First American Art Magazine No. 21, Winter 2018/19 - Page 88

ART+LIT salmon and bees, forging a kind of magical realism through dynamic symbolism. Moreover, it demonstrates how the tempo and obstacles of urban life can lead to exhaustion; that nature can function as a form of recovery; and the connection to nature is never lost but merely requires rediscovery. How did this collection come about, and why does its timing resonate among readers and critics? I remember reading years ago that art is a unique expression of a common experi- ence. I liked this so much I printed it out and taped it on my monitor. The stories in Bad Endings are filled with many specific details of my life, but I tried to present the scenarios as somewhat universal. Not everyone deals with urban exhaus- tion specifically, but everyone gets burnt out sometimes and looks for healing by “getting away from it all.” Not everyone suffers from addiction, but I think it’s a pretty common human experience to feel out of control, knowing that clawing your way back to “normal” is going to take a lot of work. Anxiety and depression aren’t universal, but they are really common, and I suspect readers are drawn to stories where characters are wrestling with these issues. Of course, there are bigger themes in the book, mostly around environmentalism. I write a lot about bees and salmon, rivers, and just water in general. My approach to writing about these issues in fiction is the soft sell: give readers enough informa- tion about something like colony collapse disorder to pique their interest, and hope they’ll Google it. I don’t like being lectured to, so I don’t lecture to my readers. What strikes me about Bad Endings is how you employ humor to shape threads of hope. Can you talk about the importance of humor in your work? Humor gets me through life, so it’s natural that it would be in my writing. I’m Métis and Icelandic—dark humor is in my blood. I’m the type to laugh when I’m out of my comfort zone, which is not to say I’m always upbeat. It’s just a coping mechanism. My stories are a little dark, but I’m mindful of this as I write and make an effort to provide moments of laughter and hope for the reader. Also for myself, I guess. That’s me on the page a lot of the time! Humor seems to be overlooked in terms of its deep importance to the human condition, no? Humor (and laughter) can teach us so much about ourselves and others, but yet it appears under valued in literar y culture and academia as an instrument or We have to have a sense of humor or we’d never make it. methodology of critical thought and understanding. Humor is definitely undervalued in academia, although I think there is a lot of (peer-reviewed) shade thrown in many of the Indigenous studies papers I’ve read. No big surprise there; we have to have a sense of humor or we’d never make it. Pushing back against dominant colonial ideologies is a 24/7 job and it’s exhausting. I have so much respect for academics like Chelsea Vowel, Leanne Simpson, and Daniel Heath Justice. Come to think of it, they all also write fiction! Another couple of master fiction writers who use humor: Tracey Lindberg and Eden Robinson! I also agree that humor is undervalued in literature, or in Canadian literature at least. Indigenous literature is full of humor, but it’s often dark—the best kind in my humble opinion. I do find that dark humor in Indigenous literatures is often misread as self-pity. I read a review of my book that called it depressing, and questioned why I would even write it. But even though the stories in Bad Endings are about bad situations, the only thing that got me through those situations was laughter. I think they’re hilarious! Feel free to laugh at me, or with me, but keep laughing. I’m paraphrasing here, but the brilliant Michif poet Samantha Marie Nock said “We’re Cree. We’ll laugh with 86 | WWW.FIRSTAMERICANARTMAGAZINE.COM you and then share our saddest stories.” I’m on board with this. What can be learned, or what do you take with you, from the accolades that you’ve received recently? Do they shape your current writing practice and your future trajectories? The success of Bad Endings will unde- niably shape my future, because big publishers are interested in my work now, and I have an agent. That’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, not that I’m looking for sympathy. As cliché as it sounds, I’m trying to just keep my feet on the ground and keep writing. That’s all you can do, really. I don’t think any writers I know sit around patting themselves on the back after a big year. Your next book might suck. Also, when people are paying attention to what you have to say, there’s work to be done sharing and uplifting other Indigenous voices. Reviews and blurbs to write. It’s not all about me. I’m very grateful that my first book received the recognition it did—there’s no guarantee when you send your little baby out there that anyone will notice or care. Plenty of good books don’t get the recognition they should, especially small- press books. So I’m also grateful to Anvil Press for supporting me through it all. Finally, do you have any upcoming projects planned? My master’s thesis will be my next book. It’s a memoir-fiction hybrid about a canoe trip I took through the Peel River Watershed a few years ago. It’s about identity, storytelling, and complicated relationships with family members, but it’s also about my belief that any envi- ronmental or conservation efforts must center the voices of Indigenous peoples. Many conservation efforts in Canada have been used to displace Indigenous peoples and deny us fishing and hunting rights on our traditional territories. I believe that Indigenous land stewardship is vital, and ultimately, returning stolen land is the best hope for the environment. CARLEIGHBAKER.COM