While we were out shopping today, my kids noticed a plastic trinket they liked. Without thinking, I took it from the shelf and dropped it into the shopping cart. Then, on second thought, I picked it up and flipped it over. I scanned the bottom, looking for the label among the tiny screws and bits of twisted wire. Made in China. An image came to my mind: a young woman, hunched over, fiddling with a pair of pliers, blinking her eyes, struggling to stay awake. I put the trinket back on the shelf.
It’s been over four years since I saw Jennifer Baichwal’s film Edward Burtynsky: Manufactured Landscapes, but the image of the woman’s face is as clear in my mind as if I’d seen her yesterday. She regularly appears when I’m shopping, especially when I’m considering purchasing a non-essential trinket, toy, or gadget made in China. Often, she stops me from buying whatever is in my hand.
Isn’t this what we hope for—those of us who make films, paint pictures, take photographs, make speeches, or write books: Don’t we hope that a part of what we create will stay in the audience’s mind for longer than the moment of receiving?
When I published Country Roads, I was doing more than collecting a bunch of heart-warming stories, though I didn’t realize I had more lofty goals until after the book was published. What I was really doing was attempting to tell readers how important rural people and rural communities are, and what we stand to lose if they disappear.
What is my goal for the new animal anthology? If it can bring even a few people to glimpse what might be possible in terms of animal-human understanding or prompt them to pause in the grocery store and make a purchase that is kinder to animals, I will feel the book is a success.