Dr. Mark Seely

Dr. Mark Seely, author of Stones: Meditations on Human Authenticity, from Big Table Publishing.

Stones: Meditations on Human Authenticity, from Big Table Publishing, is a fascinating book. It’s easy to understand why it recently won a National Indie Excellence Award. I certainly couldn’t put it down and I still can’t stop thinking about it. The book’s author, Dr. Mark Seely, is a writer, social critic, professional educator, and cognitive psychologist. His essays have appeared in Fifth Estate Magazine, Free Inquiry, Sky Island Journal, Snowy Egret, and at NatureWriting.com. He has also published numerous pieces in From the Edge of the Prairie, an annual publication showcasing poets and authors in Northwest Indiana.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to interview Dr. Seely and to learn more about his thoughts on cancer, civilization, counterfactual thinking, and his unexpected muse, the opossum.


CM: When you were growing up in Spokane, who and what did you dream of becoming? When you were sitting in the grass against the pine tree in your maternal grandparents’ front yard, or exploring the ponds and cliffs of Spring Hill, did you already have a sense that writing would become such an important part of your life?

MS: When I was nine years old, I sat down at my mother’s typewriter one evening and started writing a textbook about dinosaurs. I only made it halfway through the first page before I got bored with the text and decided to work on the illustrations instead. I have been fascinated with science and the natural world since as far back as I can remember. When adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would answer with paleontologist, geologist, archaeologist, astronomer, or botanist, depending on the day (or hour).

By high school, my interests became more philosophical than scientific. I started keeping a journal of sorts when I was sixteen as a way of documenting insights I had about “the true nature of things.” Most of the entries were as trite and maudlin as you would expect from an angsty teenager. But there were a few that still resonate with me even now. My very first entry, for example, was about how grass growing in the cracks of the sidewalk was evidence of the power and persistence of nature and the ultimate futility of human attempts to control it.

CM: As an adult, what has your work in education and cognitive psychology taught you about creativity? About this need some of us have to write?

MS: I was drawn to cognitive psychology originally because I was interested in the mental processes involved in writing. Among other things, writing is a way of outsourcing our memory, and a tool for transcending cognitive limitations in our ability to process information. It is usually only after I start writing about a topic that I begin to see its broader connections and deeper implications.

It is interesting that you used the word “need.” For some people, the drive to write can border on compulsion—even addiction. It is certainly both of those for me. The word “flow” has been used to describe the state of immersive focus that can happen when you are engaged in enjoyable purposeful activity. It’s not uncommon for me to look up at the clock and realize that an entire hour has passed while I was blissfully absorbed revising a single paragraph. Flow can be quite habit-forming.

And it’s the creative act of writing itself that is important, more so than the end result. One thing that I have learned from my experience, both as a psychologist and as an educator, is that process is at least as important as product. We live in a society that puts undue emphasis on results and outcomes—on achieving the goal. I read Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the first time when I was an angsty teenager, and one of the many parts of that book that spoke directly to my soul at the time was where he was talking about how shallow it is to live only for some future goal, and said that it’s the sides of the mountain where things grow, not the top.

“One thing that I have learned from my experience, both as a psychologist and as an educator, is that process is at least as important as product.

Dr. Mark Seely

CM: I found your latest book, Stones: Meditations on Human Authenticity, to be fascinating. You definitely left with me a lot to ponder. What can you tell us about the book? What first inspired you to write it and why then?

MS: Stones is a collection of memoir-grounded essays, reflections, and prose poems, where I use my personal experience with an invasive form of testicular cancer as a jump-off point for exploring the contradictions between life in modern civilization and our authentic (wild) human nature. The underlying theme is that the really big problems we face—everything from diabetes to climate change—can be traced, ultimately, to a fundamental mismatch between our civilized lifestyles and our evolved physical, psychological, and social expectations for a very different kind of life.  

