‘It Awakens Giants That Are Sleeping’: An Interview with Joshua Whitehead

The author of Making Love with the Land on transforming pain into love, entering as a guest into the recesses of literature, and birthing a body of text from a body of experience.

 

“The land, like the body, teaches us the fundamental rule of ending: that no such thing exists,” Joshua Whitehead writes in “The Pain Eater,” an essay in his new book, Making Love with the Land (Knopf). The book, in many ways, embodies an ending and a beginning, but is a text that writes from the throbbing middle: “the middle of global destruction;” the middle of a grid in a digital world; “from middle point, the belly button and first mouth of origin;” “middle of sîpiy;” of an eating disorder; in the middle of “the nebula of these lands;” “in the middle of the night;” a dance floor; the middle of an opioid crisis; a breakup; an apartment flood. “In the middle of me;” “my middle of nowhere;” which is everywhere. “I know nowhere is an everywhere.” This collection positions itself in the center in order to stay with the trouble and alchemise pain into love.

Throughout Making Love with the Land, Whitehead traverses vulnerable and diverse subject matter, brilliantly uprooting explicit and implicit violences and personal and collective struggles, carving out a space for seeds of futurity to form. “We need to make our stories animate beings, we need to place them into oratories of history and of futurity. We need to conceptualize our fantastical dreams as very real decolonized futures,” he writes in “My Body is a Hinterland.” What emerges from the process of this imagining is an opening up of urgent space within the recesses and ruptures of life and experience for healing and new connections to inflorescence, for new mountains of relationality to rise.

The essays, collectively, are a lesson in how to love what is bad and what is hard, again and again, and a testament to the essential art of care. Here, writing is both cure and poison, language is a vein. Making Love with the Land is about transforming pain into love and about creating connections where there weren’t any before, nurturing pathways of cultural reclamation, a task Whitehead traverses with his stellar gifts of storytelling and poetics, sensually and sensorially birthing difficult subject matter so that the body of the text can access empathy, care, pleasure, forgiveness, tenderness and belonging.

“Transformation always begins with the tongue,” he writes in “Me, The Joshua Tree.” And In “The Pain Eater:” “I need to, and must, exist beyond the constriction of Western linguistics.” Making Love with the Land sees Whitehead, then, returning to his cultural and linguistic roots, invoking nêhiyâwewin/the Cree language as a tool of transformation throughout to create and claim new centres, worlds, relations and meanings. As Whitehead describes in “I Own a Body that Wants to Break,” “I think of English as cerebral and nêhiyâwewin as kinetic.” Whitehead’s exploration of nêhiyâwewin allows for new connections and meanings to form: “Words branch into other opportunities, other meanings.” By reclaiming and utilizing nêhiyâwewin, and in illustrating the limitations and restrictions of the English language, Whitehead writes himself into a new vaster world of belonging, an exalted expansion of self, queering language’s borders and creating new meanings to grow and heal inside of in the process.

How do we nurture the ties that bind us together, even when those ties hurt? What this collection does is lovingly challenge its readers, inspire us to think in new ways, in and outside of language, of material and immaterial realms, of ownership and binaries, and to open ourselves up to being in good relation. The epigraph of the book reads: “By the way, I forgive you,” a quote from a Brandi Carlile song. This book is about forgiveness.

Making Love with the Land invites us to enter as caring guests into the lands and terrains of its text and biostories. These essays remind us that we have a responsibility, as guests, when we enter into other people’s spaces and lands, as well as when we enter the psychic space of books. It asks us to consider that a body of text is birthed from a body of experience. I consider us all lucky to be welcomed as guests into the hinterlands carved out and seeded by Making Love with the Land.

I met with Joshua via Zoom two days after the official release of Making Love with the Land. What follows is a slightly edited version of our one-hour long conversation.

Ashley Obscura: I would ask you “How are you?” but, I did read your essay “The Pain Eater” and absorbed your musings on how this seemingly casual question can be “a bewildering jab.” How a “simple asking can so easily become a violent undoing,” which I resonated with so much. So, to start things off: What has felt good for you lately? What has brought you joy?

