Tunes for a Monday Morning

Sustainable prose


From a conversation between Terry Tempest Williams, Jocelyn Bartkevicius, and Mary Hussmann (The Iowa Review):

TTW: I think that we're going to be forced to think about the Other in much more compassionate and meaningful, practical ways. And not out of altruist impulses, but for our own survival....Perhaps it is no longer in our evolutionary interest to think in terms of the survival of the fittest, but rather, the survival of compassion.

JB: And you see that happening more through writing, through being in the land and breaking down that boundary of separateness.

TTW: That's the impulse that I write out of. What would it mean to write sustainable prose?

MH: What is sustainable prose?

TTW: I honestly don't know, I am simply asking the question. If that's where we're moving as a species, if that's what we need to start thinking about -- how to live in sustainable communities, how to create sustainable economies that don't exploit the land and the people but rather extend our compassion and imagination to foster new cooperative solutions, then wouldn't that be an interesting structure to overlay a narrative? We are really talking about the need for new stories in our culture, stories that allow us to reconsider our lives.


MH: You often write about the importance of story -- certainly for us as individuals, but also for communities. I find that really interesting to think about -- how cultures are shaped by the stories that are told. For example, the American story of expansion and exploitation. Maybe it's time to change the story we are telling.

TTW: Exactly. That is one of the impulses we are seeing in memoir -- the old stories don't work for us anymore and we are desperately trying to find the stories within the truth of our own lives. Maybe that is also the impulse driving creative nonfiction right now...or maybe it is as it's always been. We are simply hungry for good stories, fiction or nonfiction. Story is the umbilical chord between the past, present, and future; it keeps things known. Stories become the conscience of the community, it belongs to everyone. When we think of what it means to be human, it is always answered or explained through story....

One of the things we continue to learn from Native Peoples is that stories are our medicine bundles. I feel that way about our essays, our poems, our fictions. That it is the artist who carries the burden of the storyteller. Terrence Des Pres speaks of a prose witness that relies on the imagination to respond to the world as we see it, feel it, and dare to ask the questions that will not let us sleep. Imagination. Attention to details. Making the connections. Art -- right words to station the mind and hold the heart ready.