitled or breathing in a time of covid

—aaron a. abeyta

dust veils the valley like dust in spring

every day wind

every day this place a personification

of ache aching that is a falling

from this horizon into another

poverty does not create character

this   the myth of some false

lying book whose mirrors do not

shine back at us nor for us

in a denver hospital Robert Limon cleaves

at life this breath then another

breath     his lonely isolation

the machine a dire metronome

perhaps one day   we will

all point back to this isolation

the aloneness that wrought this line

or that line into air   and by air

i mean human hearts   this is a prayer

for change for life and breath

for loved ones to recover   to breathe

without laboring or without thought

i am reading Auden   cross of the moment

he does not include in his collected the line

we must love one another or die the poem

absent altogether this wind

isn’t a lie   what seems broken   is

lies are less expensive

than anything we have saved  

here among our hats and buttons  

gathered then shelved toward what we

know will always come for us  

we survive   our ancestors have made it so

their voices   you hear them too

they ring of fidelity   live

endure be    persist return

breathe yes fill your lungs

let the wind breathe may dust

swing from cottonwoods to water

to meadow   may we be

lifted from our veils   all of them

let   too   the broken

those walking toward home

in their swollen and inebriated day

may they   too here in this isolation

serve as an aspect of truth

why did he write these lines

he wrote them in isolation

in the days where the dead multiplied

beyond the wars of books and story

the dead   the dying the swollen

the broken and the barely breathing

they are a form of truth   the living

ache of this place   yes

the wind too brief breaths

that fluttered then flew

as if being alone was a

breath which formed itself  

out of our requisite and stored faith

into song

Two Questions:

(share your answers with us here on Substack)

  1. If you could write a postcard to yourself ten years ago today, what would you say?

  2. Have you had an experience with a book or poem that saved your life?