Monday, May 29, 2017

Some Notes: an Iraq War Veteran Reads about the Iraq War

“Iraq is variegated, contradictory, endlessly confusing. Over the years its people have watched as others have sought to define them, creating images to be displayed beyond its borders” (10).
                                                                                    —Anthony Shadid, Night Draws Near

It may not be surprising that I, along with the other soldiers in my platoon, didn’t really consider the war outside of what happened to us directly. The suffering of Iraqis, the lives they were trying to live amidst the presence of us, our war, our occupation, was hardly ever our focus. Usually, we had so many of our own hardships to deal with that it was difficult to imagine much else beyond our daily tasks and missions: patrolling villages and towns populated with tens of thousands of people, training and working with Iraqi Police and Iraqi soldiers with too few interpreters, raiding homes and farms late at night to arrest men or take weapons and bomb-making materials, standing all day outside pulling security for political meetings and city council meetings, too many IEDs or IED scares to count, indirect fire attacks at the base which were, thankfully for us and not so much for the insurgents, poorly aimed and unsuccessful. After so much time—twelve years—has passed and I’ve developed more of an emotional distance from my time in Iraq in 2004, I’ve been able to, finally and fortunately, begin to study, as best as I can, the war through the eyes of Iraqis.

“There’s a line from history that nearly everyone in Baghdad remembers: ‘Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators.’ The speaker was Major General Sir Stanley Maude, the British commander who in 1917 entered the capital to end Ottoman rule” (17).

In Night Draws Near, Anthony Shadid, the Lebanese-American journalist, documents his time from March 2003-June 2004 living with and among Iraqis. His accounts overlap, somewhat, with my time in the country—roughly late February 2004-December 2004. While deployed as a twenty year-old specialist in the Army National Guard, I was aware of the British occupation after WWI but I had never heard about this well-known line from Maude. I imagine most Americans have not. If Shadid emphasizes anything, it’s how that the longer he stays in Iraq, the more complicated and complex the country and the war becomes. Before deploying, as a nineteen year-old trying to understand the gravity of my situation, I started reading, when time permitted, about Islam, Iraqi history, Saddam Hussein and his family, among other things. I also asked my undergraduate advisor—I’d finished one semester of college at the time—for reading suggestions and she mentioned, Rabbit, Run; Portnoy’s Complaint; A Farewell to Arms. At the time, because my professor knew me well, all of these fit my interest as a young male drawn to masculine-driven realist fiction. Beyond literature, I also read the “news” obsessively. I began to read about the war with more intensity and attention because I knew I would, soon, be going to Iraq; somehow, as the deployment became more inevitable, each morning I’d consume every word in the newspaper—usually the Cleveland Plain Dealer since my family still received daily copies back then—that dealt with any aspect of the war: bombings, militias, civilian deaths, insurgents, al-Qaeda, troop surges and reductions, IEDs.

Shadid: “Some Iraqis foresaw the American invasion as a liberation” (42).
An Iraqi man says: “The American invasion has nothing to do with democracy and human rights…it will bring more destruction, more civil war, and a nationalist war against American intervention in the internal affairs of Iraq” (47).
An Iraqi man says of Bush: “From the bottom of my heart, I really respect, I adore this man” (150).
Another Iraqi man: “It is basically an angry response to the events of September 11” (47).
After a bombing, an Iraqi man says in a hospital: “Our floors are covered with blood, the walls are splashed with blood…they came to free us? This is freedom?” (77)

Of course, Saddam is also mentioned, again and again, as justification for the invasion. If Shadid’s book proves anything, it’s how unclassifiable and complicated each Iraqi felt about the American invasion and presence. Shadid writes in the introduction: “There is a word in Arabic that I have heard uttered over and over in the city: ghamidh, meaning ‘mysterious’ or ‘ambiguous.’ If Baghdad’s soul is loss, its mood always seemed to be ghamidh” (10). Shadid argues that someone in his position, a journalist trying to “capture” the war, must “surrender to the ambiguities and embrace what is ghamidh” (10). He later asserts what does seem to be the most effective way to present the war landscape: “Perhaps we simply tell stories” (10).