I have done a lot of reading in the area of evolutionary psychology, and I am extremely interested in exploring the mismatch between modern life and our evolutionary expectations as hunter-gatherers. I incorporate this “mismatch” theme in many of the classes I teach. Shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer, I began to jot down my reflections and observations in a journal so that I could have a record of my physical and emotional state—the psychologist in me couldn’t let the opportunity to collect data slip by. In the meantime, I had a loose collection of short essays and aphorisms that I had been working on occasionally for two or three years.

Then one evening, a couple of days after a clean CT scan, I came home from a work-place gathering where I drank way too much wine, and I was feeling frustrated about the inane conversations I had been drawn into with some of my colleagues. For whatever reason, I sat down and typed what became the first paragraph of the book. Stones came from the merging of my cancer journal entries, the collection of essays and aphorisms I had on the back burner, and some of my favorite lectures.

Also, if the bit about testicular cancer doesn’t make it obvious, the title, Stones, is a pun of sorts.

CM: In the beginning of your book, you open with a quote by the Japanese Buddhist priest, writer, and philosopher, Dōgen, which states: “Throughout the whole universe nothing has ever been concealed.” Why that quote and what does that quote mean to you?

MS: One of the major themes of Buddhism is that problems arise when we get stuck on the surface of things. But Dōgen seems to be saying that the real problem is not that we get stuck on the surface, but that we assume there is something else, more fundamental, lurking beneath the surface, that there is some deeper or more meaningful reality than our actual moment-by-moment experience. My interpretation of this quote is that we don’t need to search for some hidden meaning behind, beneath, or outside of experience. Our first-person, moment-by-moment experience is all there has ever been or can ever be.

The universe is exactly what it is, and is not intentionally trying to make life difficult for us. Civilized life, on the other hand, inverts things in such a way that the concrete reality that we experience—the truly important stuff—is dismissed as trivial. Civilization tells us that it is not what is happening right now, but some future goal that is important; it is not the physical person right in front of me, but the fictitious abstraction that the person represents or the corporate role that they are playing that is supposed to matter.   

Dr. Mark Seely, author of Stones: Meditations on Human Authenticity.
Photo Credit: Pam Brown-Seely

CM: As you mentioned, in Stones you share that, some years ago, you were diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma, a kind of testicular cancer, and powerful bits and pieces of your experience with cancer are woven throughout the book. You wrote about cancer being a betrayal. How does one cope with that kind of betrayal? What have you found helpful?

MS: I’m not sure that I really have much to offer here. Ultimately, the way I coped was by being lucky. I have been in remission long enough now that I can start to think of it in the past tense. I don’t think about my body in the same way that I did before, and the change really is something like what happens when someone you are intimate with has violated your trust. I am far more vigilant about things—bordering on hypochondriasis at times. And I have become more proactive when it comes to maintaining my physical heath through diet and exercise.

In the beginning, I found that lurking on online forums where men shared their experiences with testicular cancer was helpful, both in terms of education and in terms of gaining a sense of solidarity. It helps to know that you are not the only one going through this, and that others have made it through the fire and come out the other side. And, although it sounds like a crass platitude, it truly helps to know that other people have it as bad as or worse than you do. Doubly so when someone who had it worse than you ended up a survivor.   

In addition, I found writing about my experience to be extremely therapeutic. In the hospital, before and after each of my surgeries, I took copious mental notes about what was happening, the whole time thinking about how I might frame the setting, which words would work best to describe the way the nurse avoided eye contact or the metal taste that hit the back of my throat when she inserted the IV, for example. This helped somewhat in terms of managing anxiety, giving me something to do besides ruminate on my situation.

Finally, although knowing about this didn’t help me at the time, we have a natural tendency to overestimate the intensity and duration of future negative events, something psychologists call “impact bias.” The reason for this is that we greatly underestimate our own resilience and our ability to cope and come to terms with horrible things that happen.

CM: What has surprised you the most about people’s responses and reactions to your cancer diagnosis? Have there been responses that have felt particularly supportive? If so, what were they?

