Friday, June 28, 2019

Introducing Talkaday: A Podcast About What Happens in a Day

Something’s always happening. (I had this thought as two morning doves—or mourning doves,  as they’e properly called, truly always thought they were about greeting the new day rather than grieving it—crashed into each other, probably mating, in the mesquite tree above me.) The curious thing is how much freedom we have in the retelling of it, which we often choose to ignore. We can kind of spin the day—to an extent—any way we like! Right now I’m choosing to belabor the beauty of a morning shower on the walk with my dog, these fine golden beads twinkling in the early light by the thousands, as if passing through some magic curtain to my own private Narnia…and yet at the time I felt a slight tinge of apprehension, as if, ah shit, gonna get wet! So maybe it’s both-and, never either-or, and we get to tip the scales of Lady Justice. Point being that I want to introduce this new podcast to you, where we explore—no, better word, excavate, explicate, ah, explode! just such issues. Introducing: “Talkaday,” the new Essay Daily podcast around the What Happened project, in which I simply call up writers to talk about their day and how, whether oral or written, the words change things.

My first guest is John Bodine, an old student of mine, and the episode, “Detective on the Hunt for Meaning,” gets right to the heart of things. He wrote his What Happened piece almost a year ago positively waxing rhapsodic on the mushrooms sautéing in the pan, among other mere culinary delights exalted on an otherwise ordinary day. (I salivated a little while reading, especially when he plopped in the ground turkey.) And yet in the retelling of his most recent day on the phone to me, fell right back into the old habit we all do of giving the play-by-play as if montage, as if caricature, as if goes without saying. I did this, that, the other thing—why do we default to this “ordinary is ordinary” mode? How does writing put us into a space—a spaciousness—of appreciation, heightened attention on the lookout for something to matter? Do most things not matter, and only writing makes them so? I wonder; we wondered. (For the record, John thought I was accusing him of hypocrisy, writing one way and saying another, and yet I believe that tension between meaninglessness and meaning-making to be at the heart of this project, perhaps this whole scribbly practice.) 

So if you’ve ever wondered just what happens when you write about what happens, what magic there is in a day to be found with your (in my case) pen, this podcast may be for you. Each episode, no more than 24 minutes (as any day’s cutoff can seem arbitrary, if utterly predictable), dives into nothing less than what it means to live our lives, starting with the cooking and cleaning, walking the dog, sunlight (just now poking through those aforementioned rainclouds) and rain, etc., etc., the domestic, the ordinary, the daily. Because I suspect there’s some real wisdom to be had here, that if we can transform even the most banal into the miraculous with a few turns of phrase and the juiced-up feeling of storytelling, perhaps that alchemical power exists in us always. Perhaps we can, little by little, word by tiny word, learn to rewrite our lives on the fly, and open ourselves to being struck by each day as if never before (because truly never before, and never again). As I say this a bird—swallow maybe—cuts through the cloudy sky, wingtip arched over the distant mountain line, and is gone.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Hello there, June 21st

Dear Essay Daily Readers:

On June 21, 2018, we published an experiment in noticing, What Happened on June 21st, 2018, in which we invited anyone interested to write about what happened on that day. You sent in about 250 reports, and we published them all in June and July 2018. (They're linked below for your pleasure.)

It came about in part as a response to Nicholson Baker's essay, "What Happened on April 29, 1994"? It's a simple thing, in which he simply recorded what happened (however he defined that) on one day in 1994. (You can find its full text at the end of this post if you'd like to read it.) He composed it on assignment from French magazine Nouvel Observateur, which also invited 239 other writers to write down "what happened" on that day.

We found the reports you submitted on What Happened on Your June 21sts to be beautiful, democratic, moving, and revelatory. For one writer, this was the first thing she'd written since her husband had died. All four members of one family all wrote about what happened on that day. Another writer wrote about what happened on June 21st for the previous 22 years. The youngest participant (that we know of) was ten. The oldest were in their eighties.

Some things showed up in many accounts: a World Cup match, Melania Trump's jacket reading "I Don't Care, Do U?", and the continuing horror of family separations along the US-Mexico border, just to name a few commonalities. We did a corpus analysis of the most-commonly-occurring 24 nouns that shows us just a bit of what we share when we share a day.

And after repeating this assignment in other contexts, we decided to publish a digital anthology of What Happened, and this is an announcement of its release, on the anniversary of last year's big noticing event.

It's designed to make the project easily teachable and repeatable by anyone who'd like to do so. In order to do that, we had to use only a fraction of the essays we published. So we chose 25 of the approximately 250 that showed off a range of how to pay attention to What Happens on a Day.

It also comes with three brief introductions to the project by Ander Monson, Will Slattery, and Dorian Rolston, and some suggestions for how to teach or reproduce this with your family, friends, classroom, or with whoever.

