Dancing around a bonfire

Picture of the ocean
James Smith (1957-58)


Dear Reader,

Those who know me know that I’m an introvert. I’ve been fortunate and grateful to be safely holed up in my room, only speaking when being spoken to, unless I’m speaking to my cat. But as I’ve been reading more about the state of our world, the state of our planet, I’ve come to realise that this act of comfortable isolation has been subconsciously wearing me down, and spilling over into other aspects of my life.

I came across an interview on Lithub with Jenny Offill, author of Weather, a fragmented novel that is just as much about the climate crisis as it is about our initial impulse to turn away, or to simply acknowledge it by dancing around this horrific bonfire, because it is just too overwhelming to look at. For a while, I’ve thought that my personal choices—to eat less meat, buy only local, sustainable brands, use minimal plastic (an impossible feat)—were enough, that my conflict-avoidant self could contribute to change by remaining huddled up in my own hole. But something Jenny Offill said alerted me to what I was actually doing, that I was averting my gaze, distracting myself from what I truly needed to do:

...there are a few decisions that make a significant dent in your lifestyle, and they’re the ones everyone knows. You can choose not to eat meat, you could choose not to fly, and you can choose not to have children. All of those are pretty big sacrifices that people would struggle to make, though many have. What I discovered when I was researching this book—and what for me was the hopeful part of the book—is that for me, the sacrifice—which turns out to be less of a sacrifice than I thought—is that I needed to join with others. I needed to stop thinking and reading about this on my own, and I needed to realize that I had to be involved in collective action.

The essays from Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene have prodded me out of this hermit hole I’d dug for myself. I’ve been talking to my colleagues Jen and Sharifah, exchanging fervent messages over questions like—what is oil even? Why are we so slow to convert to renewable energy? Wait, the oil refined in Singapore has actually fuelled invasions?

We felt immense assurance, conviction and relief while talking through these overwhelming issues together and we wondered if this is the reason why so many of us haven’t actively engaged in climate action—because we’re too afraid of facing this by ourselves, and because the problem, of course, is not with the individual, but with longstanding capitalist structures and systems of power that continue to profit off our isolation and willful aversion.

We want to know if there are others out there who care, are a little distressed, but shy away from collective action. We want to extend this renewed sense of hope to you. We think that the first step towards climate action is talking through our feelings about this ongoing crisis. After all, this is why these essays exist.

With the help of Matthew and some friends from the community, we curated a little book club starter pack—with discussion questions, chapter summaries, secondary materials, and resources for eco-anxiety.

From an introverted, climate-action-and-book-club beginner to you, I hope that this starter pack will draw you into the necessary conversations we need to have, to sharpen our will to act. If anything, let it be a gentle invitation out of the hermit hole, into a space of communal care, for each other and for our planet.

With love,

(From May 30, 2020)