MS: There was some awkwardness when people initially found out. But to be frank, I think that a lot of that was me. Some of it had to do with the kind of cancer and the connection the working-class male culture I grew up around makes between testicles and masculinity.  

In Stones, I write about two common types of response, both of which annoyed me. Some people suddenly became a bit too “supportive,” constantly inquiring—although usually obliquely and in a sheepish manner—about my health. Other people—among them my siblings—suddenly became ghosts. One of the worst reactions I got was from a colleague at work who said, in a dismissive tone, “That’s no big deal. They can cure testicular cancer now.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the people who tended to be most supportive were those who have had personal dealings with cancer themselves. They never led with “you’ll be fine” or “It could be worse.” Instead, they validated my concern and expressed sympathy without pity, and they asked about specific ways they could be of help, offering to cover my classes or to watch the dog so my wife could stay with me in the hospital. 

CM: You write about how it’s important for people (and all social animals) to be able to “accurately express their own emotional states.” What have been some of the effective tools you’ve used to help you accurately express your own emotional states while living with cancer?

MS: I have been historically pretty bad at expressing my emotions, especially the negative ones like sadness, fear, and anger. I would usually keep them bottled up until they started to leak out sideways. This was a real problem for me when I was in the early stages of accommodating the “new normal” that comes with the role of cancer patient. A lot of it probably had to do with simple denial. If I allowed my fears to become visible, then that would somehow make the cancer more real, give it power.

The other problem was that there was a lot of emotional volatility and confusion, in the early stages especially. It wasn’t always clear what I was actually feeling. It was as if in my early fifties I had suddenly regressed to the bewildering emotional capriciousness of adolescence. Interestingly, I started to listen to the kind of music that I listened to as a teenager: belligerent heavy metal, played really loud. I discovered Rage Against the Machine, bought all of their albums, and played them in a loop in my office all day long while I worked. There was something about the intensity of the music and the explicit anger of the lyrics that allowed me to channel, redirect, and eventually embrace my own anger. 

In Stones, I have a chapter dedicated to anger where I describe its counterintuitive benefits.  The chapter title, “Anger is a Gift,” comes from Rage Against the Machine lyrics. 

CM: What do you wish more people understood about living with cancer and the wait-and-see experience of being a cancer patient?

MS: First, I wish more people would recognize that there is no one kind of “living with cancer.” Each kind of cancer is unique. And even for a specific type of cancer, no two people are going to have the exact same experience. I can’t count the times when someone would find out I had cancer, and then proceed to tell me about his or her uncle-aunt-cousin-friend who had cancer—as if what they knew about their cousin Monica’s breast cancer or uncle Jack’s colon cancer or grandpa Jim’s prostate cancer gave them some kind of window into my situation. 

“I wish more people would recognize that there is no one kind of ‘living with cancer.'”

Dr. Mark Seely

Second, that there are patterns to life with cancer—I’m tempted to invoke the “emotional rollercoaster” cliché here. Although the particular events and their sequences are different for different cancers and different people, there is an ebb and flow of anxiety and relief that goes along with the cycles and stages of treatment and surveillance. The day before a CT scan, I might be a ball of anxiety. And for a couple of days after the results turned out to be negative, I was usually euphoric. The days leading up to surgery were in many ways far more difficult to endure than the weeks of painful recovery afterward. Time itself becomes different, truncated, chopped into segments. For five years, I felt like I was living life in three- and then six-month increments, from one CT-scan/oncologist visit to the next.

Finally, I think it is important to understand that for some cancer survivors it is never really over. Even when you are pronounced “cured,” brewing just below the surface there can be a persistent, low-level, residual fear that it will come back.

Dr. Mark Seely, author of Stones: Meditations on Human Authenticity, sitting on a log in Southwest County Park
Photo Credit: Pam Brown-Seely

CM: You believe that human beings are meant to be living “an entirely different kind of lifestyle than our present ones.” That we are meant to be living “authentically human lives” and we are not. What does “authentically human” look like in your mind and what are some small steps you believe that people can take today to help them live more “authentically”?

