Loitering by the River with Liz Flock


Hello everyone, welcome to Loitering, the occasional but lovable traveling mini pod I am currently testing in newsletter format. And today, we are loitering by the river with a very special guest, or rather, two very special guests. Can you please introduce yourself?

Liz Flock — 0:27 : I am Liz Flock, a writer and journalist. I write about gender and justice, and I wrote a book about love and marriage in India called The Heart is a Shifting Sea.

Sonia Paul — 0:39 : Cool, and can you please introduce our other special guest on her behalf?

Liz — 0:44 : And we're also here with Zora, my pup, who's chewing a stick to shreds by the river.

Sonia — 0:50 : Okay, and so where's this river that we're in right now? Can you please situate us, Liz?

Liz — 0:55 : We are in Taos, New Mexico, which for those who don't know is far northern New Mexico, about 45 minutes from the border with Colorado, and about two hours north of Santa Fe.

Sonia : And so how long have you been in Taos? What brought you here?

Liz : I came to Taos after a year on the road. I've worked in DC and New York most of my life and lived in big cities all of my life. And left working at PBS NewsHour, about a year and a half ago, was on the road for a full year trying to do investigative journalism out of a van. That promptly showed that it didn't really work out when, you know, my investigative documents were flying out of the van doors, and at some point, I was sort of like, it's time to get rooted. And along my journeys had passed through New Mexico, which I think is the most beautiful state in America, and probably the most underrepresented in many ways, and got interested in Taos, which is a place with a lot of really rich community of different kinds of people, a lot of creative people, a long history of that, and just a really beautiful place.

Sonia — 2:00 : So, you mentioned something that I wanted to touch on, this idea of being rooted. And so for you, what is being rooted? What does that mean? What does it feel like? What is it supposed to feel like?

Liz — 2:12 : I think in this time in history, so many of us are not rooted. You know, if you think about the baby boomers, our parents' generation, a lot of them stayed in one spot, maybe work the same job for 40 years. And so many of us now are on the move, on the go for our work, or not really able to get settled, searching for the place that is our place. Me, I grew up between different houses, and I feel like I've always been on the move. And that's been what's comfortable to me, but getting older, I think there's more of a sense of like, okay, rooting down would be a good thing to like, plug into a community and give back to that community, but also for journalism and writing, I think, deep thinking and being able to like, really sit with yourself is so important for that work. And in order to be able to do that, I think you really need to root down to one spot. I just think that's really key.

Sonia — 3:05 : This idea of rooting down to one spot and being with yourself. I mean, your experience working out of Taos versus working out of DC or these other cities, how big of a role do you think does the actual environment play into all of this, versus a person's own mental, emotional, maybe one could also say spiritual, state of mind?

Liz — 3:25 : I actually think it plays a big role. I think people are really shaped by places. Like, you know, you often hear people say, like, where are you from? And people identify so much with the place they were born. And I think, to different levels, people are always shaped by the places they're in. Working in DC and New York and Mumbai, I feel like my work was always driven by adrenaline. It was all about productivity, getting things out the door, trying to move up the ladder, how much can I accomplish, who do I know, how can I get myself out there, and it was all just sort of, you know, typical city, go, go, go, culture. And I wanted to really force myself to slow down because I felt like I was missing a lot, especially when it came to looking at our political situation, but also just writing. I mean, someone said once that like the best condition for writing is being bored, and I couldn't agree more. Like when your mind is at rest is when the good stuff comes out. So, I felt like I wasn't able to do that in those cities, and also that I was like, developing this very East Coast perspective on the world, which can be a really narrow one.

Sonia — 4:29 : What is it about Taos, you think, that's maybe helping your adrenaline to adjust, and just being able to sit with yourself? I mean, maybe, it might be worth it to illuminate Taos a little bit more. Like, what kind of place is this, what kind of people are here? Is it mostly locals, transplants? How big is the population, if you know?

Liz — 4:47 : Yeah, so, where we're sitting right now is in the middle of the Rio Grande gorge, next to the Rio Grande River, which was formed by volcanoes millions of years ago and was once an ocean. So, obviously, a really deep, long history, and you feel it in this place. Taos itself is in part like a ski town, where people come, ski on the mountain, but it's also a place that's really diverse. It's one third indigenous, one third Latino, one third white, people of all different ages and backgrounds and transient people, people who have lived here forever. It's kind of hard to pin down like, what exactly Taos is. And I think in the popular imagination, people think of Taos as super creative because they think of like, Georgia O'Keeffe coming through here and doing her work here, DH Lawrence had a ranch here, all kinds of movies have been filmed here.

Sonia — 5:37 : Oh really, like which movies?