So here they are, presented as a 97-page pdf for you.

You may download the anthology for free here.

If you find it useful or beautiful or entertaining, we would welcome a suggested donation to Essay Daily (well, to New Michigan Press, our sponsoring organization):

(If you're old school, you could also just send us a check, c/o New Michigan Press, University of Arizona English, PO Box 210067, Tucson AZ 85721-0067.)

Or not, as you like.

You may download and use the anthology however you'd like for educational or recreational purposes, though of course the work inside it belongs to its respective authors, who hold the copyrights on their contributions. If you'd like to reprint anything from it in a book or something, please contact us for permission.

And here's a link to the What Happened podcast, a series of conversations hosted by Dorian Rolston with writers and non-writers about What Happened on June 21st, but also what's happening now, and how we pay attention to things.

And below you'll find the full flowering of What Happened on June 21st, 2018:

What Happened on June 21st, according to:

June 22: Cila Warncke • Christopher Schaberg • Mel Hinshaw • Rosemary Smith • Naomi Washer • Christopher Doda

June 23: Rachel Stilley • Debby Thompson • Andrew Bomback • David Woll • Sarah Viren • Sonya Huber • Nancy Geyer • Cicily Bennion • Linda Wiratan • John Proctor

June 24: Maddie Norris • Amy Butcher • Michele Sharpe • Jim Connolly • Jim Ross • Terese Svoboda • Merle Brown • Randon Billings Noble • Abby Hagler • Nathaniel Rosenthalis

June 25: Allie Leach • Erik Anderson • Sara Marchant • Pamela Krueger • Christopher Citro • Maura Featherything • Amanda Yanowski • Emi Rose Noguchi • Melissa Matthewson • Amanda JS Kaufmann

June 26: Emily Sinclair • Linda Sage • Sylvia Chan • Renée E. D’Aoust • Beth Weeks • Virginia Marshall • Liza Porter • Connie Clark • Lisa Roylance • Nicole Walker

June 27: Bethany Maile • Jordan Wiklund • Tom McAllister • Sarah Ruhlen • S.L. Wisenberg • Doug Hesse • A. E. Weisgerber • Nora Almeida • Jamison Crabtree • Whittier Strong

June 28: Jody Kennedy • Whitney Vale • Pau Derecia • Katie Jean Shinkle • Alina Stefanescu • Lee Anne Gallaway-Mitchell • Devon Confrey • Catherine Reid Day • Anonymous • Peta Murray

June 29: Anna Kate Blair • Dinty W. Moore • Jared Buchholz • Bronson Lemer • Alizabeth Worley • Leslie Stainton • Amy Roper • Charish Badzinski • Jane Piirto • Zoë Bossiere

June 30: Marcia Aldrich • Mandy Len Catron • Jasmina Kuenzli • Ryan Van Meter • Lynne Grist • Nora-Lyn Veevers • Chelsea Biondolillo • Melissa Faliveno • Natalie Lima • Boyer Rickel 

July 2: Sophfronia Scott • Lisa Levine • Samantha Bell • Jacqueline Doyle • Lynn Z. Bloom  Steven Church  Kristine Mahler  Stacey Engels  Matt Jones  Genia Blum

July 3: Jillian Ivey  Colin Rafferty  Eshani Surya  Morgan Reidl  Ashley Hutson  Laurie Easter  Lisa O'Neill  Ronnie Lovler  Maria Sledmere  Sarah Einstein

July 4: Ida Bettis Fogle  Rhys Fraser  Judy Xie  Melissa Mesku  Ryan Kim  Helen Betya Rubinstein  Caitlynn Martinez-McWhorter  Susan Briante  Samantha Jean Coxall   Patrick Collier

July 5: Ander Monson • Jennifer Gravley • Jeannie Roberts • Mark Neely • Jill Christman • Alison Deming • Ella Neely • Henry Neely • Sandra J Lindow • Emma Thomason 

July 6: Andrew Maynard • Krista Dalby • Katy Sperry • Dustin Parsons • Marie O'Rourke • Elizabeth Evans • Sandra Lambert • Albert Goldbarth • Lorri McDole • Joni Tevis

July 7: Hala Gabir • Samuel Rafael Barber • Jason Thayer • Cecilia Pinto • Elona Sherwood • Simon Flory • Lynn K. Kilpatrick • Michelle Midori Repke • Caleb Klitzke • Cynthia Brandon-Slocum 

July 8: Joe Slocum • Denry Willson • Carolyn Ogburn • Patrick Madden • Alec Carvlin • John Che • Dinah Lenney • McKenzie Long • Danielle Cadena Deulen 