MS: Probably the simplest step that people can take toward a more authentically human experience is to just go outside. City-dwellers, especially, spend much of their time in built environments. Leave your cell phone behind and eat lunch under a tree. Go for a walk in the park in the rain.

“Probably the simplest step that people can take toward a more authentically human experience is to just go outside.”

Dr. Mark Seely

This gets back to the “mismatch” I spoke of earlier. Our species evolved to inhabit small, highly intimate, largely egalitarian social groups immersed entirely in the natural world, lifestyles that have very little in common with our digitally-mediated, stranger-filled, authoritarian modern circumstances where the natural world for most folks doesn’t go much beyond nature documentaries and houseplants.  

There are probably an infinite number of forms that an authentically human life might take. So, it might be easier to look at the inauthenticity of our lives. Here’s a quick thought experiment. Consider how you spend a typical Tuesday. Go through your schedule and ask yourself if there is a single slice of time in which you can say, with all honesty, that, out of the myriad ways that you could potentially spend this exact moment, you would choose to do exactly this and for exactly these reasons? I look at my own typical Tuesday, and can find very few, if any, moments like that. Not on my morning commute, not in my office or on my restricted lunch break, not on my commute home, not when I collapse into the couch with a drink and the remote control.  

Or, perhaps even better, consider something as mundane as a typical encounter between a customer and a check-out clerk at a grocery store, where there are scripted and clearly defined roles being played. Although it might look superficially like a pleasant interaction between two persons—“Hello and how are you today? Did you find everything you need? Thank you and have a nice day”—there is nothing at all personal transpiring between the people involved in the transaction. Almost all of our public interactions have something of this quality to them. We deal with each other largely in terms of the roles and bureaucratic functions we have to play rather than as unique human beings. Unfortunately, we have learned to deal with ourselves in this way as well.

Authentic human relationships are organic and dynamic and highly tuned to the immediate social environment in which they participate. Authentic human relationships are intimate, they are permeated through and through with intimacy. Authentic human relationships are relations among persons. They are unremittingly personal. One of the simplest steps a person can take toward more authentic interactions is to focus on the person rather than the role. Force the person on the other side of the counter off their script by asking them a personal (but, obviously, not creepy) question. Another step along these lines, and a bit more difficult, is to de-technologize your communications as much as possible. Whenever there is a choice between face to face communication versus mediated communication, choose face to face. Never email or text someone who is within easy walking distance. Don’t sacrifice personal human contact simply for the sake of convenience or efficiency.

CM: Your book talks about the “violent dissolution of community” and “the global impoverishment of spirit.” Can you talk a little bit about each of these problems, as you see them, and why they matter so much to each of our lives today? What would you like to see change with regard to these two issues specifically?

MS: These two things go hand in hand. “Violent dissolution of community” is a reference to the way that traditional place-based lifestyles have been—and continue to be—colonized out of existence. “Impoverishment of spirit” is a side effect of this. We are living in an increasingly global civilization, and along with this “flattening” of the world comes a trivialization and eradication of local differences. Options and opportunities are becoming increasingly homogenized, and local uniqueness is dissolving. More than 200 languages have gone extinct in just the last three generations, but you can order a Big Mac whether you are in Qatar or Peru. Along with reversing this rush toward homogenization and centralization, I would like to see an increased emphasis on local and regional uniqueness. It used to be that traveling to a distant country meant stepping into an entirely different world.

“I would like to see an increased emphasis on local and regional uniqueness. It used to be that traveling to a distant country meant stepping into an entirely different world.”

Dr. Mark Seely

CM: In the beginning of chapter four, you wrote about a young calf who feels “a vague sense of yearning” and a writer who experiences “a vague sense of loss.” What do the young calf and the writer have in common?

MS: We are both domesticated creatures, beings who have been forcefully removed from ways of living that we were meant for. For the calf, despite millennia of artificial selection, a residual wildness remains, and beckons. The same is true for the writer. Writing itself is an unnatural act, a technologizing of thought and expression, a product of domestication. The writer writes because he cannot express his humanity directly and completely in his everyday life.