Almost every day in Iraq I “left the wire” as we would say. We’d rumble out on our Humvees—I drove the last one in our small convoy of four—and do patrols, route clearances, and sometimes just drive around the hills or villages or towns doing “presence patrols.” Every now and then we’d stop for various reasons and I’d stand outside my Humvee where, unless we were in the middle of a desert field, Iraqis, usually young men or boys, would approach us and talk. To generalize, I’d say that any Iraqi approaching us had more positive feelings about our presence and what we were doing; so when they spoke to us, usually with broken English, they complimented what we were doing, thanked us, told us stories and stories about Saddam and the regime. Those who didn’t want us there probably, I think, would not approach us. For much of Shadid’s book, he does, remarkably and vividly, tell stories of the families dealing, on an intimate level, with the invasion, the bombing, and, later, the occupation.

An Iraqi man says: “‘I can’t show my fear in front of my children…if I’m afraid, they’ll become afraid. Life’s not comfortable,’ he said, recalling the twenty missiles that had struck nearby the night before” (64).
After an American bombing, Shadid describes what a man says to him: “He simply turned to me and said matter-of-factly, ‘Fuck all Americans.’”

Over the past year as I’ve worked on my second manuscript of poetry, tentatively titled, Service, I’ve been attempting to write poems with a more expansive and wider range of personae. Specifically, I’ve wanted to write, I say with much humility, more in and of the Iraqi experience of the war. Most of the voices I attempt to develop are centered around the soldier or veteran experience. I’ve wanted to create a more multi-vocal, polyphonic tapestry which will, hopefully, provide a more layered multi-dimensional portrait of the war. I’ve been reading accounts from Iraqis, journalists, and reaching out to speak to Iraqis who might be willing to talk (that’s still in-progress). I say this with no self-congratulation or nobility. My current position as a graduate student allows me to, luckily, simply explore and read what I want. Although I’ve worked over the past few years to discover first-person nonfiction accounts of war by non-soldiers, non-veterans, I’ve seen how very few there are. As I read Shadid’s account of what Iraqis tell him leading up to and during the invasion, I also remember what people, in America, said to me.

 “You see how they act over there—they’re a bunch of animals.”
“We should just bomb the whole place.”
“They should be thankful we’re going over there.”
“We’re just doing it for oil.”
“Just like Vietnam.”

Although it seems to be a well-known, tidy cliché, I’ve always found it true: I really didn’t consider the political, social, historical, economic—to name a few—complexities involving my deployment to Iraq. All I knew: I was going and I wanted to do everything in my power to come back. This was, usually, mixed with a feeling of vicious, nightmarish self-loathing and regret at joining: how did I get myself in this? After all, I signed on with the Army National Guard approximately four months before 9/11 as an incoming high school senior. I remember practicing, in the barracks at Fort Bragg, disassembling my M16 and thinking, in terror, that if it took me just a second or so longer to disassemble and reassemble I might die. It never came to that, thankfully, but how was I to know?

One Iraqi man tells Shadid: “We have eleven thousand years of history…I know it sounds facetious, but it gives you resilience” (84).
A woman, Nadeen, says: “What gives them the right to change something that’s not theirs in the first place? I don’t like your house, so I’m going to bomb it and you can rebuild it again the way I want it…what they’re doing to us, they deserve to have done to them, their families, their children” (87).

Shadid’s account is one of the more startling and comprehensive among the many journalistic accounts of the invasion. His focus is solely on the Iraqis, those caught with the war, literally, in their backyards and front yards. Amidst the bombings, the destruction, the gradual and relentless movement of the war, life does, as much as it can, go on. Shadid writes: “Scenes from normal life persisted: young boys, their bodies dark and thin, swam in the muddy Tigris, while fishermen led their boats along the clumps of green reeds rising from the banks” (54).

Although this seemingly innocent and bucolic scene he mentions above does fall under that wide and complex landscape of war, it happens alongside more of this: after a bomb during the invasion, Shadid writes, “Across the street the severed hand of a seventeen-year-old boy was tossed gracelessly in a pool of blood and mud” (79). Much of the book is filled with this image: blood mixed with mud. There is also very much blood with water, oil, debris on the street, blood in various shades as it dries. Although we enter, as readers, the lives of Iraqis as they struggle through the invasion and the first months of the occupation, even Shadid can’t come—like I want—to some plausible conclusion or closure: “Baghdad is a city of lanterns amid the blackouts,” he writes. “A city of ghosts shadowed by fear, a city that is forsaken. The city I knew would always remain ghamidha” (308). 

Hugh Martin is a veteran of the Iraq War and the author of The Stick Soldiers (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2013) and So, How Was the War? (Kent State UP, 2010).  He is the recipient of a Wallace Stegner Fellowship and the Gettysburg College Emerging Writer Lectureship. He is completing his Ph.D. at Ohio University. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Smart Snow: The Intermedia Collaborations of Kathleen Kelley and Sarah Rose Nordgren

"We started from really basic questions about form: 'Can you dance with a poem?'; 'What would it look like to choreograph a poem, using the words as bodies?'"

Sarah Rose Norgren and Kathleen Kelley of "Smart Snow" make choreographed installations, or interactive virtual and material texts, or dance-poetry dioramas, or at least this is what I've been telling people at parties since I saw a preview of their video "Territory" last year. Sarah Rose and Kathleen met in high school, and today they work as collaborative partners, long distance, across multiple media. They join us here to talk shop, and to tell us about the way they came to work together and with multimedia texts. Check out a special trailer for their video "Territory" and the installation "Digitized Figures" here:

Smart Snow 2016-2017 from Kathleen Kelley on Vimeo.

SM: Can you tell us a bit about how Digitized Figures and "Territory" first came into being? Was there video work out there that you were modeling, or did this project feel like something totally new? 

KK: We began working on Digitized Figures in 2013, so it was a long process before it premiered at the Gowanus Loft in Brooklyn in October 2016. It began as a way to formalize our collaboration and try to do something that pushed both of our creative practices by truly merging video, text, and movement. There definitely wasn’t video work that was like what we wanted to do, so we were really just starting from scratch. We started from really basic questions about form: “Can you dance with a poem?”; “What would it look like to choreograph a poem, using the words as bodies?”; and “Can you write a poem that moves like a dance improvisation?” For me, the conceptual themes emerged from this kind of structural approach. It was a very nuanced collaborative process, and we were always trading ideas, video, and back and forth.

Territory was a much more discrete project, and was completed during a week-long residency at Montclair State, where I teach. Visually, we had been looking at a lot of Bjork videos at the time, especially Hyperballad, for inspiration. We had also been talking about the theoretical concepts for years, so we knew how we wanted to approach it and what we wanted it to look like and feel like.

From "Digitized Figures." Photo by Mitsuko Verdery

SM: As a collaborative pair, you merge backgrounds in poetry, dance, nonfiction, choreography, and video editing, to name a few. I recently learned you've also been actual friends since high school. Can you tell us a bit about your collaborative working process? How did your friendship also become an artistic venture? 

SRN: Yes, Kathleen and I have known been collaborating (sometimes formally, sometimes informally) since we were teenagers. We really came of age together as artists, so we’ve developed a shared language over the years that makes collaboration feel both natural and exciting. The fact that I’m a particularly physical writer and Kathleen is a particularly verbal dancer/choreographer allows that crossover to flourish, as does our shared interest in theory and our deep trust and love for one another.

KK: I think that Sarah Rose and I think and dream in a lot of the same ways. Even as teens, we recognized it, and our sense of creative connection has been this ongoing narrative that has been there for our whole adult life. My creative practices always feel like they are in conversation with Sarah Rose, even if I am working independently. On a practical level, we have barely ever lived in the same city, and so Smart Snow has become a way to maintain and nurture our collaborations.

From "Digitized Figures." Photo by Mitsuko Verdery

SM: After being fully funded on Kickstarter, Digitized Figures appeared as an installation last October at the Gowanus Loft. For those of us who couldn't be there, what was it like turning a poetry dance video into an experiential space? What might you do differently in the future? 

KK: We had always dreamed of Digitized Figures living as an installation, so we were so excited to bring it to life as its full self. We had done a work-in-progress showing of the installation version of it a few years before in Boston, which helped us immensely in identifying some important production details. When we finally got into the Gowanus Loft, we were able to make it come to life in a wonderfully rich way. Utilizing the video and the live performers created a calm yet extraordinarily evocative world in the loft. I am really proud of it, and I was so happy to have it live in this way.

I don’t think I would have done anything differently with DF, but I do think that we are going to stay away from live productions for a little while and concentrate on creating film works with more discrete working timelines. Digitized Figures was a monster of a project that took so much work to make happen. We were lucky to have many hands helping out, including the Gowanus Loft staff, a team of interns, Krista Anne Nordgren (Sarah Rose’s sister and the programmer of our interactive touch screens), and Sarah’s incredible partner Brandon.

Still Image from "Territory"

"'Territory' is an exploration of the dual urges...This tension exists on the artistic, psychological and social planes as well as on the material, biological plane."

SM: Because the editing in "Territory" is so seamless, I often forget how small your subjects are (model trees and rocks), and that the dancer is first projected into the diorama and then filmed close-up. Can you tell us more about all the parts of this video? What do dance and poetry have to do with dioramas? 

SRN: This project was a confluence of ideas and influences that have been percolating between us over several years. Kathleen and I have a shared deep love for New York’s American Museum of Natural History, and some of our best artistic brainstorming conversations have taken place there over the years as we wander around the various nature dioramas. Theoretically, the project was also influenced by Elisabeth Grosz’s book Chaos, Territory, Art in which she theorizes the importance of sexual selection (as opposed to natural selection) as the root of artistic practice, a compulsion toward expression and “excess” that we share with other beings in nature. In order for that expression to take place, there must first be a “frame” to mark the space -- much how bowerbirds prepare their stage before they perform. I’m also obsessed with Roger Caillois’ concept of “legendary psychasthenia,” the name he gave in 1935 to the condition of “temptation by space” that he observed in insects that mimic their environment. So “Territory” is an exploration of the dual urges to, on the one hand, frame and individuate and express, and the urge toward self-annihilation and absorption into one’s environment. This tension exists on the artistic, psychological and social planes as well as on the material, biological plane.  

In making the video, we wanted to again layer analog and digital environments, as well as our respective mediums of text, dance, and video. The diorama and the camera frame serve as the “frames” for the dancer’s environment, and the projected text becomes part of the “space” that she must interact with as she’s pulled between the poles of absorption and differentiation.

From "Digitized Figures." Photo by Mitsuko Verdery

SM: In the literary world we often think of "publishing" as something that happens when a text goes live or gets printed in hardcopy in a lit journal. What does the act of publishing mean for digital works like this one? Does publishing require different acts and venues for each if you? 

SRN: I think we’re still in the process of figuring that out. As a writer, I’m used to signing over First North American Serial Rights for publication -- having a piece “come out” somewhere and then generally not again until it appears in a book. The video world is different, and is centered more around the festival circuit. The existence of YouTube and Vimeo also complicates and changes the traditional “publication scheme.” Recently, I’ve been delving into the international network of Poetry Video festivals and resources, and it quite exciting to discover how much is out there.

KK: For me, “publishing” is not that useful of a concept because dance and video both tend to work on the idea of “sharing” instead. When I make a dance, it tends to have several works-in-progress “sharings” before its premiere, and even after that, I often bring the dance back with changes for new venues and events. Video seems works similarly, in that it is more about people seeing and sharing the work in various contexts, versus it being published. Really it feels like the publishing happens when I take the Vimeo password off it! For Territory, we will probably do that once it shows in its first festival.

From "Digitized Figures." Photo by Mitsuko Verdery

SM: Are there future projects ahead for Smart Snow? 

SRN: Always! Right now we’re mostly focused on getting our existing projects out into the world and discovering how people respond to and interact with them, and we also have individual projects that need our attention. However, we’ve already begun brainstorming about what might come next. The plans are still in the early stages and will keep gestating over the coming months, but viewers can likely expect to see something involving deep sea creatures and experimentation with high-tech fabrics.

From "Digitized Figures." Photo by Mitsuko Verdery

"I am really interested in continuing to explore this sense of environmental lushness that you can achieve through tech."

SR to KK: How do you want the next work you make to feel?

KK: That’s a great question. I just finished a whole research arch that took me from grad school until now, and I am trying to figure out where exactly to go next. I am really interested in continuing to explore this sense of environmental lushness that you can achieve through tech. I see it as a response to the sparse postmodernism that I see so much in dance. I want my next work (and all my work) to feel rich, lush, and evocative.

Still Image from "Territory"

KK to SR: How is your use of language evolving since some of your creative practice has shifted to making with non-linguistic tools (bodies and images)?

SR: My text composition process has been slightly different for each of the videos we’ve made, but it’s definitely a shift from how I compose on my own. In writing, the language (and its structure) is all you have, so it has to carry the full burden of meaning and impact all on its own. Composing the text for Territory, for example, the text got to be more impressionistic as it had the other elements of the video to interact with. In that sense, I think it the process was a little more comparable to writing song lyrics where you have the music and the words supporting and carrying one another. I’ve seen this influencing my personal work too, as I’ve been experimenting with writing essays that rely partially on image. It’s still early, but I’m excited to follow and see where it all leads.

SM: Thanks, Smart Snow.

Smart Snow creates art that pushes the forms of dance and poetry into new technological territories. As women working at the intersections between art and tech, Kathleen and Sarah Rose are interested in the mirrored relationship between technological and evolutionary processes and the “natural” and the “human” inside of digital spaces.