July 9: Emilio Carrero • Shamae Budd • Daniel Juckes • ShenLin Fang • John Bodine • Timothy Berg • Jennie B. Ziegler • Dorian Rolston • Kathryn Gougelet • Susan Olding

July 10: Kelly Caldwell • Dave Mondy • Lawrence Lenhart • Elizabeth Boquet • Amber Carpenter • Kat Moore • Donald Carr • Sonja Livingston •  Cindy Bradley • Elizabeth K. Brown

July 11: Brian Michael Barbeito • Alison Stine • Katherine E. Standefer • Abby Dockter and Thomas Dai • Karen Schaffner • James Butler-Gruett • Rebecca Graves • Jennifer McGuiggan • Cassie Keller Cole • Margot Singer

July 12: John Bennion • Lee Reilly • Gabriel Dozal • Danielle Geller • Rachel Haywood • Karen R. M. Koch • Jill Kolongowski • Jessi Peterson • Silas Hansen • Lucy Nash

July 13: Kayla Haas • Yelizaveta P. Renfro • Amanda Holmes • Mattison Merritt • Amber Taliancich • Elizabeth Miller • Sarah Haak • Kathryn Clarke • Tain Gregory 

July 14: Verity Sayles • Margaret Foley • David L. Garcia • Joshua Unikel • Denise Wilkinson • P. A. Wright • Tracey L. Kelley • Natalie Wardlaw 

July 15: Erin Rhees • Will Slattery • Ellen Sprague • Shell Stewart Cato • Laura Swan • Cassandra Kircher • Amy Probst • Ashley P. Taylor 

July 16: Stayci Taylor • Laura Schuff • Chris McGuire • Joshua Dewain Foster • Craig Reinbold • Carlos Davy Hauser • Heidi MacDonald.

July 18: bonus June 21st from Matthew Vollmer

July 19: Rachel Ratner's bonus June 21st.

August 6th: Lorri Neilsen Glenn's bonus June 21st.

A corpus analysis of all the What Happened essays featuring the 24 most-often-occurring meaningful words is here.

Dorian Rolston wrote about it a bit here, to give you some context. Ander Monson wrote about it, and the larger project we took on this summer, a bit more here. And then he expanded even more on it here.

Click Baker's original piece below to enlarge and read:

We will repeat this on December 21, 2019. If you'd like to get an email invitation to participate, throw your name and email up in this (nonbinding, obviously) I'm Interested form here, and we'll be in touch closer in with instructions.


Monday, June 17, 2019

Maddie Norris and Hannah Hindley on Nicole Walker, David Carlin, and the After-Normal

We (Hannah and Maddie) have long been interested in collaborative nonfiction, in the truths it builds and tears apart, so we were excited to read David Carlin and Nicole Walker’s new book out just now from Rose Metal Press, The Afternormal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on Changing the Planet, a collaborative book of mini-personal essays considering climate catastrophe through different entry points. It feels only fitting that in responding to this work, we adapt the alphabetical, collaborative form that is so integral to the book’s structure.

—Hannah Hindley and Maddie Norris



The world is falling apart. We know this. The temperature is rising, ice is melting, the sea-level is climbing, species are going extinct. Brown children are dying at the border, black men are being shot, white men are running the country. We know this, and it is overwhelming, the heft of it all, the accumulation of human-made tragedy. How are we supposed to survive? This is the question David and Nicole want to investigate, want to essay into, want to attempt to answer. It’s a question many of us have. With everything that is happening right now, overlapping in a terrifying time, how do we not collapse from the weight of it all? And the answer, I think, is in the question. How are we supposed to survive? There are smaller questions and smaller answers in each mini-essay, but there are bigger questions and bigger answers in the back-and-forth, in the weaving, in the we. If you step on a single nail, the metal will pierce your foot, cut through flesh and muscle. But if you step on a thousand nails, gathered together, packed side by side, one nail head touching the next, metal against metal, huddled beneath the impending foot, the nails will uphold the foot.



A nail is a little object, sharp and small and ordinary. It is the kind of thing Nicole and David might invoke, alongside grass and gutters and phobias and sandwiches. Catastrophe strides across the pages, sure, but it ducks and dances with everyday stuff. We’re only human, after all. Our ink pens ooze. We nurse hateful thoughts toward possums. We sneak bites of bacon. The fact of the matter is, ordinary things are what propel us toward catastrophe. There is an ordinariness to inertia, an ordinariness in knowing a thing and not doing much to actually change it. “They say to live in the present,” writes Nicole. “I am alternately good at taking advice and abhorring it.”Advice, like catastrophe, can be abstract and uncomfortable. This isn’t a book of advice. It dwells in the ordinary, celebrates and illuminates and condemns the silliness and frustration and good intentions and fracturing involved in being alive right now in a world where habits no longer serve us very well. It is the little things that push us toward disaster. Maybe, too, it’s the little things that might redeem us in this burning world.



