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Wheels & Chicken Legs

Clark, Stacy Allana (2021) Wheels & Chicken Legs. Masters thesis, Northern Arizona University.

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Abstract

“Wheels & Chicken Legs” is a nonfiction essay collection that asks readers to consider how we endure our own human stories as members of the greater ecological community. The collection begins by examining the ways in which human identity is shaped by family history, gender and trauma. Throughout the collection, I suggest that by immersing ourselves in relationship with the landscapes and nonhuman beings that surround us, we will be able to heal, grow and move beyond the limitations of our human constructs. As the cover painting on page 8 attempts to visually express: we are part of our trees, our rivers and our mountains, one life form interwoven with the next. Ultimately, I hope my work will disrupt anthropocentric hierarchies of being by critically addressing issues of gender, trauma and identity, while simultaneously celebrating the human and nonhuman relationships that shape us. The ten essays range from more lyrical and descriptive styles to playful and even jocular recollections, while consistently centering both place and identity. A rather whimsical tone is apparent in all the pieces. The title essay “Wheels & Chicken Legs” serves as the thematic and stylistic umbrella for all of the essays included, tying together family history, gender and folklore to shape personal identity and a deeply held ecocritical philosophy. The subsequent essays trace the formation of this identity through family relationships, violent trauma, the challenges of survival and interactions with the ecological community. The second essay “What We Learned from the Badger” explores the narrator’s familial, often ceremonial reverence for wild spaces, specifically as taught by her late uncle in the Adirondacks of New York. “Funeral for a Caterpillar” dives deeper into childhood memories in the Adirondacks to more specifically articulate this understanding of the human- nonhuman relationship through ceremony; by placing these pieces in this order, readers are encouraged to consider a more horizontal ontology of being. “At the Edge of the Arc” continues to trace the development of the narrator’s identity by recounting a distressing childhood experience, which forces her to accept the ways that gender has and will continue to shape her reality. “To Be Clean” expands on this theme, recounting traumatic sexual violence that occurs in her young adult years in a sparse and disturbing lyric retelling. This fifth essay is intentionally placed at the heart of this ten-piece collection, as a commentary on the way we carry such trauma tucked deeply within the very center of ourselves. The narrator’s relationship with water in “To Be Clean” is reimagined in “When Thunder Sings Alone” which uses a similarly lyrical style to comment on water shortages due to climate change in the Southwest, with the narrator’s personal struggles with plumbing at the tiny house as a metaphor for society’s inability to adequately address these issues. Again, we are asked: how will we endure? Meanwhile, an intimate relationship with her partner suggests the path towards healing from former trauma. “Languages We Understand” continues to explore life at the tiny house, as the narrator engages with the beings around her. Here, we see the compassion in these relationships, particularly between the narrator and her dog, her partner and the beings that share the area. “Invasion of the Hissing Beetles & How to Live through the Night” expands on the tension of sharing space with nonhuman beings, using the prolific hissing beetles as a metaphor for the barrage of emotional baggage that comes with participating in human society— in particular, a materialistic capitalist society. We are both victim and perpetrators, just as the hissing beetles are. “A Lesson from Catan” is perhaps the most theoretically grounded of all pieces, providing a critique of settler-colonialism by through a game of Catan as the narrator considers the way the rules of this game reflect our own relationship with landscape and property ownership. The tenth essay “The Broken Teeth of Winter Beasts” takes us back to the tiny house as the narrator grapples with the complexity of her relationship with the life that she has built during a moment of seasonal transition, as she and her dog heal from injuries and find liberation and solace in the forest that surrounds them. In this final essay, this grounded yet lyric piece is meant to remind us of the central theme of this collection: in order to endure the shape of our human form, we must engage with and embrace the untamed spaces that sustain us. “Wheels & Chicken Legs” contains some of the most polished and meaningful works that I have completed here in the M.F.A. programs, but that certainly does not mean it is complete. I plan to continue expanding this collection, particularly with the intention of including more stories from family history and more character descriptions to expand on the complexity of human-human relationships. Additionally, I hope to produce more essays that apply a variety of theoretical lenses to explore and critique human society and relationship with nature. Finding the balance between the lyrical and the rhetorical is challenging for me, and I feel that I have finally begun to understand how to accomplish this throughout the past few years here. I am so grateful to my time in this program, and although I’m sad to leave, I know I will be taking these skills and a wealth of knowledge with me. Most importantly, the relationships I have built here are beyond invaluable, and I have no doubt that these connections will continue to guide and support me for years to come. Rather than this thesis being an ending, I see this moment as the beginning of my writing career. After all of these hours of discussion, deliberation, perfectionism, procrastination and ongoing existential crisis throughout these past years, I think I finally understand how to be a writer: by writing, one letter alongside another, one word at a time.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Publisher’s Statement: © Copyright is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
Keywords: Ecological Community; Identity; Essays
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature
NAU Depositing Author Academic Status: Student
Department/Unit: Graduate College > Theses and Dissertations
College of Arts and Letters > English
Date Deposited: 23 Feb 2022 18:03
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2022 18:03
URI: https://openknowledge.nau.edu/id/eprint/5742

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