Sarah Rose Nordgren is the author of the poetry collections Best Bones and Darwin’s Mother (forthcoming fall 2017), both from University of Pittsburgh Press. Her poems and essays appear widely in journals such as Agni, Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review Online, Copper Nickel, and American Poetry Review. She lives in Cincinnati. 

Kathleen Kelley is an Assistant Professor of Dance and Technology at Montclair State University and the Artistic Director of the intermedia company Proteo Media + Performance, which specializes in art that explores intersection between technology and the body. She is a 2015-2016 LEIMAY Fellow and recent performances include the interactive installation Digitized Figures at Gowanus Loft, a commissioned premiere in the Split Bill Series at Triskelion Arts, and showcase performances in the SOAK Festival, the CURRENT SESSIONS, Nimbus OFFLINE choreography series, and HATCH series. She has a BFA from the University of NC-Greensboro and an MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Sarah Minor runs the visual essay series here at Essay Daily.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Estranger and Estranger

Breaking the Rules with Erik Anderson

I got an email yesterday from Will saying,
            “Hey remember, May 15th your day for your Essay Daily article. You up for it?”

            And I said, “shit shit shit shit shit,” to myself as I listed the upcoming shit I have to do and the total abandonment of my Essay Daily duties.  I’m having a guest writer come stay at my house this weekend. I’m helping host the student graduation and scholarship event on Friday. I’m hosting a dinner on Saturday, talking about ecopoetics on Sunday and hosting the reading with said visiting writer on May 15th. I have grading still to do and my summer class to organize, which also begins on May 15th, and in my head, I was like shit shit shit, who signs up to do stuff in May?

But I said to myself who signs up for stuff in April and I said the same thing to myself in March. I need to get it together, I said. I said, I could write about ecopoetics or visiting writers or the number of creative nonfiction jobs. But then I remembered the words that had been on my chalkboard—the giant to-do list that stares at me through all of February and March and April and May and even June—Erik Anderson’s Estranger.

I read Estranger on the way home for the DC AWP. This AWP sticks in my head because of the protest marches and seeing the Trump Tower in person and for the relative chilliness of the air and the mediocre hotel room and the too much wine and it the fact I was in DC during the time of Trump and I couldn’t get into the African American museum so I went to the Holocaust Museum where I waffled back and forth, thinking oh my god, Trump should see this and oh my god, I hope he never sees this—he’ll get even more horrible ideas.

Walking around town and looking at so much and talking to some many people felt heightened that weekend and it became a place that formed museum of my mind. In Erik Anderson’s book, he talks to a woman he meets as he hangs out in the museum café. What are museums for? To heighten everything? To arrest everything? To take most things out of context or to give everything some context (Feel free to answer, Erik Anderson)

Erik: The best museums offer agency, I'd say. The worst entrench power. Most museums do both, to varying degrees. 

Erik’s book does what I want all books to do which is make me feel less lonely. Here is a guy who is struggling, according to the narrator at least, with being white and being a writer and being a parent. He’s alternately self-absorbed and so overwhelmed by his sheer love of others and empathy for them that I thought, oh. I wished I’d seen you in DC. If he had been there.

So I woke up and emailed Erik immediately and said, “Oh please is two days too short to answer questions for my Breaking the Rules column on Essay Daily?”
And because he is the kindest and most empathetic person in the world, he said, “Sure. I’m traveling but I’d be happy to answer a few questions.”
He’s traveling. I’m cleaning the house, looking for the moleskin with the notes I scribbled in on the way home from DC and over the past few months as the word Estranger beckoned to me from my ever-haunting chalkboard.

These notes? They make no sense. But then, if asking questions that make no sense isn’t breaking the rules, then I don’t know what is.

So here are the questions, kind Erik Anderson. I won’t blame you if you decided not to talk to me after this.

Nicole: One eyed owl, one eyed Naomi, sentences of present now. “Walking through park in the middle of reveries of the past.” How much does walking make writing? How did Naomi help you shape your understanding of the narrator? Is there structure in walking? In visiting Naomi?

