Human imagination has always been captured by great mythic stories filled with mysterious wisdom. This is one of those stories that engages, draws you in, and takes you to a liminal space where you have to wrestle with the earthly experience humanity finds itself. "Earth Interrupted" is that story, where you are interrupted to think deeply about earth. Bill Dahl is a story teller who senses the urgency of our time.
The following is an interview Bill completed regarding the upcoming release of his new novel, EARTH Interrupted. I hope you enjoy it! After reading the below, if you have additional questions, please send them to Bill via billdahl.net.
( Click on book cover for full interview )
I have known Bill Dahl for a few years. Initially it was a kind of virtual relationship comments on websites morphed in the lengthy e-mails, to Skype and this summer I had a chance to visit Bill at home in Redmond Oregon. We had the opportunity to hike, and camp in the Oregon wilderness with Bill's ever present four legged companion " Reggie."
There is something about sitting around a campfire, on a clear dark night as the glittering starlit surf rolls across the heavens, wave after wave. Bill's passion for life, and especially for the wilderness blazed brighter than the fire. On the way home from Oregon I read the final draft of the prologue for " Earth Interrupted." They say everyone has a story inside them. Bill's story, " Earth Interrupted " has been percolating inside him for a long time, waiting for the moment when it overflows, spilling out on to paper. Joseph Campbell said the following in an interview with Bill Moyers;
That which is beyond even the concept of reality, that which transcends all thought. The myth puts you there all the time, gives you a line to connect with that mystery which you are.
Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is simply trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image.
In " Earth Interrupted "Bill Dahl has interrupted us, untrapping us from illusionary images and at the same time has thrown us a line connecting us to a profoundly bigger and urgent story. In " Earth Interrupted "a profound truth comes to the surface of the story. Humanity has always embraced mythic stories filled with metaphors. They seem to kindle and ignite the human imagination, rebooting the operating system to move in a new direction. This story will make you reimagine.
The following are questions I posed to Bill after my trip to Oregon in early September...
Question 1. One cannot ignore the profound connection you have with wilderness. Did your long relationship with photography and nature impact how you approached Earth Interrupted?
For me, photography provides me with both the tools and a perspective that explores and reveals (to me - and hopefully others who see my work) dimensions of beauty and intimacy that are difficult to grasp without it. And yes, beyond superb equipment and an ever evolving skill set, photography (for me) is location, location, location. It has led me (along with Reggie, my Black Lab) to spaces, creases, if you will, that have most certainly rearranged and revealed an appreciation for the excruciatingly sensitive balance that we live amidst.
Yet, contrast is everything. What I mean is the contrast between what occurs to one when journeying in nature versus what you observe and experience in daily living in the 21st century. In this sense, the contrast reveals new insights, concerns, hopes, interests, perspectives - and an awareness that these are particularly peculiar times for a re-awakening to the sensitive balance between man as guest and EARTH as home.
Finally, Yes - Where and with whom you wander inhabits and inspires what you may ponder.
Question 2. Reading the book I couldn't help feel the sense of urgency that kept percolating to the surface of the story. Is your hope that Earth Interrupted will awaken readers to the urgency of Earth's situation?
Urgency - yes, of course. Listen to Harvard sociologist and scholar Robert Bellah:
"As some of us know, and all of should know, we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction event at this very moment --- indeed we have been in it for a considerable time."
Bellah quotes paleontologist Niles Eldridge who describes our current conundrum as one that "threatens to rival the five great mass extinctions of our geological past - all five of which have had physical causes (like collisions with meteors, massive volcanic explosions, or massive shifts in the plate tectonics of the Earth. Yet, Eldridge distinguishes our current historical epoch from those extinction events from our past. He writes:
"But, this one has a different cause. It is the first recorded global extinction event that has a biotic, rather than a physical, cause. That cause is us." (emphasis is mine).(1)
The challenges that face human civilization are innumerable and complex. Frankly, the contemplation of these challenges can be overwhelming for many folks - resulting in an abdication/diminution of our personal responsibility and capability to become active in the solution. For many, we adapt by submerging ourselves in the inertia of daily life - going with the flow; when our times demand an awakened appreciation for the epoch we occupy - our personal role in its resolution - and the consequences of such an inertia centered posture (like a leaf floating in the current of a river).
