Meet Tory McCagg
Q&A with Tory McCagg
Q: Did you learn anything while writing At Crossroads with Chickens that surprised you?
A: I knew I have a strong system of denial, but whew!
I knew change happens, and loss is inevitable.
I know that home has shifted in my heart from place to place, and that time heals. Sort of.
I know it is easier to say/write something than to do/be it.
What surprises me still is how much I have and do change, and yet remain the same. And that I still have to work so hard to be okay with that. With me. Being me.
Q: How does the physical place where you write influence your work? What did setting contribute to At Crossroads with Chickens as you wrote?
A: I sometimes wonder what I would be writing and thinking about if we had not moved (however gradually) to Darwin’s View. This place influences me every day and hour. As I write, I stare out the window. At the fall colors. The wasp on the window. The chickens’ cackles and kerfuffles over their just-laid eggs, and the pecking order. I seek to be here and yet being here, knowing all we have to do outside, distracts me from the work I need to do inside me. Which is not true. Because by going out and working in the garden, or walking in the woods, it is there that much of the transition and work within happens. I hope!
Q: What was the most difficult part of writing At Crossroads with Chickens?
A: Probably getting it from blog form to book form. As I took the pages of the blog I wrote from 2012-14, and again from 2015-2018, the book kept not ending because I was still too close to the story and events. It was only with time that I was able to let go and allow the lessons I learned to seep in.
I also had to let go of a lot of the details of activities Carl and I have done: our marching with NH Rebellion and Open Democracy to get money out of politics. Our political bent against fossil fuels/pipelines. Our more local activities around trash and compost, energy and community. And the nitty gritty details of that last year in Providence and the addition to the house at Darwin’s View which, when writing the book, was still far too fresh and painful. It all had to go. Ninety pages of the final draft of the book. The book is one hundred and ninety pages, so those deleted parts were a big chunk of it.
Q: You’ve written a memoir and a novel. How did the processes compare, and which did you enjoy more?
A: I think through writing. So for me they were equally hard, enjoyable and satisfying. I find that fiction has fact in it, and memoir is adaptable because memory can be so arbitrary and various, depending on who is doing the remembering. But there are kernels of truth in both fiction and memoir. Kernels as in acorns. And as the work proceeds, the truth, if allowed to, grows into something that more people than just one can understand. That is what I love about writing. Finding the truth in all the words I spew out onto the page.
Q: You write a lot about sustainability in At Crossroads with Chickens. What’s one simple thing you think everyone, no matter where they live, can do to lessen their impact on the environment?
A: Let go of convenience. I call it A.C.T., Attitude Change Time. We each—and I definitely point a finger at myself on this one—have to shift our attitude from convenience to a recognition of our connection to the earth and to each other. That takes practice and awareness.
Here’s the lecture response: Our society is all about ease and convenience. Stuff. More and bigger. Money as in profits. And Freedom. Consider that word freedom. It does not mean we get to do whatever we want. Humans have survived as long as we have by working together. Freedom means Free Will. That means responsibility for our choices. We choose how we act with our brains that we claim put us above all other sentient creatures. But—and this is my belief, my interpretation—our actions as a society have put us at the edge of a precipice. We have practically destroyed the web that supports life. That web is diverse, precious and resilient. So resilient that it will survive us. There’s lots of life out there—bacteria, cockroaches, all those animals who showed up in city streets when we were all cooped up these last months—that will do just fine and better without us. That’s what we need to recognize and be aware of. And with that awareness, make our choices, determine what we really need as opposed to what we want. We choose to water our lawns. We choose to eat animals raised in horrific conditions. We choose what to wear, how to get from place to place. We have so much power and if we each made different choices…
Every time I go on this rant, I think of all the people who do not have the choices I have had and have. And so I keep my eye on the finger pointing back at myself. And think about my daily choices and their consequences. I do believe that if more people took more time to do that, it would make an enormous difference.
Example: Try not to order through Amazon. Instead, support your local farmers and farms. Your local stores. Build local connections. Because those are what we will need in the coming months and years. Those big box stores will be going away at one point—again, as the pandemic showed. Our food systems are broken along with our education system and political system. What a fantastic challenge we have before us to build them back up. And each of us has a role in that.
Q: What are you reading right now?
A: Anne of Green Gables series (I return to children’s books when in need of settling my brain. I’m into the fourth book, Anne of Windy Poplars, and Anne with an e is getting a bit too perfect for my taste. I’m starting to have the same reaction as I did when I reread Little Women. The molding a unique, temperamental girls into Perfect Women. Ugh.)
You Can Tell Me Anything by Tina Egnoski (Short Story collection.)
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability, edited by Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman.
My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem Rebuilding the Foodshed by Philip Ackerman-Leist The Gift Economy by Charles Eisenstein
American Nations by Colin Woodard
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Tory McCagg holds an MFA from Emerson College, where her thesis and novel, Shards, won the Graduate Dean’s Award. In February 1997, her short story “Earthquake Weather” was a semifinalist in the Tara Fellowships/Heekin Foundation. She has won two honorable mentions: one for “Enology” in 1998 (A. E. Coppard Prize for Fiction, White Eagle Coffee Store Press); the other for “Chain Material” in 2001 (Lorien Hemingway Short Story Competition). In 1999, “Roots”, an early chapter from her novel Bittersweet Manor was a semifinalist in the New Millennium Awards VIII contest; Bittersweet Manor won a Silver medal for Contemporary Fiction from Independent Publishers in 2015. Tory is an accomplished flutist, and lives with her husband, two cats, and myriad chickens at Darwin’s View where they all practice an experimental life off the grid and on the land.