Dr. Mark Seely, author of Stones: Meditations on Human Authenticity, at Point Beach during Low Tide
Photo Credit: Pam Brown-Seely

CM: You write about how “wild nature holds the wisdom of the world,” which seems like a problem, since many of us are living our lives while dealing with a serious lack of exposure to wild nature. How do you believe we can increase our exposure to the wisdom that wild nature has to offer? How do you think our lives might improve if that happens?

MS: I am currently finishing a book that deals with exactly these questions.

Yes, it is a serious problem, something that has been called “environmental generational amnesia.” What counts as “the natural world” is different for me than it was for my great grandfather. There is so much that we have lost already that is entirely unrecoverable. It has been suggested that whenever a species goes extinct, the resulting loss of biodiversity diminishes our human experience—we become less fully human. And tens of thousands of species go extinct each year, perhaps as many as 200 every single day.

A major source of this problem is the persistent myth of Western culture that the wisdom of nature doesn’t apply to us, that humans are somehow privileged, that we inhabit a realm that is somehow outside of nature, that our savvy and intellect provide us with a mandate to augment, control, and direct nature. We believe there is some moral “right” that goes along with our technological “might.” Our accelerating climate crisis, of course, is a direct result of this.

Traditional indigenous lifestyles can serve as role models here. Traditional ways of life focus on understanding nature on her own terms, on aligning human goals and actions with the demands and opportunities of the natural environment rather than the other way around.

On the level of the individual, once again one of the first steps is to just get outside, unplug, slow down, and spend time in natural spaces. In addition to the positive physical effects of communing with nature, there is mounting evidence that some of the most prevalent psychological disorders, anxiety, depression, and even ADHD, for example, can be dramatically reduced in intensity—perhaps even eliminated—by simply spending regular quality time in the natural world.

CM: I thought it was interesting how you talked about anger as an “optimistic posture.” I don’t know that I had ever looked at it in quite that way before. Can you explain what you mean by that?

MS: Anger can be a powerful motivator and, if directed properly, can be a potent tool to help bring about positive change. But anger is really only possible when there is hope for a different outcome. If you are angry, then that means, on some level, you think that things not only should be different, but that they actually can be different. Compare this with situations that produce feelings of resignation or helplessness. 

“If you are angry, then that means, on some level, you think that things not only should be different, but that they actually can be different.”

Dr. Mark Seely

CM: In Stones, you also talk about how “we carry the past with us at all times” and you mention something you call “the deeper past.” What can you tell us about this deeper past?

MS: At every point, we interact with the world using a body and brain that evolved in response to conditions that were present in past, pre-agricultural environments. Every child is born prepared to deal with the demands and opportunities of the Pleistocene. Civilization doesn’t simply overwrite our evolved tendencies and predilections. They are still very much active, and affecting our choices and actions today—and in ways that we are not consciously aware of.    

What does this deeper past look like? The answer to that gets back to the question of what does an authentically human life look like.

CM: How important is “noticing” and why?

MS: We spend a lot of time in our head, lost in our emotions and caught up in thoughts about the future and the past. Meanwhile this moment now, a moment that will never happen again, slips away with it’s potential untapped. Noticing is a way of re-inhabiting the present moment. Noticing is really just another word for mindfulness—which has become a popular notion these days. Folks talk about mindfulness as if it is some kind of special psychological state, or something that you have to work hard to achieve. But mindfulness is nothing more than just slowing down and noticing, paying close attention to what is happening in the present tense.

Dr. Mark Seely, author of Stones: Meditations on Human Authenticity, sitting on a rock at Point Beach
Photo Credit: Pam Brown-Seely

CM: What are some of your thoughts on regret and the dangers of hindsight bias and counterfactual thinking, especially when it comes to the choices in our lives, and also how we tend to judge certain choices in the lives of others?