E. Movement, rather than walking specifically, makes writing, at least for me. Or makes it possible, even though I also have a penchant for stillness, for narratives that barely move at all. Driving doesn’t make writing for me, but traveling in other ways does, or can. It unsettles, unsticks. Walking does this, too, of course, but on a smaller, more intimate scale than the car or plane and in a way that’s more livable, even if the environments one walks through are not. Whether there’s structure in it, well, there’s structure in everything. And around it. My particular body, and all the structures and systems that accompany being white and straight and male, shapes the situations I move through. Do we, in a sense, walk in or through and sometimes over others, like Naomi, as you suggest, and do these others shape us in turn? Do others provide a landscape through which to move and come to be? I like where those questions lead.  
N: Lit Crit—Werner Herzog and Thoreau. Plastic cabins. Capitalism. Fights among poets. Facebook. Dissociation. Rocky up stairs. How many people can one writer be? How does one make oneself more multiple? Does one, in order to be a “success,” need to harass and corral all those multiple selves into one AUTHOR?

E. We are each several, no doubt. Multitudinous even. We have to be in order to navigate our varied social worlds. I don’t think we have to collapse that multiplicity of selves, or personas, into a single author in order for the work to succeed, although that could be one way of framing the arc of Estranger, i.e., toward some kind of solidified presence. There are times, though, when selves war with each other, which is what I was more interested in. Reconciling these selves to each other, which also meant reconciling, say, received forms of masculinity with something that had never really been modeled for me. 
N: How does Naomi’s story help the narrator figure out his own?

E. This question made me have a silly thought. If a person breaks his leg in the forest, and no one is around to hear his screams, is he still a person? I mean, yes, of course he’s a person. To himself, anyway. But I’m not such an individualist, actually not much of one at all, that I would argue that in this context his personhood matters outside of his own completely valid experience of it. It’s terrible that he broke his leg, but only, for me, if I can register that he did, that he, like me, is a sentient being, capable of love and pain and much else besides. Can he make that pain walkable for me? Can he draw me toward it? Something like this happens with Naomi. 

N: Walking becomes art when we discover who matters. When walking, does one lose the self and gain others?
E. I’m not sure I’d say loss and gain, exactly, but if I were to, I might say that in gaining others, one gains a self greater than the one that’s lost, that losing a self incapable or unwilling to gain others probably isn’t worth holding onto. Walking – in both the physical and interpersonal senses developing here – does expand one’s allegiances, one’s solidarities, and that’s a larger life, not a smaller one. But again, I’m not about to mount a rigorous defense of the self, though there are lovable things about it. is such handy shorthand, for one thing. But is also mostly that: the shortest and simplest expression of something far less singular and compact. doesn’t really walk alone.

N: Are dads today jealous of their own kids’ more-present fathers?

E. Too early to tell? I don’t know what my son will think of me, and my parenting, when he’s my age. Is he going to wish for a different kind of father, less emotional, more distant? I’m not sure we ever get what we want from our fathers, or our mothers for that matter. Either we expect too much of them over time, or they’re not equipped to give the things we need, especially when we become adults. But your question is about me: do I wish my father had been more like I am as a father? In many (but obviously not all) ways he was, and is, that father. That said, there were a lot of things that were difficult for me, and some that remain so, that probably didn’t have to be. He’s not to blame for that, and had I been my own father I’m not sure I could have helped me any better. But the conversation, I think, would have been different.

N: Page 114, you write about distance and Thoreau. How far is Thoreau away, now?

E. I started to respond that the Thoreau who estranges himself from his life is far away, but then I remembered just how far away I am at the moment, in thousands of miles – and with no cell reception – from my daily life. So that notion from page 114 of transgressing one’s limits is still very much with me, but it’s no longer the crisis it once was, that gave rise to Estranger. I don’t, most days, feel the need to dissociate from my life, which is a good thing, because that urge can easily become unhealthy or unsustainable. I still love the Thoreau of the unfathomable pond that he fathoms nonetheless, of the wild woods he settles, and of the imponderable question he still tries to answer. That distance or tension between what we accomplish and what we attempt – that always feels close, and true. 
N: Are you still talking to me? 

E. Are you still talking to me? Are my answers absurd, or absurdly obvious?

Erik Anderson is the author of a book of lyric essays, THE POETICS OF TRESPASS (Otis Books/Seismicity Editions, 2010). He teaches creative writing at Franklin & Marshall College, where he also directs the annual Emerging Writers Festival. ESTRANGER (2016) is Anderson's second book of nonfiction and the fourth selection in Rescue Press's Open Prose Series.

NICOLE WALKER’s is the author of two forthcoming books Sustainability: A Love Story and Where the Tiny Things Are. Her previous books include Egg, Micrograms, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, and This Noisy Egg. She also edited Bending Genre with Margot Singer. She’s nonfiction editor at Diagram and Associate Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona where it rains like the Pacific Northwest, but only in July.