Why This? Why Now?
If I had someone special in my life I wouldn’t have written Sung Home. If I had a boyfriend, instead of writing I would have gone camping in the Gila a lot more. Checking off the sections of the Kama Sutra. Or so I like to imagine.
So I was sitting at home with my cats, Katniss and Kali, watching the news and feeling overwhelmed by how bad things are. Not a feeling of impending or looming apocalypse but a knowing that the apocalypse is happening right now. I felt so much grief at what we are losing. And the knowledge that we ourselves have caused this.
This sensation of heaviness drove me to my bed in the middle of a clear, gorgeous, New Mexican fall day. I curled up on my bed and longed for a better way of life, a fresh start for humanity. I tried to imagine what such a start might look like, and what we might do with that fresh start in the Gila region of southwest New Mexico, where I live.
How would that fresh start happen, I wondered. Well, first of all we’d have to reduce the population a bunch, I imagined. Clear the slate a bit, as it were. I thought about who might have survived this population reduction, where they might be, what would they be doing, what would life be like. And that’s how Lakshmi Boykin was born. A 16-year old woman, a captive in a warlord’s compound. Driven to find a better way of life by a tragedy more personal than the extremely virulent scouring of humanity from the planet that had happened seven years before our story begins.
Where would she go? Maybe to her grandmother’s house deep in the Gila forest, a place of fecund beauty and community. How would she get there? I wondered. I remembered a book I read many years ago, called Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin. That book is about the system of maps created by Australian Aboriginals and transmitted by oral tradition down countless generations via songs, the songlines. Lakshmi’s mother, now dead at the beginning of the story, had sung her a song when she was a child, over and over, that would take her to her grandmother’s house. That’s where Lakshmi would go, and how she would get there.
As the story developed, I started writing it all down because it was too much to hold in my head.
As I wrote about Lakshmi’s journey I realized that the apocalypse isn’t the only thing happening, right now. Countless people all over the world are actively generating a better way to be on the planet, including previously unimaginable forms of energy, transportation and food production. And we have ways that have been with us for thousands of years, like water harvesting that works with the land and water, not against it, and the gentle cultivation of wild food sheds, so different from the Totalitarian agriculture that is destroying, water, soil, habitat and health. Building materials and techniques that keep people warm enough but not too warm, without the need for fossil fuels to heat or cool. Countless human cultures have lived successfully on the earth for hundreds of thousands of years without threatening the entire biosphere, so of course we know how to do that.
Sung Home is post-apocalyptic, but it is neither dystopian or utopian. It is an imagining of one of the countless possibilities we could create, the new rising from the ashes of the old.
I hope you’ll check out the story, and let me know what you think about it.
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Ra Paulette’s caves, carved in New Mexico’s sandstone hills, served as the inspiration for the cave homes in Sung Home.
You can learn more about Ra and his cave creation process here: