Elizabeth Herron is a writer and poet focused on issues of ecology and art.
Where – in what community, and around what issue – do you primarily do your work?
I work in a series of overlapping and discrete communities – the local community of Sonoma County writers and artists, the broader community of writers and editors of publications all over the country. Because I like collaborative work and am engaged with artists from other disciplines: musicians, movement artists, painters and printmakers, my local community of the arts is very much alive and inspires me. Another way of talking about my local community is a network of women. Finally, I have some well-nourished connections with the scientific community.
Empathy is the foundation for everything I do as a writer. I write from the heart. But that does not at all exclude a lot of thinking, especially when I write articles, which are generally about art and ecology. Throughout the 1990s I was focused on the preservation of endangered salmon, but in 2000 I realized the warming climate was at the root of every issue that concerned me and the tragedies I foresaw, so I turned my attention to climate. Most recently those threads came together in a ritual event for the gray whales, who are stranding along our coast in record numbers. I believe their deaths are attributable to the rise in ocean temperature and acidity, which affects their food source.
When you work in your community, what are the most valuable assets of the community that you experience aside from real estate and money?
The wisdom of older women is often deep and yet invisible to the outer world. I find support in many of my relationships but especially my relationships with older women artists, who have come to terms with loss and failure as well as success in their lives. Coming to terms with our limitations is always difficult, but especially the limits of what we can actually do for others. I'm nourished by the connections within my community, which surface primarily through women around the ways women have carried culture forth for eons – around food, for instance, and stories – gatherings around the hearth and the table.
Also, imagination. Einstein said the most important capacity is imagination.
What is the impact of your work on your community? Today? Over a long period of time?
That's kind of scary question because I'm so aware of the magnitude of the hazards that we face globally, and the impact they will have first on the most marginalized communities. And then the rollout as system collapse follows. The re-emergence of a new form is part of what I see as the mystery. And to live with mystery requires faith in process. We are the co-creators of the future, just as we are the co-creators of the present moment. We are continuously participating in what emerges. So I am impacting the future whether I know it or not. That is why it is so important to try to be aware of the way we are living each moment. My writing is an effort of consciousness. That’s what finding the right word requires. So when I publish something, it is with the hope I will have some impact on the readers’ own awareness. I believe in the power of art as an influence, guiding science and society toward compassion and inclusiveness. At this time in human history we have to further democratize and decentralize power. Each of us has to engage the darker forces of our own self-centeredness and disconnection and counter them with creative loving responses. And we’ve got to be playful and joyful to find creative solutions to what seem insoluble problems. Surprise is at the core of creative existence. We have to learn to cultivate surprise, which means seeing with fresh eyes the smallest to the biggest problems.
I believe the greatest impact I have as a person is through my poetry and performance, which is incredibly ephemeral. But people remember images and continue to grow with them over time. Collaborative performance always includes an element of uncertainty, chance and surprise. I hope all my work encourages people to take the risk to live creatively and most of all with heart.