Originally posted on November 6, 2012
by Caroline Ailanthus
Michael Metivier, the editor of Whole Terrain’s Volume 19, Net Works, is our most recent “alumnus,” so when we decided to catch up with our previous editors, it felt natural to start with him. Over the next few months, we’ll check in with as many of our former editors as we can. After all, as Whole Terrain approaches its twentieth birthday, it seems a good time to celebrate both the work we have done and the many great people we have been privileged to work with.
Metivier is a poet, a musician, and a naturalist, as well as a recent graduate of Antioch University New England’s “self-designed” program. As he explains, Whole Terrain was part of his graduate studies from the beginning, or even before the beginning.
“I met Rowland Russell, Whole Terrain’s managing director, at a writers’ retreat on Cape Cod back in 2010, when I was applying to AUNE. My ambition in self-designing a master’s program was to combine courses in writing and communications with those in natural history. Rowland and I had many long conversations about writing, music, and literature that weekend that made applying for the editor position almost an obvious decision.”
Metivier does not quite say that he chose Antioch because of Whole Terrain, but it is at least fair to say that his work as a student and his work as an editor arose from the same spring.
“Part of what motivated me to go back to school in general was the realization that I was reading more and more environmental non-fiction of all kinds, and that was inspiring my own creative work almost to the exclusion of anything else. So I wanted to explore it more formally.”
Asked what being an editor was like and what he valued about the experience, Metivier immediately cites the opportunity to collaborate with such a wide range of people, all of them approaching environmental practice in different ways. He also fondly remembers having a good reason to buy a lot of books. Being a Whole Terrain editor was an opportunity to really ground himself in both canonical environmental literature and in newer work that expands, and even defies, the idea of “nature writing.”
Metivier was also struck by “just how collaborative the entire process of editing is. For better or worse — mostly better! — you are not handed dictatorial reins…. Every decision, from the theme (which was a combination of Editorial Board brainstorm and a smattering of crowd-sourcing) to the content, to the running order and everything else, required and deserved input from the board, contributors, designer, illustrator, and myself. This both alleviated some of the pressure…and made some of the decisions precarious, where you’re juggling very reasonable but conflicting ideas and opinions, not least of which [is] your own vision and aesthetic.”
As a recent graduate, Metivier is still looking for full-time work while volunteering for Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, where he assists with educational nature programming. He is still involved with Whole Terrain as both an associate managing editor and interim board member for the upcoming twentieth volume. He continues his own personal creative work through poetry, personal essays, and music; he has begun work on a new album of original songs.
Not surprisingly, Metivier sees connections between the work he does now and his work with us.
“Working as a Whole Terrain editor, in addition to giving me direct experience [with] the specifics of that line of work, strengthened and cemented skills that are applicable in most lines of future work, particularly education, which I tend to view more now as a collaborative effort between student and teacher than simple top-down instruction.”
Of course, we don’t like to let too much time to go by without catching up with someone this interesting, but the drawback to our doing this profile of Metivier now is that we don’t yet know how his experiences as editor will mature in him over time. We want to listen to that album of new songs. We want to read his poetry years hence and see if we can discern traces of Whole Terrain there. We want to know the rest of the story, as it were. What does seem clear is that he looks back on his work here fondly, and that just as he brought a rich an interesting volume into being, he remembers his work as an experience of richness in his own life.
“What I valued most came from all of the different collaborations, and being able to reflect on my own communication strengths and weaknesses in that regard. At different stages of the process I felt like a carpenter, promoter, shepherd, cheerleader, teacher, but throughout the whole thing I was always first and foremost a student and listener, of everyone I worked with.”