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Wolves, Storytelling, Fear and Play
Episode 1519th September 2023 • Have You Thought About • Dhruti Shah
00:00:00 00:24:42

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Erica Berry is the author of Wolfish: Wolf, Self, and the Stories We Tell About Fear. But her nature memoir stands out as it delves into the role of the wolf in global narratives and culture, and her own relationship with stories.

Transcripts

Dhruti Shah:

Hi, I'm Dhruti Shah, and this is my podcast Have You Thought About? Thank you for joining us for season two. I'm a writer and I love to find out about what passions people are pursuing and what makes them tick. The podcast is for those who are at a reckoning and tired of being told, you can just have this one focus only one thing that makes you you. In each edition, I'm going to

Dhruti Shah:

Now, Erica, you and I have been talking for quite a while because it turns out we both have this fascination with wolves. We've come at it from different perspectives, but you have this most wonderful debut book out and it's called Wolfish: Wolf Self and the Stories We Tell About Fear. Now I can wax lyrical about it but what I would love to know and get you thinking about is how did you come to

Erica Berry:

I love that as a backdrop, I was fascinated by wolves. I was studying them for an environmental studies thesis and got family that are taxidermists and hunters and I was sort of engaging with how they were seeing nature, which was a bit different than my family, who are hikers and farmers. I really felt like, personally, I was seeing a sort of engagement with animals in nature, while

Erica Berry:

I was interested in what wolves were showing about how they became a sort of Bellwether, of how humans engage with nature more broadly. And then it's like a bit like the thunder just arriving, there were these other themes that were sort of crashing into my life at that moment, which were essentially these feelings of fear and anxiety, sort of meditations on predator prey that I was thinking

Erica Berry:

And I think there was another experience where I was trying to go do a research trip and go just write and read in my little cabin, I was very excited. And somebody on the train started writing me these sort of threatening letters and showing them to me, and there were all these moments where the story I was wanting to tell it was about real wolves. Instead, I kept kind of thinking of these

Erica Berry:

And like this other thing, I think it was recognising that the big questions I was trying to figure out in my life, which was how do I live beside this fear? And besides danger, and besides violence, those are questions that any person is maybe encountering, especially as we get older, we're sort of learning what's in our control. We're not being taken care of by other people as much we're living

Dhruti Shah:

But you didn't just look at the American West? I mean, you literally are travelling across places, you bring in multiple languages across multiple cultures, in order to highlight and that's something that isn't always done, actually, you know, there are phrases I'm like, Oh, I didn't know this. And I'm gonna take that and use it at some point. Why was it so important for you to

Erica Berry:

I think a lot about the idea that I've caught this wolf by osmosis was how I thought about it, like when I say Wolf, and sometimes I've done this at a reading, I'll be looking at a crowd of people and I'll say, quick, if I say the word Wolf, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Right when I started as pointed people in the crowd, and they all say different things, right? Because

Erica Berry:

predatory threat, say who preys on young shepherd women, that's a version that is sold to us through a certain sort of French aristocracy. story, but that's not inherently true, potentially. That's a narrative.

Erica Berry:

say like, why has the wolf been depicted in this way, and in a way that led to finding this much more expansive, exhilarating, sort of like beautiful stories about the wolves that are so often sort of overshadowed by three little pigs and the wolf who blew it all down.

Dhruti Shah:

But the other thing that's really important with it, like you are bringing a lot of personal stuff, it is a memoir, as well as that sort of narrative nonfiction as well as sort of following the journey of wolf as well as the literature. It's a lot of genres that it's crossing, how did you make yourself feel comfortable with approaching this is a fear that maybe often people

Erica Berry:

Thank you for asking that so considerately. I had a therapist at a time who said you're going through this period of intense anxiety. I would say after some of these sort of assault on the sidewalk, some of these moments, I was having trouble moving through the world, the way that I'd done, I was really like entering the house and wanting to check all the closets and under the bed,

Erica Berry:

You know, there's psychological research that says that writing that trauma can be very revelatory and sort of cathartic. And I didn't set out to write this book, because I thought it would solve me but in a certain way, taking a sort of narrative control over them. And also, I think one of the things that has surprised some readers is that say, there's this moment where I do encounter, say, the

Erica Berry:

And I just felt like sometimes those lines are a bit more grey. And there's a bit both of those things were existing simultaneously for me, and I think about it as sort of these like a couple of instincts that I'd really learned in growing up, the way I'd been taught to be a young woman was both a sort of like taking care of other people and sort of making sure they're okay. And also this

Erica Berry:

But I think it was my agent who sort of said like your own experiences are a form of lived authority with fear as well. And like maybe you can like look to those in the way that you'd look to evidence in a paper. And I felt like I'm gonna be vulnerable on the page so that maybe the reader can be vulnerable too. And I don't presume that readers have had the same experience in some of these

Erica Berry:

I think one of my main takeaways is that I want people to be quite aware of like, the cultural narratives, I think fear so often gets talked about, as it's this like, really ingrained biological response, like it's this very primitive kind of feeling. And actually, it's so often taught sort of feeling that the subtitle in the UK is fear, ferocity, and freedom, I think all of those things are,

Dhruti Shah:

How have you managed to tally Erica, the author with Erica, the person who has had those experiences?

Erica Berry:

I've been a bit in denial, to be honest, in that I've been having to protect myself from thinking about it in some way. Like, I just sit, I'm still getting up every day and being like, what am I going to write in my journal? What are the next ideas I'm thinking about? I very much write the questions that I need to answer in my own life. So right now, I'm thinking about love. But I'm

Erica Berry:

And I think I had wanted to write into like, sometimes I of course, I feel that I love being outdoors. But also you feel other things like discomfort or overwhelm, or a bit of confusion about am I in your head, I'm thinking about my phone, I wanted to be able to encompass those experiences as well and sort of like break past this kind of reverence. And so I think the most rewarding part for me of

Dhruti Shah:

I want to get more into nature, but just wanna sort of raise a point. In the book, it's quite weird. There was a moment I think, I messaged you, I was like, Oh, my gosh, you've been to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust. I've been to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust in Reading, and you spent some time there, sort of researching and hanging out with the wolves, which now is you can't

Dhruti Shah:

But one thing I do want to tap into that sort of element of nature and clearly reading it, the book and the conversations seeing what you've been doing. Nature is a key point of view. But that conflict element, you wouldn't think that you would have this conflict with the world around us, the environmental world around us that you are a child of nature that it's your thing. Again, there are

Erica Berry:

The effects of climate change? Actually, I was in the UK teaching last summer when you had that crazy heatwave there. And at that time, there was this crazy heatwave in Portland, Oregon, where I live and where I grew up. And we've had temperatures of around 120, hundreds of people that have died, of course, affecting most, you know, workers in the fields that still don't have

Erica Berry:

But what does it mean to sort of like, right into nature, when you see there's a thunderstorm or a flood, and you're thinking, wow, this is actually tied to this factory that's like, not changing their missions, or these politicians that can't get their stuff together to pass anything. Right? And I don't know, I guess I just think that like societal stories, and natural stories are the same

Erica Berry:

a writer, or someone who thinks about myself as an environmental writer, it's not just bearing witness. I think often it's like you're bearing witness to environmental change, I think it's actually drawing connections. And it's really important to call out this thing is connected to that thing, and you didn't think it was but in some way, it's there.

Dhruti Shah:

That's the beauty of it. Have you thought about we allow rabbit holes because that's where we end up. But let's say it's the connections what is actually interlinked. You're not just about difficult subjects, hardcore, traumatic things. I mean, something else that's just as important to you is that notion of play. So as an adult, what is play? Like why is it something that you are

Erica Berry:

I wrote this book sort of about fear and about the scary emotions, but I also hope there's like, there is joy in it. And anyone that knows me is like Erica, you're you're so interested in play or joy or laughter I'm very quick to smile and very quick to be amused. There's a great essay by Zadie Smith, where she writes about like not being a discerning food critic because she just like

Erica Berry:

I recently we're starting to say like, what's a verb? Is there a verb that starts with every letter of the alphabet? I don't know how we got on this subject. Suddenly, we're just like, riffing along and sort of maybe this is my background in poetry and language and just sort of like there's a fondness with kind of anagrams or games, but we're just going through verbs like the juiciest verbs, we

Dhruti Shah:

Do you block off time to be like, No, that's fine, I'm going to be bored, because you must have quite a busy schedule. And we're in a world where so much is trying to grab our attention, you know, as you say, it's about posting things about being performative about being able to be like, oh, I need to get extra work, or I need to do this. How do you find the time to be bored,

Erica Berry:

There's a website called Toggl. And you sort of like, track your time as you're going. I think it's sort of for billing, people that are billing other clients. But I've started using it where, okay, I'm responding to emails, I'm going to set the toggle, and I'm going to do it. And then I see, okay, I've gotten this for an hour, I'm going to stop. And I even set it the other day for

ca Berry, author of Wolfish::

Wolf Self and the Stories We Tell About Fear. Do you have an interdisciplinary life because I would love to hear from you and maybe we can check them this podcast that goes with my newsletter, which is called Have You Thought about and can be found via www.dhrutishah.com. Please join me next time for a fun conversation with another guest