Sunday, June 11, 2017

Bread Loaf Orion Redux

This is Essay #23 (a little late) of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished) essay each week during 2017.

I just spent an amazing and intense week at the Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers Conference, which took place at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English, which is a small campus on a mountain with spotty cell service and fickle wi-fi. I mentioned this in my previous post. This is not to be confused with the “regular” Bread Loaf Writers Conference (sometimes referred to as “Mother Loaf”, among other less-endearing nicknames) that happens in August.

The famous Bread Loaf telephone booth

This conference was a gathering of writers of the environmental bent. What that means is something I’m still trying to figure out. Sure, we’ve got the creative nonfiction folks who’ve got it easy: they write about the environment – from journalistic pieces to memoir-like personal essays. But what does it mean to be an environmental poet? I have no idea. And I went to the dang conference! Haha!

For now, I am using this label as lens through which I see my work. I’m not adjusting my work to fit the label (labels are not useful in creating art), but rather asking questions of my work: how it is functioning in the world? And then: how does it function through an environmental lens? I know: what the heck does THAT mean? I’m not exactly sure, but I’m using it to investigate the relationship between my work and the natural world. Looking at connections between the natural world and the social world of humans and where my work might fit in to explore these connections (cuz right now we humans are not exactly in great relationship with Mother Earth). Sounds like fun, right?

Anyway, the conference had a very full schedule: lecture after an early breakfast, two and a half hour workshop, lunch, craft classes, meetings with editors and agents, social (uh, happy) hour, dinner, faculty readings, participant readings. All good stuff at concentrated levels of intensity. I think I cried at least once each day, usually during a lecture or faculty reading. They were all so touching and eye-opening and passionate and vulnerable. And I’m not a crier. (Which is a label that’s quickly changing into the opposite.)

In my previous post, I mentioned that Camille Dungy lectured about uncertainty and how we might embrace it rather than fear it. This was only one of several lectures that brought the tears. Ross gave a talk called “Entering the Trees” in which he looked at trees and all that they held – from light to the source of books to books themselves to survival lessons they can teach us humans to its history and relationship to lynching. Robin Wall Kimmerer touched me with her lecture “What Does the Earth Ask of Us” as she encouraged us to listen to the earth, to be in relationship with her, to practice reciprocity rather than take take take, to consider our language and how it can be either one of violence or one of love. It has changed how I not only look at the natural world at large, but how I move through the world in my daily existence. And this complements my yogic outlook on life like matched puzzle pieces.

The fact that all of the participants were coming together for a purpose larger than ourselves lent to creating a really supportive and encouraging community. (I’ve heard stories of the “Mother Loaf” being competitive at the cutthroat level and the subconscious enforcement of an incredible hierarchy: from famous writer to lowly waiter. And we won’t mention stories of sexual harassment and racism. I’m sure Google can help you on that one.) Bread Loaf Orion is vastly different in this way. But what struck me most was the number of writers of color that I saw – I was thrilled. I had attended this conference two years ago and didn’t see much color. This year was significantly different. I suspect that some of this diversity had to do with who was on faculty this year: Ross Gay & Camille Dungy. If you have faculty of color, you will attract more people of color, if that’s what you want. And from interacting with both the Bread Loaf folks and the Orion Magazine folks, this is the impression I’ve gotten. They want to hear from more voices, those outside of the stereotype of white environmentalist dude that you often presume when you hear the term “environmental writer”. And I am so grateful for this, for their desire to amplify marginalized voices. I think they’re doing a pretty good job so far. I look forward to seeing how they grow from here (pun intended – ha!).

Me with Ross trying to take a selfie

No comments:

Post a Comment