MS: Whenever I come home from a party or pretty much any social situation where I have interacted with different people, I play the events over and over in my head and kick myself for things that I said or things that I didn’t say but should have, etc. This is a simple example of counterfactual thinking. The truth is things can never happen any differently than they actually happen—and when you say it that way, it seems stupid obvious. Although we can imagine things might have gone differently, every action is a product of the specific context in which it occurs.

Hindsight bias is insidious. Hindsight leaves us with the illusion that we understand events better than we actually do. It leaves us with a sense that the world is far more predictable than it truly is. None of us really have any idea what surprising thing will happen tomorrow, but when it happens, hindsight makes it look like it was predictable beforehand. In some sense, we can only understand life in hindsight. I really like what Kierkegaard said about this: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  

Hindsight bias is particularly insidious when combined with counterfactual thinking. It can lead to “blaming the victim.” In hindsight, it is easy to connect the cause-and-effect dots so that it seems like the result was inevitable and predictable beforehand. The victim should have known it from the start, so it is partially their fault they were a victim. They could have acted differently. And we also blame ourselves and others for things that we did or didn’t do, even though at the time we could not have acted any differently than we did. Regret and recrimination have nothing positive to offer. Recrimination doesn’t alter the past misdeed. Regret doesn’t change what you did. Rewind time back to that exact moment, in that exact context, knowing only what you knew at that exact time, and you would make the exact same choices and do exactly the same things again.

“Regret and recrimination have nothing positive to offer. Recrimination doesn’t alter the past misdeed. Regret doesn’t change what you did.”

Dr. Mark Seely

CM: I want to let you know that you’ve changed my thinking about the opossum entirely. I didn’t think that was possible. What can you tell us about your special relationship with that animal and what lessons have you learned from your interactions over the years?

MS: Opossums are one of the most frequently misunderstood critters. Although they are usually treated as “varmints,” they are quite harmless, and actually provide some beneficial services (they will eat cockroaches, for example). One of my first creative nonfiction essays, written almost twenty years ago, was titled “My Animal Guide.” In it I described some unexpected opossum encounters, and my evolving awareness that I had more than a few opossum-like personality characteristics myself. I went on to explore ways that the opossum might be used as a role model of sorts.  

I have had some strange opossum encounters in the years since I wrote that essay. For example, I was having trouble sleeping on one of the nights leading up to my last cancer surgery, so I went outside and sat on the front porch steps. I was just gazing blankly off into space when a young opossum climbed up the steps and walked right across my feet as if I wasn’t there. My surgery went OK, and I haven’t needed another one, so I’ve started considering opossum sightings to be a good omen.

CM: I know that you play the mandolin. What first drew you to that instrument and how does playing it keep you feeling connected to “story, song, fire, and drum”?

MS: The first mandolin I played was an antique discovered in a relative’s attic. There was something about the sound that really struck a chord (pun intended). Also, everyone else I knew at the time was playing either the violin, the guitar, or the piano, and I wanted to be different.

Something kind of magical happens whenever I play music with others. I have some wonderful memories of a group of people I used to jam with, one of whom died not too long after I was diagnosed. Music is a powerful way of connecting with people. It is an authentic human social activity that traces back to the earliest beginnings of our species. It is a way of giving concrete expression to feelings of community.

Dr. Mark Seely's winter garden.
Photo Credit: Pam Brown-Seely

CM: You also keep a four-season organic garden. How does tending your garden change how you experience time and your understanding of patience and nourishment?

MS: Some of my fondest childhood memories are of eating fresh veggies out of my great grandfather’s garden. I have had a garden myself in every place that I have lived as an adult where a garden was possible. And my wife is even more in love with the soil than I am.

Patience? I suppose homegrown vegetables are the ultimate slow food.

I grew lettuce in cold frames one winter several years ago as a kind of experiment. We were living in Indiana at the time, and we were hit pretty hard that year with snow and below-zero temperatures, and the entire month of January the lids to the cold frames were iced shut and buried under snow. When the weather finally broke and I was able to look inside, I was greeted with a verdant and tasty crop of Romain and leaf lettuce. I have been hooked ever since.