Joshua Whitehead: I’ve just been in a whirlwind here in Toronto. Interview after interview. Which has been really fun, but it’s exhausting. At the end of the day, you talk for eight-plus, nine hours. I’m very happy my partner is here with me.

A lot of music lately. I’ve been listening non stop to Maggie Rogers’s new album, Surrender. I can’t get enough of it. And also Game of Thrones. I just watched the new episode of House of the Dragon last night and it was so rejuvenating to be back in Westeros. [laughs].

[Laughing] Would you live there, if you could?

I feel like I would die very quickly [laughs] but I imagine myself as being among, I guess, the Prince of Roses. It seems like the queerest place to be, in Highgarden. So I would go there.

If Making Love with the Land had an aura, what colors and scents would be a part of it?

Ooooh, that’s a fun question. Its aura… I’m a very obsessive person with colour. Mint is, by far, my favorite colour. My entire house is decorated around it.

I feel like the colours I would attribute to Making Love With The Land would be mint in its joyful elements, and then scarlet when it’s more personal, more grieving. But its scents… The first scent that comes to mind is the sense and the senses within “Me, The Joshua Tree,” like woven… that kind of sweet, musky smell of summer sweat at the river and, like, wet soil.

Yeah, I was gonna say something wet.

Apparently all my books are soaking wet for some reason. With Jonny Appleseed everyone was like “There’s so much fluid in it!” [Laughs]

Are you a water sign?

I’m a Capricorn.

Oh, me too! I love Capricorns.

I don’t act like a cardinal earth. I feel more attributed to a Cancer or Pisces, because I’m very emotional at all times.

I love the title that you arrived at with Making Love with the Land. Was this always the title you knew it would be, or is it something that was developed over time?

Originally it was Making Love to the Land. But I thought that was too penetrative, too masculine, too much revolving around heterosexuality but, also, topping in queer culture. But the title came to me from Jonny, actually. I keep talking in all of these interviews about how I’m trying to move out of the shadow of Jonny… But then I’m like “The title actually came from Jonny!”

Maybe it was Jonny’s final gift.

He is continually gifting me all these years later. All sorts of things. But, the bear scene in Jonny Appleseed—wherein Jonny’s in the mountains and he’s having this dream of this bear topping him, and he’s placing his hands deeper and deeper into the mud— I remember thinking about that scene when I was starting to conceptualize this as a book. Instead of it being a foray into thinking about my own mental health, that scene kept flashing in my mind.

When I was writing it and going back to my old notes of Jonny, one of the lines in that vignette was “making love with the land.” The title came to me from there, and then a lightbulb went off and I thought, I have a book on my hands! The title was the gravitational force of it all.

What was the most healing of the essays for you to write?

I think they each have a medicinal element, but I would say “Me, The Joshua Tree” was the most healing. You know, it’s like the most cliché, overwritten topic: a breakup. I wanted this to be that but not be that because I wanted to show myself and my previous partner—who’s a dear, good friend of mine now—and also the readers in the world, that relationships aren’t about ownership or death. And, actually, this comes from something that Lee Maracle taught me, I think in 2019. When I was writing this book and writing “Me, The Joshua Tree” we did this event at the University of Calgary, and she came along with Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and she was giving this speech and talking about the late Richard Wagamese at the time. She kind of broke down, and held us all accountable to Richard’s death… You know, his hard life and his addiction to alcohol, and told us that we can’t afford to abandon one another. And that really drilled into my head and made me think about how we do that in terms of relationships, severed ones, but also in a kind of queer and Indigenous sense. We really can’t afford to abandon, unless egregious errors are made, because we as queer folks need that community and if we keep ostracizing ourselves for the sake of the discomfort of how to mend a relationship into a friendship, or not even wanting to do that—I still think we need to be in community at all times. “Me, The Joshua Tree” was probably the most healing for me, overall, as it helped me mend that relationship, helped me transform pain into love, which is the whole thesis of this book. And yeah, it really showed me how, at the core of everything, it’s about relationship and kinship versus other attributes like love or sex or desire. Those are just around it. Every strong relationship, at the core of it, is this motoring skeleton that is friendship, and I couldn’t afford to forget that.

