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How the Story Has Its Way with Us
Melissa L. Sevigny on not writing the story she set out to write
“As important as it is to set aside time for writing, I need to set aside time for not writing.”
—Melissa L. Sevigny
Preview: “I Didn’t Expect It to End Up Where It Did”
“I wanted it to be a book about science,” says author Melissa L. Sevigny of her new book Brave the Wild River: The untold story of two women who mapped the botany of the Grand Canyon. “It was really hard to write about it and not talk about the sexism. I tried to avoid it, but this is a story about gender. I had to tell that story in the end and it surprised me.”
In this week’s episode of Emerging Form (coming Thursday!) we talk with Melissa about her book project began as something she wanted to read, not write; how through archival records and interviews she created three-dimensional characters; how a story lets you know when it’s done with you, and how she took care of herself while working full time and writing the book.
Melissa L. Sevigny grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the Sonoran Desert’s ecology and dark desert skies. She has worked as a science communicator in the fields of space exploration, water policy, and sustainable agriculture, and has a B.S. in environmental science from the University of Arizona and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Iowa State University.
She is the science reporter at KNAU (Arizona Public Radio) in Flagstaff, Arizona and her stories have been awarded regional Edward R. Murrow awards and featured nationally on Science Friday. In addition to Brave the Wild River, she’s also written Mythical River and Under Desert Skies.
What We’re Reading and Listening to:
After our episode with Uche Ogbuji on Artificial Intelligence and creativity, I was especially interested in this poem by Jennifer Garfield on ONE ART … “dear algorithm, i have some questions for you.” There are some things AI most likely can’t know about us … and in this poem, she writes directly to AI, wondering things such as, “did you know I have a favorite child?”
Okay. Let’s talk Barbie. The theater was packed, and I was glad to be able to talk with my daughter and with friends after the movie. Though I didn’t care much for Barbie growing up, there’s no denying the doll has been a profound reflection of and influence on our culture. The whole movie was worth a monologue in the middle about the conundrums of being a woman in the United States. I am grateful for the conversations it’s brought up. I left the theater realizing I was asking too much of a Barbie movie, but realize I long for the movie that allows us to dream of equanimity.
I am so delighted to have found Marjolijn van Heemstra’s beautiful little book, In Light-Years There's No Hurry: Cosmic Perspectives on Everyday Life (translated by Jonathan Reeder). She sets out to find a way to experience the “overview effect” — a shift in perspective that astronauts report feeling after seeing their home planet from afar. Along the way, she explores “cosmological awareness,” a “responsibility to awe,” and wonders “who the moon actually does belong to.”
I appreciated Adam Grant’s New York Times piece arguing that “Women Know Exactly What They’re Doing When They Use ‘Weak Language.’” He writes that “It’s outrageous that women have to tame their tongues to protect fragile male egos, but … Instead of punishing women for challenging stereotypes, we should be challenging the stereotypes themselves.” The solution to the problem here “isn’t to urge meek men to become arrogant. It’s to normalize ‘weak language’ as a strong way to express concern and humility.”
I love this little visual poem “The Peace of Wild Things” from Wendell Berry (film by Charlotte Ager & Katy Wang)
Where We Are Headed
I resist any kind of discourse that anchors itself in identity and proceeds from there. As I said before, I want to get behind categorical distinctions and find and work with what human beings share and how, potentially, people can coexist in a world that is extraordinarily diverse.
—Michael D. Jackson, “The Politics of Storytelling” in the Harvard Divinity School News
At first, we just say flower. How
thrilling it is to name. Then it’s
aster. Begonia. Chrysanthemum.
We spend our childhood practicing
how to separate one thing from another.
Daffodil. Edelweiss. Fern. We learn
which have five petals, which have six.
We say, “This is a gladiolus, this hyacinth.”
And we fracture the world into separate
identities. Iris. Jasmine. Lavender.
Divorcing life into singular bits.
And then, when we know how to tell
one thing from another, perhaps
at last we feel the tug to see not
what makes things different, but
what makes things the same. Perhaps
we feel the pleasure that comes
when we start to blur the names—
and once again everything
is flower, and by everything,
I mean everything.
—Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, from Hush (Middle Creek Publishing, 2020)
A Note About Paid Subscriptions:
First, we want to thank ALL our subscribers! We are so grateful you join us in this conversation about what it is to engage with yourself, the world and others in a creative way. And a BIG thank you to our paid subscribers. You make this podcast possible. Starting this month, only our paid subscribers will receive our bonus episodes as a thank you for their financial support.
This week, Melissa talks about how listening is an essential part of finding your voice, how every project has something to teach you, what her child creative taught her adult creative, and some benefits of having a life partner who doesn’t share your creative passions (but can support you in other ways). If you are not yet a paid subscriber, you can go now to our website, EmergingForm.substack.com, or by clicking the button below. Thank you!
(share your answers with us here on Substack or in our FB group)
How do you set aside time for NOT doing your creative practice?
Tell us about a time a creative endeavor took on a life of its own.
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