I read somewhere that a good rule of thumb for prioritizing the ingredients of a healthy diet is to eat as close to sunlight as possible. Start with the green leaf first, then with the fruits that were formed using the energy supplied by the green leaf, and next with the flesh and organs of animals who feed on green leaves and fruit—stick with grass fed and free range—and only rarely those animals that feed on other animals (certain fish, such as salmon, are an exception to this rule).  

CM: Stones reminded me, several times, that we are all “one-of-a-kind, never-to-exist-again” human beings and that “we have a finite number of heartbeats.” I am grateful for that reminder. It’s all too easy to forget sometimes. When you reflect on those important truths, what meaning do they hold for you, and how does that meaning change how you try to live your life today? How do you hope acknowledging those truths might change life for us all?

MS: As a professional educator, I deal with this every day. Each of my students is a unique person, with their own individual goals and aspirations, their own set of strengths and weaknesses, and their own unique prior life experience. Despite this, our educational system requires that I treat them all similarly and measure their performance against the same set of standards. One of the things that I do in response is to address this conundrum directly with my classes, and openly acknowledge the nature of the bind I am in as a teacher. In addition, I go to great lengths to learn each student’s name and as much about their personal circumstances as they are comfortable sharing with me.  

This tension surrounding the irreducible individuality of the students in my classroom is in many ways a microcosm of our larger society. Mass consumer society, for all of the noise it makes about the importance of the individual, is really about standardization and homogenization. It is important that we think of ourselves as independent agents in the world so that we buy our own individual stuff. But at the same time, an economy based on mass production requires that we all learn to want the same things.

In addition, much of our understanding of the world is filtered through categorical abstractions that obscure individuality. We live in a world of “Trump supporters” and “democrats” and “Christmas shoppers” and “flood victims” and “immigrants” and “protesters” and “anti-vaxxers.” Even the idea of “people” is an abstraction. In reality, there are no “people” in the world, there are only individual one-of-a-kind persons.

“We live in a world of “Trump supporters” and “democrats” and “Christmas shoppers” and “flood victims” and “immigrants” and “protesters” and “anti-vaxxers.” Even the idea of “people” is an abstraction. In reality, there are no “people” in the world, there are only individual one-of-a-kind persons.”

Dr. Mark Seely

CM:  Where can people learn more about your writing and other work?

MS: People (or should I say “persons”) can go to markseelybooks.com to read blog posts on many of the topics addressed in this interview and find out pretty much everything there is to know about my various writing projects. My opossum essay is there as well.

CM: I understand your new book is coming out soon. Congratulations! Tell us about that.

MS: It’s titled Civilization Heresies, and I’m extremely excited about the way it has turned out. Like Stones, it is creative nonfiction, and written in much the same style, with a similar combination of essay, memoir, and personal reflection, but it leans just slightly more academic—with a healthy dose of empirical psychology. It addresses our relationship (or lack of relationship) with the natural world, and is somewhat provocative in places (hence the title).

CM: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

MS: Thank you for this, Chloé (and for everything else you do!). It’s amazing how just responding to interview questions can lead to unexpected insights. Until I started answering your question about when I had a sense that writing would become an important part of my life, I didn’t fully realize the extent to which it always has been. Writing is an addiction. Or maybe something more than that: I am already working on the next book.

To learn more about Dr. Seely, or for updates on the upcoming release of his new book, Civilization Heresies, please visit his website at http://www.markseelybooks.com/. You can purchase copies of Stones: Meditations on Human Authenticity at Big Table Publishing or on Amazon.

How often do you spend time in the natural world? What are some of your favorite ways to spend time in nature and do you notice a difference when you do? Please share your experience in the comments below.

PLEASE NOTE: The opinions, representations, and statements made in response to questions asked as part of this interview are strictly those of the interviewee and not of Chloé McFeters or Tortoise and Finch Productions, LLC as a whole. 

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