That essay made me cry. I resonated with it so much, especially in regards to the way in which you refuse to use the word “ex.” I wish I would have had this essay to read six years ago when I was going through a truly awful breakup. I remember feeling so disposable, and also thinking about how it was such a reflection of our time, too—the way we use and discard objects constantly and all of these materials and plastics… like we just live in such a disposable society, and that is reflected in our relationships as well. I feel that we all crave feeling more rooted and cared for, especially during breakups.

Where did you write Making Love with the Land? Do you have a specific space that you like to write from? Or are you more of a fluid writer who likes to write in different spaces?

I’m very erratic in that sense. Most of the book was written in my condo and in the wee hours of the night when I couldn’t manage the dam that was all of the stories wanting to come forward. But a great deal was written on road trips through Alberta, specifically the mountains. And, then, “The Pain Eater” was written right up in the mountains in Golden, BC during a kind of retreat. That’s where I finessed and finished a lot of the book because the essays weren’t quite done, I felt. And so it’s owed a lot to the kind of idyllic scenes of Alberta, which has such a beautiful range of ecosystems, from desert straight to Arctic. The mountains are always a creative hub for me. I finished Jonny in the mountains, and I finished this book in the mountains, just on opposite sides.

Mountain goat energy!

[Laughing] Capricorn, right?

Do you think that writing this book has changed you at all? And if so, how?

I think so. What this book really taught me, and what I hope readers take away from it, is the universal elements of it. It’s very specific. Again, it’s personal. But it’s also Cree and queer and Indigenous, and also academic. So I think the lenses of its specificity are pretty niche, but a big part of the ethics of this book was, as I write about in one of the essays, mental health, and SA and having this youth overdose on my desk and opioids… and so what the book taught me was really, as a Capricorn, I’m really good at repressing things [laughs]. And in the stasis of COVID, it really forced me to talk with myself and unearth some of things like sexual assault, and talking frankly and openly about eating disorders. And so I think the greatest lesson I took away from this book was to be truthful to myself. Because, as I was saying, as a Capricorn but also as a writer, I think I’ve mastered the ability to take things that are perhaps traumatic or joyful even, and immediately catalogue them into story. So learning to be a person first and writer second, I think that’s what this book is talking to.

There is this transmutation that happens, especially in this book where you’re writing about very painful subject matter, but you’re transforming it and trying to find the light and love in it. I’ve always found there’s this very powerful and healing alchemy that happens with writing where, if I’m able to get something down into writing that’s sending my mind into spirals or twisting my heart into two, it’s almost as though I can separate myself from it and overcome it, to an extent. Does that resonate with you in regards to your writing? Is there a release, or a purging when you get something difficult out onto the page?

With this book it feels like an exorcism to me, almost. Or a purging, too. In that, you know, we have all these things, like talking about anxiety or depression. It’s immaterial but, again, it’s really embodied and materially felt. A big ideology of this book was to transform pain into love. To make love to something, it has to be embodied, it has to have a body. And the book does. But, also, to make the immaterial material. And I think this was the transformation of it from pain into love. And, for me, I can hold it, but I can physically and metaphorically put it down and put it away. It allows me to kind of be released from it, but still in relation to it.

What have you done to prepare yourself for this book launch cycle? Because I can imagine it takes a lot to promote a book to the scale that you do. And I’m just wondering if you’ve prepared for it in any way? Have you needed to ground yourself, or is it more that you need expansion during these times?

Yeah, talking has been tiring. Also, it’s a lot of mental work and emotional work and spiritual work, too, going into all these interviews. Specifically the quick-paced ones that are like five, ten minutes. Like snap, snap, snap, where you don’t get to get into a rhythm.

I also knew I should not be alone doing this, so I’m happy my partner’s here to join me, and I have friends and family here in Toronto as well, who I’m trying to make a point to see, at least for dinner in the evenings just to kind of release.