Liz — 5:38 : Okay, the famous movie that I'm now forgetting the name is two guys riding through America, Dennis Hopper and someone else, and it's like a symbol of freedom. And they're driving their motorcycles, and they're actually seeing small town America and reacting to it, and finding the ways that it's racist and bigoted and all these things, and trying desperately to find a place that isn't that. And the movie goes totally into these dark places, and I can't remember what it's called. But it's filmed a lot in Taos because Dennis Hopper also, like spent a long time in Taos doing drugs and being a wild man.

Sonia — 6:07 : Oh, wow. Okay.

Liz — 6:08 : So, there's a lot, you know, it's a lot to uncover and a deep history of indigenous revolts. So there's also like a very strong spirit of rebellion, and a really tight knit community too.

Sonia — 6:21 : And so, how would you describe the pace of life here?

Liz — 6:24 : So to your question about coming down from adrenaline, I think it's impossible to have adrenaline here. Like, New Mexico time is really slow. When I first got here, we were trying to find a car, and every time I would make an appointment to go see someone, they wouldn't show up, or they'd come like, three hours later. It's like, there's no such thing as coming on time to anything. And people laugh in your face when you try to be like, that person who's like, I want this now, like, standing in line for a coffee, like, don't think that you're going to just get things right away. Like, that's not the culture here. It's very much like, things unfold as they do. You and I just went to a bookshop, and you have conversations with the owner. You might think you'll be there for five minutes, you might be there for two hours, who knows? But you'll learn a lot about all of the books on his bookshelf. And I think just being so part of the land here, so immersed with nature. I live, as you know, on the mesa.

Sonia — 7:13 : What is the mesa for people who are not familiar?

Liz — 7:16 : The mesa is... it can be a lot of different things. But in the high desert, which we're in, our property is just surrounded by a rolling field of sage. So it's Sage as far as the eye can see.

Sonia — 7:28 : It's like an ocean of sage.

Liz — 7:29 : It is, it could be an ocean. It has that same feeling of like, meditative, mesmerizing, looking out in it.

Sonia — 7:36 : By the way, that's Zora with a stick right here.

Liz — 7:39 : What she does is she gathers sticks from the water and then just choose them until she gets splinters in her teeth.

So, Taos forces you to slow down, and I think, one way that that happens is because there are different wildflowers that pop up all the time. And they're there for just, like, a week. And I remember in cities, I used to like, notice time passing because I would order The New Yorker. And every week it would come and I still hadn't read it. And I was like, fuck, another week has passed. I haven't read anything I'm supposed to be reading, I haven't done what I'm supposed to do. I'm dying, I'm facing, like, you know, facing your own mortality of how quickly time is passing in here. It's like, this month, the sunflowers are up, and next month, it'll be purple thistles, and the month before that it was strawberry cacti. And, it just forces you to pay attention, because the things that appear disappear so quickly, and are so beautiful. And your energy is much lower. And so you are paying attention, I think.

Sonia — 8:33 : So it sounds like Taos is giving you a lesson or an education in paying attention.

Liz — 8:39 : Yes, yeah. And it was interesting. I did a writing workshop here the other day, and we read poems by Mary Oliver, which so many of her poems are about paying attention, and they're really about —

Sonia — 8:49 : Really.

Liz — 8:49 : Yeah! And they're all about attention and nature. And I think those things are really intertwined. So much of our modern culture sort of like, keeps us away from paying attention. Like, our minds are on our screens, our faces are in our phones. And we are trying to, like, produce, produce, produce. Like, you could walk by something and yet not even see it, because your face is your phone, you know. And here, we can't even get service where we're sitting right now, like, our faces couldn't be in our phones, really, if we want it to be. And I think paying attention is like, more important than ever. As like, we are facing like, these horrible climate crises. Like, we should pay attention to like, the things that aren't the way they used to be. Like, the river that you can no longer swim in. Like, are you noticing that? Like, are you noticing trees that are like, dying? Like, all of this stuff. I think, it's probably paying attention is like the thing our culture needs the most.

Sonia — 9:35 : How has it been for you to sell that idea to people you used to work with or network with, be around in DC or New York?

Liz — 9:45 : Not easy, because I think back to how I was then. And I was sort of like, people who do things slowly annoy me. Like, I hated when people would walk slowly in front of me. And I would like, try to pass them. Like, even in the office, walking from like, my desk to the canteen, like, I would run in front of them because I was so annoyed. And I'm like, they're wasting my time right now by walking slowly. So you can imagine that a person in that state of mind, when like, told to like, look at the wildflowers, it's like, what the hell are you talking about? Like, I have things to do. You know, and it is a privilege to like, slow down, and like, consider things and pay attention, if you're able to. But yeah, I mean, I have friends visit who are journalists from other cities, and they're kind of like, well, can you not order food at one in the morning? Like, what do you mean, I don't have phone service here. That's like a thing that would like, elicit horror. So, I don't know.

Sonia — 10:34 : Yeah, well, I also think there have been like, some books that have come out recently, like, Deep Work or How to do Nothing. Jenny Odell and Cal Newport. I haven't read either of them, but I've listened to one too many podcasts featuring their authors.

