Friday, October 23, 2009

News from The Mothering and Environment Conference

Here I am in Toronto. It is grey outside and the physical plant of York University is a bit dismal and reminds me of Stony Brook. I keep getting lost in the very many long and winding hallways. Yesterday I gave my keynote lecture on the 'polluted mother-nature body' in literature and film. The content of this talk is a large part of my book topic. So, my book is well underway.

Sandra Steingraber gave an amazing lecture in which she explored her writing of Living Downstream, Having Faith, and her new work on children's development (ex-utero) in a toxic world. Sandra never ceases to move me... She balances a brilliant discussion of the science of how our bodies work in "concert" with the chemicals and toxins we come in contact with, with her own personal experiences. She became an ecologist and began her work on cancer and the environment because of her cancer story. For cancer survivors like me, her work is a gift.

She also spoke about the connections between the onset of early puberty (which is increasing rapidly) and breast cancer. Girls are beginning puberty at younger and younger ages. Possible reasons for this are lack of exercise, diet, and toxic exposure. Here are the things I love about Steingraber: she makes science poetry--in discussing biology, ecology, and even chemistry, she uses metaphors and symbols that bring it to life for a literature person like me. She also brings her own cancer and mothering stories into the study and presentation of ecological science.

As a human being, Steingraber is very accessible. When I met her after the lecture, she spoke of her children in such tender terms and she asked me about my daughter and my cancer. I also found out that she is a poet. Poet and ecologist! Often, when she speaks, tears come to my eyes. But my brain fires off as well--her description of the brain and how it develops in utero--the strings, and webs, and networks. I am rapt when she gives her science lesson. Her detailed biological description of the birds and the bees (how babies are made) was just fascinating.

Steingraber's Living Downstream is being updated and a new version will be available soon. Living Downstream has been made into a movie and it will be out soon. I can't wait to use it in my classrooms.

I'm learning about pre-agriculture, pollution, goddesses, Findhorn, sustainable communities, wildness, conservation, climate change, and so many other things. More to come......

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