But I’ve also come to know the power of rejection, I think. I’m thinking about it as a generosity and a gifting. And I think we as writers know, but maybe we don’t love it, but it’s a generative gifting sometimes to be getting those rejection letters for submissions, in that it teaches us to rethink, remodulate, and reconceptualize. And so I’ve also been using that as a kind of a methodology in these interviews, specifically with the quick ones. Trying to conceptualize “no” and rejection as me letting them know “I’m telling you something so that you can learn something from this, too,” and myself as well. Criticism, too, as a gifting.

After reading “Me, the Joshua Tree” I was left reflecting on how you wrote about a manuscript as being an “animate being. Through it, you survey my body, my memory, my spirits, my heart, my emotions.” It made me feel like contemporary publishing is so out of touch with this reality in regards to authors. And how the art of marketing literature can often feel and literally be extractive. You also speak of traditions of storytelling as being a space for conversation and dialogue. As a publisher, I often think about these things and I’m often thinking about how we can improve the culture of literature in Canada to reflect this reality, of writing being such a vulnerable thing. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on how we can improve the culture of literature in Canada? I feel like It’s such an important question for us to be asking.

Definitely. I can speak for myself. I think there’s a difference between quality and quantity. I think it comes from a tradition of publishing in Canada and the US, that also comes from publishing from the UK—stories of who is writing and what is writing. And I think the idea that we, as people, are so devoid of the work… it’s objective rather than subjective. And things we teach in creative writing classes and high school too… not to infuse the self with the work. And I think with who’s being published, what’s winning awards, who’s winning awards, who’s being recognized, and the new waves of folks that are following in the wake really quickly—and of course need to be there—I think we also need to conceptualize that the whole writing needs to be devoid of the self and writing as a solitary act—like The Old Man and the Sea, like Hemingway, or something—is very much a privileged, white, male, het, cis person and ideology of that which is the canon, right? It’s very curated, very selected. It’s very strategic. And who’s being published and what’s being published— I think it’s reflective of the true experience of living as a Canadian who is BIPOC, or queer, or living in a country that’s colonized you. Or has disempowered or disenfranchised you. I think that we’re getting that kind of truer, ghastly, and kind of profound and profane image of what Canada is, how it treats its peoples. So with that, clearly I can speak for myself, I have to attach my body to the body of text. They are in relation and they feed each other. And I think what I would like to see is for publishers, editors, Q&As and festivals, to recognize the labour that goes into crafting and birthing a body of text from a body of experience, and that they can’t be annexed from each other. As much as we are taught to do that, right? To read the text, to pull it apart, is also like a form of autopsy, as I write in Making Love with the Land. So recognizing the cost on the writer, and the expectation of the reader to enter as a guest into the spaces of these recesses.

So much of this book made me feel like identity by nature is so blurry and transient, and it’s a fallacy to think that we are bound into these little boxes and binaries. And you know, as you explore in this book, this could be related to the very language that we share, English, or perhaps other languages of colonization as well as literary genres. Your art is simply sublime at resisting structures of genre, of gender language, that bind us to limiting identities and modalities of being. But, in essence, I feel that it’s also about you insisting on space for nuance and complexity, and especially of wholeness. It’s as though Western culture wants us so desperately to be simple, but nothing really is. And I’m wondering if this resonates with you, this concept of trying to arrive at a sense of wholeness?

I think you are one hundred percent correct. But I think my concept of wholeness is to be ghastly, ghostly, to be immaterial and, in that, defying and pushing away from all these boundaries of genre in form and tradition. If I’m going to be decolonial and not recognize provinces, territory, national borders and, instead, recognize sovereign Indigenous nations on the land, I also need to do it on the page. So that was my attempt to really defy an outcry against the bordering of genre and form, and how limiting it is to Indigenous writing. But I think to Black and trans writing as well, and the intersections of those. And also—this is something I’ve learned from folks like Billy-Ray Belcourt— that to be indecipherable and to be untranslatable and to be unrecognizable to the nation-state that is Canada is a radical act of freedom. So I think I was also wanting to maintain, as I write in the book, the idiom of working and being a mirage, where you can’t be grasped or held, you’re always ephemeral. But there’s still a wholeness in being ephemeral like that. It’s kind of like being a poltergeist, just to haunt, but also to be whole in a home, too.

For those of us who are immersed in literary dialogues around multilingual texts and the ethical issues of othering non-Anglo languages by italicizing or providing translations to those words, it seems obvious why you didn’t choose to provide footnotes or translations to the words that you were using in Cree. Is this because you are prioritizing a Cree audience, or is it something else? I was curious how you approached the footnotes and your thoughts around that.

There are some footnotes and translations in “Me, The Joshua Tree” because I wanted to leave the door open for that one, because I thought it was one that people would resonate with but also need from me. With “The Geography of Queer Woundings” or various other ones I didn’t want to do the translation work because I wanted my readers as guests to the book. Even other Indigenous readers also have to meet me halfway and do some of the work, too, which I’m consistently doing as an academic, as an English speaker, and as a reader—of having to do etymological work of these words to understand their full meaning. So yeah, I wanted readers to have to move through a maze and meet me in the book rather than just having free, unbridled access to every single room of my psyche. There are some keys that you need to earn. So yeah, there’s that expectation of meeting each other.

It puts a responsibility onto the reader. Were there any ever any talks about having a glossary in the back?

Not particularly. My editor and publisher at Knopf, I think, has been trained so well as Eden Robinson’s editor. She was like “I trust you, just go ahead. We don’t need to have the translation.” So maybe I just got the luck of the draw being with an editor who didn’t mind, and I never had this either with Arsenal Pulp [Press]. But I do have kin and friends who have had complete horrendous battles around having to include glossaries or full on translations, or having to do the dreadful thing of italicizing non-English words. But yeah, I’ve never had to have that. But I think publishing… I see a change. But there is a history of having to completely other and also de-market and disfigure non-Englishness and non-whiteness, right?

I love how this book explores how identities are tied up with different languages. And I’m very curious about the journey you’ve had back to your ancestral language. As a Mexican-Canadian woman who was not raised speaking Spanish, for my parents thought that it would make it difficult for me to fit in, I often mourn the loss of a part of myself. But this part of myself also comes to life when I begin sounding Spanish words, or when I’m in the presence of Spanish. So for those of us who are not raised speaking the language of our ancestors, learning those lost languages can be such a life-changing experience, and an act of reclaiming ourselves, and it awakens parts of us that have been dormant. At least that’s how it’s felt for me. I love the ways in which you write about Cree, and how learning this language has given you a larger vocabulary to speak your expansive truth. Could you tell me a little bit about your journey towards learning Cree, and what that means for you, or how it’s changed you?

Growing up in Manitoba, I definitely heard and grew up in a house that spoke Cree and Anishinaabe, Soto and Michif as well. Specifically, Treaty 1 is such a mix of languages, as a central hub. But, again, it was not something I was privy to. My father, because of the murder of my grandmother, never had access to it and my mother and her mother, because of residential schools and boarding schools, also never had access to it. Life would be so much easier if I could just, like, ring up my aunt or my grandma and be like “Hey, how do you say this?” “Here it is.” Done. Instead, my journey to it has been autodidactic. I had to basically teach myself through lovely Cree dictionaries and, you know, buying textbooks for children. I’m actually having a lot of fun doing mazes and stuff. I’m nostalgic for those. And conversations I’ve had, when I’m able to, learning with fluent Cree speakers. And so, I think I agree with you one hundred percent in that it awakens giants that are sleeping, worms and bones of something that might have been encased in amber or crystallized, in that sense. With the more and more I learn—I think you can start seeing in each of my books—hopefully one day there will be a whole book just in Cree. That’s the end goal. But it’s been a long journey, and a difficult journey, but it’s been, probably, the most profound one I’ve been on in that it calls me home, too. And it’s also taught me these vernaculars that we use specifically on reservations or in urban reservations. That is the language, it’s in the sound. And I think it’s lying there waiting to be awakened. And it’s never been a dead or forgotten thing, it’s just been forgone. So I think what I’m trying to do is awaken it in myself and do an act of practice of not just thinking about reconciliation but reclaiming, and doing that through language revitalization for myself and hopefully for others.