I’m back in the Carolinas now, back where I grew up, which means I’m away from you. Today, on a walk, under dogwoods spattered with light and past parking lots surrounding apartments, I spotted a Carolina Wren. Looking at the bird, I remembered a friend told me attention is a form of love. The wren is a small bird with reddish-brown wings barred with black, a thin tail feather flitting behind, a light yellow belly glowing beneath. It would fit in two cupped hands. Put your hands out. Can you feel its soft feathers, its huffing body? I’m asking if distance can be overcome with longing. David and Nicole live half a world apart, and yet their words interlock hands, hold each other, build together. At four pm, Nicole writes, “You need to feel it coming coming coming. Only then will you be prepared.” And at nine am, David writes “It is about the varieties of love, and watching a condor or a wedge-tailed eagle, and the blending of objects into new forms.” It is about attention and love, about the love attention gives. If I tell you about the bird I learned to notice in the fourth grade, can you notice it too? If we notice this small state bird together, can we better understand love?



We’re so damn good at moving. You and I know this--the ways that motion, industriousness, tightly booked calendars can push us forward even when the heaviness of loss threatens to sink us. It’s good to keep moving. I flew away from our shared little desert city as I do every summer and didn’t even think to count the pounds of carbon I spent as I arced toward Alaska. These last few days I’ve been squishing through muskegs, which is the word we have for peat bogs up here. Peatlands are carbon sinks, bonsai gardens, soft trampolines of open land where slowness softly saves the world. Bogs are “uncanny places where nothing grows,” writes David, but these are my favorite places to visit because things do grow here. You can find them if you stop hurrying and kneel close: meat-eating plants, and fragrant shrubs with furry leaves that prevent them from losing precious water, and low-growing tiny pink flowers that could kill you dead if you swallowed them. In a muskeg, things aren’t in a rush. Things adapt. Things learn new tricks for getting by in an inhospitable world. Learn from the peatlands, David urges. Let’s try it in this reeling Anthropocene: slowing down, turning toward unconventional answers the way that a carnivorous sundew, sticky and strange, turns toward a gnat.



When someone mentions arsenic, the metalloid element that blocks the creation of ATP in our bodies, that blocks the creation of energy in our bodies, the element that in large doses can kill us, when someone says “arsenic,” I think of peach pits, which isn’t logical because I know peach pits contain cyanide, a different beautifully named chemical that can kill us, that will lay our bodies flat on a slab, but there is, in some ways, a logic to this association, an adjacency, the type of logic that makes sense of the closeness of softness and hardness, makes sense of the ways the sunset skin of a peach is furred with prickly hair, in the ways its juicy flesh, sweet and dripping, surrounds the hard pit of a poison that can clog the gears of our organs, which is to say there’s a logic inherent in understanding that the things that can kill us are linked to the things that will save us.



And this is how it is, isn't it? Lost, looping through associations, looking for logic, we're all locked into this burning ride we've been complicit in building, linked to each other, linked to this world that we love. Is this what Nicole and David knew, writing to each other from across hemispheres? That they were linked, that their linkage, like a chain, held airspace and friction, room for contradiction? That their linkage, chainlike, accumulated into a snaking shape, a line forward, a collective thing that, when strained, held weight? Is collaboration like theirs a way not just to witness from different shores, but to worldbuild? I walk to the coffeehouse down the street from the boat I work on. The ravens in Juneau are fat, their feathers rainbowing across taut bodies built out of trash and dockside scraps. Their voices are like bells; their claws clatter like dinosaur feet on the rain glossed sidewalk. I swing open my secondhand laptop, sign into wifi, open up my latest note from you, sent from a world that is not so far away, really. What I might write next hinges on what you have sent to me. Letters link us, let us look at things differently. The surprise is everything; too easy to predict the ending when you're the only author. Listen: whatever it is that we're mourning, whatever it is that we're confessing, whatever it is that might hope for, build toward, we're not writing alone anymore.

Maddie Norris is an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona in creative nonfiction and was previously the Thomas Wolfe Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her work can be found in Essay Daily, Opossum, and The Intima. Her writing explores loss, the body, and the many ways to illuminate the two. She is currently at work on a collection of essays. 
Hannah Hindley is a writer of both truthful and fictional stories. Her work has appeared in journals, newspapers, and anthologies including River Teeth, the Harvard Review, and She is the recipient of the Thomas Wood Award in Journalism, the New Conrads prize in maritime fiction, the Bill Waller Award for Nonfiction, and an honorable mention for the AWP Intro Journals Award. Hannah graduated from Harvard University with degrees in English and American Literature and Language and Organismic and Evolutionary Biology; her writing bridges the space between those studies, exploring the poesy of natural systems and our human relationship with a changing planet.