Liz — 10:47 : Right.

Sonia — 10:47 : But I feel like there's a certain kind of interest in these ideas, if not even fetishization.

Liz — 10:53 : Yeah.

Sonia — 10:54 : So, how do you think we should respond to these different forces at play at the same time?

Liz — 10:59 : Yeah, and probably there's an interest in that because humans want to slow down. We're not made only to work. Like, we're not just meant to be like, cogs in a wheel. So like, obviously people are feeling the crunch of that. And like, no we're not meant to like, go from an office where we work for like, five hours and then go get our like, chopped salad, as Jia Tolentino would say, and like, eat as fast as humanly possible. And then go back to our work and then go to our workout class, and then go home and go to bed, and watch a TV show, go to sleep, and start over again. No. So, I think like, there's a reason people are like, reading all these books about deep thinking, and all of that, but. I mean, until we like, dismantle the like, the destructiveness of capitalism, it doesn't seem like that will like, probably change, because that's like, larger structural forces at work that are demanding that of us, right? Like, there's a reason people have to work so hard.

Sonia — 11:46 : Yeah.

Liz — 11:47 : That's intense for your podcast.

Sonia — 11:48 : No, no, I embrace intensity. I like it.

Liz — 11:51 : Ok.

Sonia — 11:51 : I've been called intense.

Liz — 11:52 : Sonia is an intense person.

Sonia — 11:53 : Yeah. And I'm like, what? What are you talking about?

Liz — 11:56 : What do you mean? Intense people never know they're intense.

Sonia — 11:59 : Interesting. So how long do you think you'll stay in Taos?

Liz — 12:03 : Indefinitely. There's a saying about Taos. I mean, that everyone sort of comes for one month, and then they come for two months, then 25 years have passed. And I know quite a lot of people here who that has happened with already. So, who knows? Maybe I'll be here forever, if I could make it work.

Sonia — 12:22 : Wow. To wrap up, Liz, do you have any recommendations for any books, podcasts, articles, things, you know of that you think are worth sharing for this Loitering audience?

Liz — 12:34 : Yeah, well, I just finished a book by the woman who was at the center of the Stanford rape case. She was anonymous throughout the case, and is revealing her name in this memoir. And it's one of the most intense and beautiful things I've ever read. It's an indictment of criminal justice system and the way it treats rape victims or survivors. It's indictment of the media and the way that they portrayed her perpetrator as like, an all star swimmer with a high GPA, and her is like, nameless, faceless nobody.

Sonia — 13:05 : What year did this take place again? Do you remember?

Liz — 13:08 : 2016 was the trial. And I think it happened in 2015. So it was right before Me Too. But like, at this time, there weren't as many of those stories coming out. But this really captured the popular imagination because it was like, a sexual assault at a frat party. And he was caught by two Swedish international students who saw it happening and called the police and intervened. Anyways, it's just a really, a really powerful book that I think is going to sort of change how people talk about sexual assault, because it's so well done. And it so precisely critiques all these different things that are kind of brought up by Me Too, but we're not like, really talking about in a deeper way. And she kind of hammers home all of those different things in an amazing way. So I'd recommend that a lot.

Sonia — 13:52 : Do you know what the title is?

Liz — 13:54 : It's called Know My Name.

Sonia — 13:57 : Wow. Because I was just about to say, like, I know the name of that guy, Brock Turner, right?

Liz — 14:02 : Right. So you remember his name, you can remember his face. We know so much about him. And then like, most people who have dealt with sexual assault, they're like a statistic or anonymous. You know, she was known as Emily Doe. But like, even at the time, she wrote a statement that went viral. It was read 11 million times. And it's because she has this incredible ability to like, articulate, and as she said, like, take her pain and turn it into ideas, and like, be a pair of eyes of what she's seeing. So, pretty amazing.

Sonia — 14:29 : Wow. Thank you so much for that recommendation, Liz. So, that's all we have for today — oh my gosh. Yeah, Zora has gone to town. So, that's all we have for today of Loitering, the occasional, but lovable, traveling mini pod I am currently testing in newsletter format. Thanks for listening, and have a great day. Goodbye!

Post script : So, if you're interested, we have links to the books that we mentioned during this mini pod. And we also have a link to Liz's book review of Know My Name in The Washington Post. Speaking of the Post, I also had a story that I co-reported come out there just a couple of days ago. It's about an American woman from California, who is currently under arrest in India on a visa violation. And I'd love to have your feedback on that, if you're interested. So, thank you for listening and have a great day. Goodbye!


The Heart is a Shifting Sea, by Elizabeth Flock

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell

Know My Name: A Memoir, by Chanel Miller

Stanford assault victim Chanel Miller’s new book indicts her attacker — and the system, by Elizabeth Flock, for The Washington Post

American woman ‘desperate’ after being jailed for months in India on visa violation, by Joanna Slater and Sonia Paul, for The Washington Post