I’m curious if you think it would be appropriate for Canadian settlers to learn our Indigenous languages. What are your thoughts around that? Or do you think that knowledge should specifically be for people who have origins within those roots?

I mean, that’s a great question. I think… not that I’m doing this [laughs] but I should be, as I learn my own… that we should all be learning the Indigenous languages of any land base that we visit here in North America, or if we’re going abroad, because it teaches you the history of that people, it teaches you the language of people but also their relationships with the land and the rivers around them, and it also teaches you their Indigenous law which, you know, might stop people from being gored by buffalo [laughs]. But yeah, I would definitely love to see that. It’s also something I’m hoping to take up, too, as I ground myself more in Cree— to also be learning more about the Blackfoot Confederacy, where I am a guest in Treaty 7. I think it’s important. How could you not? It is the original language. Even to know a small semblance of it gives you so much more privy to knowing the full breadth and beauty of that land base, rather than just partaking in the cities and the urban space. A city is a city. They’re all similar. What’s beautiful is the surrounding area, right? What was there before.

I love the line you wrote in “Writing As a Rupture:” “Orality is an entry point into community” enrichment. I was wondering, what other entry points do you think lead to community enrichment?

Beside the language and the stories, I think the biggest one that I’ve learned and seen is laughter. Humour. Specifically, in Treaty 7, we still have a shared lexicon of joy. And so cracking those little jokes, which sometimes come from drama and from being colonized, opens this little pocket. So I think, for me, I would say that humor and joy has been an everyday practice that I can do for enrichment, in that sense.

Where do you find sources of light and luminosity in the world? Where do you draw those sources from?

I keep joking with Lynn Henry, my editor, how I think the fifth or sixth book is literally just going to be a musical [laughs]. But music has been a big source of that. And even in the acknowledgments of this book, and in the epigraph, is Brandi Carlile. I continually thank her in the book for always meeting my grief head on. In those moments, to be completely awashed and to drown in lyricism but also in musicality and rhythm, is to be sensorially gone. And it allows me to process and think and remind myself that there is also beauty, even in the raising. And all I have to do, sometimes, is find the motoring noun “that is.” It allows me to be at rest and see myself from an outside vantage point.

When do you feel your most free?

I love to give my dog a hard time, but when he’s in a cuddly mood—and he also loves to watch Homeward Bound, which is the funniest cutest thing—and I’m having a bad day, having this huge German Shepherd curled up laying against me and everything is quiet, and we’re just watching a television show together, and everything kind of stops. I think that, to me… it’s very freeing. And it’s something I have an ease of access to, at least in my home. And the same experience, as I write about in “The Pain Eater,” of being with my niece—and now I have a nephew— just kind of lying in the grass, looking up at the sky and mispronouncing things. This must be what sovereignty feels like, just to have all of these generations cascading through the breath of a stem, the movement of a sternum.

Being around kids is such a great feeling. It’s just so nice to be around humans who still see the world through fresh eyes.

Exactly. Like getting to see through their eyes and hear their laughter, and willfully mispronouncing things, but also having that close range to the imaginative again, and knowing, too, that children and infants also come from elderhood. So they also have this breadth of knowledge that I think sometimes we just disregard as childhood innocence or curiosity. But I still think we have so much to learn, even in their unlanguage, which is a language.

Totally. Children seem, in some ways, almost more wise than we are, truly closer to the source. Just listening to and observing them…. There’s just so much they can teach us.

I’m wondering if you have a favorite flower or tree, or something that you feel very connected to?

I do very much love a rose. One of my goals is to see a Joshua tree in real life and go to Joshua Tree National Park. So, I’d say, that is one I’m wildly obsessed with and in love with, because I guess it’s my namesake but, also, the stories they have as being keepers of the desert and waypoints. That just look so mundane and quotidian, but have all of this knowledge, too.