Listen for a moment to John Casti, Ph.D. (doctorate in mathematics from the University of Southern California). Casti is a complexity scientist, systems theorist, co-founder of the X-Center, a Vienna based research institute – and formerly a scientist who worked at The Santé Fe Institute and Rand Corporation – and served on the faculties at Princeton, University of Arizona, and NYU. He characterizes what I have referred to above as an inertia centered posturequite well:
“We open ourselves up to potentially devastating events when we choose not to see instead of facing reality head on….Yet we continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction, seeds that are for the first time in history able to develop into the destruction of our entire species…Specific surprises can and do happen. And they happen even if you think they are so unpalatable that you don’t want to think about them, and thus fool yourself into believing they cannot occur. They will happen anyway. The damage will be orders of magnitude greater than need be the case by sticking your head in the sand and pretending otherwise.” (2)
We humans exist within an atmosphere of expectations. Frankly, expectations are inhabited by assumptions. Yet, human history reveals that human expectations are subject to change, just as assumptions are revealed to be relatively accurate, inaccurate, useful or, in some cases, at certain points in history - counterproductive and even destructive.
Yet, expectations and assumptions provide humans with comfort (progress), a sense of chronology (time), energy (inertia), and direction (next). Certain epochs in the history of human civilization (and specific cultures) demonstrate that a re-appraisal and a renewed desire to reimagine a new trajectory...one that the cumulative, current combination of inertia, progress, time and next are not leading us toward. Earth Interrupted inhabits this fictional historical epoch - yet - one that may be tangibly different than those that have preceded it.
Insights from scientists like Jorgen Randers (professor of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School, former deputy director general of the World Wildlife Fund and a member of the sustainability councils of British Telecom, and DOW Chemical) are poignant here:
“Humanity is in the process of making the world a much less attractive place for its future inhabitants…I am not sure the unborn children will be satisfied with the extent of our effort. We will continue to optimize, but primarily for our own generation and that of our children. As a result, we will leave a difficult world for our grandchildren.”(3)
Think practically for a moment...our present historical epoch contains certain threats to human existence that have not been imagined or experienced before. Think climate change, the threats to safe drinking water, infectious diseases (viruses in particular), the fragility of infrastructure (the power grid and the internet), ongoing (and projected) increases in global population growth, the ever-expanding consumer-centric model of human consumption, advances in medical science, neuroscience and technology, nation states equipped to surveil their citizenry, and the ability of small groups of extremists to wreak havoc around the globe - to mention a few.
The nature and future implications of a myriad of these types of threats are inhabited by tipping points - whereby, they possess their own energy, if you will. Pass a tipping point on climate change for example, and, well, we're in uncharted territory for the human species...territory that we are passing onto our children and grandchildren. Thus, to continue with this particular example, yes - there's an urgency, signals all around us, that we are not responding to either collectively or adequately as a species.
Yet, these threats can be confronted by virtue of a new awakening of human consciousness - one that is fundamentally essential --- as the shared basis for galvanizing a new, more constructive vision of our future as guests in this life - whose habitation creates consequences for those who may follow us.
Scholar, author and social thinker Jeremy Rifkin describes it this way:
"At some critical point, the realization will set in that we share a common planet, that we are all affected and that our neighbors' suffering is not unlike our own. At that juncture recriminations and retributions will be of little avail in addressing the enormity of the crisis at hand. Only by concerted action that establishes a collective sense of affiliation with the entire biosphere will we have a chance to ensure our future. This will require a biosphere consciousness." (4)
Our actions or inaction are fraught with consequences. Earth Interrupted walks down this road, into a future where the trajectory of the cumulative, current combination of inertia, progress, time and next are leading us into.
The term urgency engenders an extreme reaction or perception from many people. Perhaps the phrase a renewed, deliberate sense of possibility to change the current trajectory might be a more appropriate characterization. But, yes, time is not an element of the equation we should be taking for granted anymore --- just as we should not be with inertia, progress and next.
Finally, what happens when it becomes apparent to human civilization that sometime has morphed into sumtime for our species?
Question 3. What are your hopes for what readers will take away from EARTH Interrupted?
There are three primary outcomes I would like to see EARTH Interrupted have on readers:
a. A reinvigorated dialog, accompanied by new forms of relational collaboration that about the array of social and ecological threats that currently confront the human species. Keeping in mind the central tenets here of time, inertia, progress and next.
b. A new, collective meaning for “the hat” – you’ll see....people will have to read the book. The hat in the story really becomes the tangible takeaway from the story that is designed to spawn new forms of relational collaboration (a behavioral outcome generated by the novel).
