Today we are excited to announce that past contributor Benjamin Vogt has recently released a book. A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future addresses why we need a new garden ethic and the urgent need for wilderness in our daily lives. Benjamin also touches on the idea that environmentalism is not political, but rather social justice for all species marginalized today and for those facing extinction tomorrow. Purchase a copy of A New Garden Ethic from New Society Publishershere.
To read Benjamin’s essay, “Across the Flats” in Issue 9 of Superstition Review click here.
In 2009 I finished my first memoir. I’d worked on it for a few years, performing copious amounts of research on international garden design, horticulture, psychology, landscape theory, as well as interviewing a few family members. Well, I actually only interviewed my mom, and that was a two hour heart-wrenching session where for the first time in my life I got to know her as a person more terrifyingly real than I ever imagined.
During a visit home I was anxious. I didn’t want to broach the interview we both knew I wanted to do (and that would be the key to my memoir), but as the visit was ending she finally asked when I was going to get around to it. She often asked this of me as kid when I had the stomach flu – I held in my vomit until the very last minute, resulting in a big mess nowhere near the bathroom. Sorry. Too much info. I am a memoirist you know.
I felt awkward during our interview. I shook. I felt sweaty and cold. It was strange. I wasn’t ready for this kind of memoir – the one where you speak the deep truth by having confronted it in your lived life. A few weeks later my mom emailed me the deeper, deeper truth, saying she’d never speak it in person to me. It was the story of her siblings being beaten and molested, of her stepfather spiking her vanilla malt and trying, unsuccessfully, to molest her, too. I learned that for my family the garden was an escape, a place to center and come to grips with life.
I edited that memoir, Morning Glory, in 2010 because I knew it lacked structure, and a big part of the reason it lacked structure was because I was afraid to dig as far I needed to. It still lacks structure, and has sat idly in an external hard drive ever since. But my new memoir, which I began working on in 2009, is risking more. It’s bolder. It’s asking big questions. It’s taking a stand. All because I’m putting more of myself on the page.
I’ve taken four trips to Oklahoma to interview family and experts about state history, about homesteading stories from 1894 to the 1940s, about prairie ecology, about Mennonites and Cheyenne beliefs. Exploring my love / hate relationship with my birth state has helped me find the pain that Oklahoma represents for many cultures, human and plant and animal. As an accelerated microcosm of manifest destiny, my family helped destroy the prairie — I want to right that wrong I’ve felt in my bones longer than I’ve known how to name it.
But I’m terribly afraid that in saying the above, I’ll alienate the older members of my family who see the Plains in rose colored glasses, or that I’ll be accused of not honoring the sacrifice of my immigrant family who spoke only German. But the more I read, the more I travel, the more I remember my childhood in the hot, red dirt, I know what my truth is and that I have to speak it loudly – so loudly it hurts people’s ears and hearts. If I can’t risk my life here, on the page, alone in my office, how can I ever risk it out there? How can I live with myself if my inner and outer selves don’t merge? These questions have become my second memoir’s structure. Through a failed first book and much more active research than I ever did in nine years of grad school combined, I’ve come to gain confidence and faith in my writing and my life. At 37, it’s taken me many failures to write boldly, to write and trust my truth – and if Turkey Red is ever read by family, I will surely fail again. But I will have profoundly succeeded, too.
When SR informed me that my creative nonfiction piece “Across the Flats” was receiving the most hits of any for its issue, I was shocked. Who was reading it? I’m always thrilled to have work accepted for publication, but I pretty much just assume that no one will read the work. There’s a lot out there in the world.
I did publicize the piece on my Twitter account and three Facebook pages I have (personal, blog, business). That’s all I did. Nothing magical. Unless you take into account a few big things:
1) I’ve had a writing and gardening blog http://deepmiddle.blogspot.com for nearly five years now. In that time I’ve amassed a modest set of readers. And though I see only 80-100 visits a day on the blog or on its Facebook page, it serves me well by creating a long term audience. Since my essay was both a piece of creative writing and garden-themed, I could hook up to my two main audiences. I’m two-faced that way.
2) The garden theme carried over much more to Twitter http://twitter.com/brvogt, where a vast majority of my followers are gardeners and garden writers. I’ve only been on Twitter for eight months, but I posted the link to the essay twice a day for a day or two, then a few times over the course of a week. That’s the beast of Twitter, redundancy. More beasty yet is that Twitter is both a link happy place AND a relationship-heavy place (although the two don’t really go together in my mind). Twitter is constant work like having pet fish. Twitter is interaction-heavy—quick glib and jokey comments or heartfelt and interested comments, anything to make a split-second connection like flirting with someone across the room. Once you catch someone’s fancy (and creative tweets can help), it takes a split second for them to share your tweet to their followers, who share it to their followers. My approach with posting the link on Facebook was different. Facebook feels more intimate, which is why I posted just once on each of my three pages.
3) What I’m getting at is this: people visited SR to read my work, (and hopefully others), because I’ve spent part of each day working for free online. Some days it’s a major chore and distraction. Some days it’s a natural extension of myself. But it takes time—and you have to be constantly interesting and authentic on any media platform. By this I mean not narcissistic or whiney, and not a promotional machine. I’d say that 90% of tweets and 50% of Facebook interactions should have nothing to do with you—talk to people, share interesting links and photos, pretend you aren’t being archived and sold and stalked by company platforms to third parties. And something else I’ve discovered: Facebook is much more active M-Th during the day (people at work goofing off?). Twitter is pretty much 24/7.