Within your book you write about technology and digital culture, especially in “A Geography of Queer Woundings.” If you could have an avatar replace you in the real world, would you?

[Laughs] I mean… part of me wants to say yes, but we’ve seen Black Mirror and what can happen … But I think I would. We can thank Donna Haraway for my obsession with cyborgs, with automatons, the digital and virtual in that I think there’s a lot of connection that they share—the mechanical, the virtual, and the technologic, and also the natural at the same time.

I’m so happy you brought up Donna Haraway. I’m such a big fan of hers, especially Staying with the Trouble. And It’s interesting because I was going to share this quote with you at the end of this interview, but I feel like It’s appropriate to bring it up now because it really reminded me of the wisdom that I was absorbing from your book, which is a quote of hers: “It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.”

But back to technology. We’re living in a time where the metaverse is creeping up, virtual reality is becoming a big thing, and artificial intelligence is here. Do these technologies inspire you, or are you more of a critic?

I mean, it very much inspires and excites me so long as I’m also horrendously traumatized by Terminator 2. Sarah Connor burning in the playground is in my mind at all times. But I’m very much on board. I just think accessibility becomes a thing. We have Elon Musk building his own private spaceship to fly across and colonize another space. How I try to attribute technology is not to weaponize it and also not to use it as a colonial tool, but to be in relation with it. Because those technologies, these computers that we’re using, these headphones, are also made from the land— from silicone in the phone straight to the data chips being mined. I think sometimes what we forget is the cost that it takes to make these, because we can turn a blind eye to the work and extraction that’s happening overseas. So I would say, remembering that the cost of technology and building a rocket ship is to deplete the earth. And remember it in a sense that maintains an ethics and protocol of care, the responsibility around it, as well.

In “On Ekphrasis and Emphases” you write how “connection is a technology.” I feel that, oftentimes, people think about technology in the sense of being other to us. But I’ve always felt like technology is ancient, has always been around—like connection, as you write, and also love. What’s your concept of technology?

As I wrote about it in Making Love with the Land—in thinking about connection as a technology that indigeneity perfected— I think about trickster spider who, in the trickster stories at least of North America, crafted and spun the first world wide web. And, again, this was the world to Indigenous folks of Turtle Island, that had all these kinds of webs of connectivity, connection, kinship, trade routes and peoplehoods crafted all across the land. And so I think about that as… that’s a technology. It doesn’t have to be mechanical. It doesn’t have to be cold or metal. In fact, it can be ephemeral, and it can be emotional and connective like that. So I think some motoring form of survival and a motoring form of resistance, really. To think about connection in that same sense and to not forget that we ourselves, there’s a mechanic to us. We ourselves are machines in that sense.

Totally. Yeah. Our hearts and all our organs are motors. We are machines, beautiful and natural and slightly cyborg. [Laughing]

[Laughing] Thank you, Donna.

I was reading your acknowledgements and I was really struck by this line: “I hope everyone can see the invisible labour of being in relation.” For me, it really sums up so much of what I was gifted by reading your book, which is a deeper understanding of what it means to be in relation not only to ourselves, but to each other and to the whole living earth.

I think that is also a bit of the heart of the book, right? In thinking about the invisible labour of being in relation, specifically in the pandemic and specifically in COVID and the lockdown. It’s kind of like that “how are you?” question, which becomes a huge undertaking. This book—and wanting to think of myself not as a solitary writer or someone who writes in a vacuum, but someone who is amassing and can tell stories through community of all sorts, and always wanting to give—I attribute back to everyone who has helped shape and form this book and me. There is a lot of labour to be in connection with someone that often goes overlooked, beyond the grand gestures of getting a gift or going on a date or taking a selfie and posting it. It’s also everyday, small little acts. Sometimes even just checking in, or sometimes even just saying a word, or sending a meme or recommending a song, or even just being in silence side by side… It’s a form of labour that needs to be remembered. And also is as grand as any form. And I can’t forget that.

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