Allow me to expand on this for a moment. In a fascinating new book, author, thinker and teacher Alan Gregerman begins his book The Necessity of Strangers – The Intriguing Truth About Insight, Innovation and Success – with a personal story about walking his young daughter to the school bus in the morning. Gregerman recounts their exchanges about the necessity of not talking to strangers and/or stranger danger. Gregerman’s paradigm is upended when his daughter looked up at him and asked: “But Papa, if I don’t talk to strangers, how will I ever make new friends? And how will I ever learn new things?”
This led Gregerman to explore the wisdom that exploded from his daughter. The outcome of the wisdom of a child is expressed by Gregerman in the following:
“It may seem counterintuitive that strangers are to be embraced rather than ignored or avoided, but they are a necessity – precisely because of their differences and what they know that we don’t know; their objectivity and ability to be open and honest with us about the things that really matter; and their capacity to challenge us to think very differently about ourselves, the problems we face and the nature of what is possible.” (5)
c. A renewed interest in unspoken and unanswered questions, inspired curiosities, and a desire to discuss, delve into and explore the same with others that the novel inspires.
Remember: This is a novel. It is designed to leave the reader with unanswered questions, concerns, angst, conundrums, intrigue, loose-ends and to stretch the imagination. I am currently writing a Group Discussion Guide for book groups, and those who might benefit from a framework that serves to pose questions that may stimulate thoughtful discussion and individual contemplation.
Of course - Get your hat. Take your picture with it on. Email your photo to me. We’ll get it up on the web. Better yet, meet a stranger who is wearing the hat – take a photo and send it to us. Again, we’ll post it on the web.
Question 4. Can you give us a hint into the next book in the trilogy?
It's sumtime. Now what? How might a group of people respond to the severity of global challenges that now surround them? What sorts of purely human discussions occur as people must evaluate, reassess, release or discard former notions of what it has meant to be human. What happens to relationships? What happens to trust, hope, faith, fear, certainty, uncertainty and confidence (or a crisis thereof)? Also, how might the teachings/belief systems of the faith (and non-faith) persuasions of the central characters enter into all this? How might the inertia of crossed tipping points change the choices that confront the human species, way the human species is compelled to adapt, and the sacrifices that might we may be required to make at that time.
The history of humanity includes a predilection for sharing self-deceiving narratives that serve as the basis for explaining after-the-fact events that occur (typically tragedies that involve millions of people (ex. The Financial Crisis of 2007-2011 in the U.S. etc.).Furthermore, this predilection also engenders and maintains the illusory capacity for humans to forecast and control future, tragic occurrences of this magnitude (or larger). (See Nicholas Taleb’s work The Black Swan (New York, Random House – 2007).
Yet, the future we are walking into is unlike any terrain we have traversed before. Translation: The data sets from the past (historical data sets) provide little, if any reliable guidance for dealing with the complex challenges we are currently confronted with. We no longer inhabit a time or place where backward looking expository and after-the-fact analysis provides a reliable roadmap for the road ahead.
Sometime is Sumtime. Next is Now. What shall we do?
- Bellah, Robert N. Religion in Human Evolution - from the Paleolithic to the axial Age, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Cambridge, MA and London, England Copyright (c) 2011 by The President and fellows of Harvard College, p.601
- Casti, John L X-EVENTS – The Collapse of Everything, William Morrow – HarperCollinsPublishers New York, NY Copyright © 2012 by John L. Casti, pp. 293,294, 298-299.
- Randers, Jorgen 2052 – A Global Forecast for the Nexty Forty Years, Chelsea Green Publishing White River Junction, Vermont Copyright © 2012 by Jorgen Randers, p. 40.
- Rifkin, Jeremy The Empathic Civilization - The Race to Global Consciousness In a World In Crisis, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin The Penguin Group New York, Copyright (c) 2009 by Jeremy Rifkin, p. 616.
- Gregerman, Alan The Necessity of Strangers – The Intriguing Truth About Insight, Innovation and Success, Jossey-Bass --- A Wiley Brand San Francisco, CA Copyright © 2013 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 3 and 6-7.
- Bill Dahl's novel, "EARTH Interrupted" is NOW available on Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble.