Isaac Yuen: On nature, culture, and self

This week’s guest interview is with Isaac Yuen, creator of Ekostories, which was recently awarded the 2013 Canadian Weblog Award in the Writing and Literature category by a 34 member jury.  Isaac is a veteran blogger and I’m so pleased he’s helped me redesign thecanadaproject website.

Isaac Yuen

Q: Tell me about ekostories, how it came to be and what drives you to the blog form?

A: I started Ekostories as a way to explore some of my favourite stories that have shaped my thoughts on ideas of nature, culture, and identity over the years.

The blog began as a space for me to put thought into word, and I continued because I found it to be a good venue to tease apart and share why these stories mean so much to me.

Q: On your website, you’ve published many essays. What is it about the essay that intrigues you?

A: I think I’m drawn to its sparseness of form. There are no props to be relied on – no characters, no setting, no plot to get in the way of the story I wish to feature. Nothing but the bones: The voice, the prose, and the ideas conveyed. I am still learning on breaking out of the conventional form though.

Q: How does place, identity, language interact in your work?

A: I feel like I’m still at the early stages of learning about how those things shape myself and my work. A lot of grappling with contradictions. I am most at home in an urban setting, but I’m also an environmentalist. I don’t consider myself as an activist, but I identify with being a changemaker. English is a second language, but it has become my native medium to work in and to see the world through. I try to incorporate these contradictory elements into what I write.

Q: Tell me about how you first came to writing? To science?

A: I was into science as far back as I can remember and was trained as a scientist, but I realized later on that I don’t have the mind for it. My love and awe for science and scientists remains though.

As for writing, I think it’s simply my preferred form of communication. I came to consider it as a possible vocation while working on my thesis. I found great satisfaction in the processes of generating and reworking that made me continue writing.

Q: We’ve shared stories about answers to the question, “where are you from?” What’s the story you’d most like to tell about the answer to that question?

A: I grew up in Hong Kong, splitting my childhood between an old crowded working-class neighbourhood and a rural island fishing town, before moving to Canada. I would like to think that contrast sparked my curiosity to journey from one pole to the other, not as escape, but to explore and integrate.

Q: What brings you joy, right now, in what you are doing?

A: Doing  something from start to finish. Committing to the wholeness of process, with the peaks and valleys that come with it. To look back at the work and relish in the thought of “Hey. I did that.” That’s the selfish part. The other joy comes from the sharing and connecting with others, giving and receiving feedback. 

Q: How does your passion for, your interest in “the environment,” interact with your creative life?

A: That’s the wellspring of creativity for me, for sure. I think everything I write (that I like anyways) connects back in some way to the relationship between people and the planet. At least in my mind it does!

Q: We’ve talked about poetry and languages other than English. What writers, especially poets, have you read, do you wish to read, that write in other languages?

A: I’m very poorly read in the medium, but I think reconnecting with Chinese poets and poetry, both modern and classical, would provide great insight into a language and a worldview I’ve lost touch with.

Q: What is your most urgent desire for the work you are doing right now and what do you want the world to know about it?

A:  Increasingly science is revealing that human beings think and live in narrative. If we are to fundamentally change the way we relate to ourselves, with others, and with the world, it will be with the help of complex, captivating, well-told stories that span a variety of mediums. I hope my exploration of stories, from art and literature to television and games, can help expand the conversation on sustainability issues and help people look at things differently. Sometimes all it takes is that one story to trigger a new way of seeing.

Q: In this world of fast, I think a lot about slow. Any thoughts?

A: For me, writing is itself an act of converting of fast to slow. That’s one of the reasons I like it. Not that fast is always necessarily bad, I just think the pendulum is way to one side at the moment. But it will swing back. It always does. And at any given time, there is room for both.

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