Metamorphosis author profile: Kristen Przyborski

We are continuing our series profiling the authors and artists featured in our latest volume, Metamorphosis. Learn more about the Metamorphosis volume here. Click this link to order this and previous volumes.

by Cherice Bock
Editor, Whole Terrain

1KristenBefore reading Kristen Przyborski’s piece in Metamorphosis, “Angels and Butterflies in a Sea of Change,” I never knew how interesting pteropods are. In her piece, Przyborski manages to educate us about pteropods (“tiny winged snails dependent on an alkaline sea”), describe their life cycle, give us nightmares of angelic-looking pteropods feasting on their cousins, explain possible impacts of climate change on these tiny creatures, and envelope it all in beautiful imagery from her childhood beach experiences. The piece holds the reader’s interest as she weaves in just enough story and just enough data to simultaneously keep our attention and engage our brains. She says her life mission is making science accessible and relevant to non-scientists, and with this piece she succeeds with flying colors. I was therefore excited and honored to interview Przyborski for this piece, and to find out more about the process of writing the piece and her passion for scientific literacy.

Whole Terrain: What inspired the piece you submitted, “Angels and Butterflies in a Sea of Change”?

Kristen Przyborksi: I had been thinking for some time about how to describe ocean acidification and climate change when a friend sent me a link to a video of a sea angel preying upon a sea butterfly in a petri dish. What astounded me was how quickly the sea angel morphs from an adorable angel into a monster. The change reminded me of how our view of nature has evolved in recent decades. Every year there is yet another natural disaster flashing across our TV and computer screens that highlights the brutality of nature and our ineffectual efforts to tame it. I saw in the sea butterfly/sea angel battle a metaphor for our powerlessness in the face of nature. We’ve built a safe place with our technology but our shelters can be as fragile and useless as the sea butterfly shell.

By using the Antarctic Ocean as a backdrop I was trying to emphasize the power — almost inscrutability — of the ocean. I placed the emphasis on the changing environment itself as well as on the changing relationship we have with the environment. And I liked the idea of juxtaposing different measurements of time — seasons, years, decades, centuries, and eons — with our efforts to control the world around us both on a personal level and at a societal level. The sand castles I lost to the tide when I was ten years old are similar to the barrier islands we are losing today.

WT: How do you see your work affecting the way people view the rest of the natural world?

KP: I hope that I am able to explain complicated science (like ocean acidification) to people who normally do not think about such things. This is what I attempt to do in the classroom as well as in my writing. It’s hard to make informed choices about our direction forward unless we know something about why things are happening. But our relationship with nature is personal and spiritual as well as physical. If we leave the emotional part out of our discussion we will only repeat the mistakes we made in the past. What I try to do with my writing is capture the entire multifaceted way we interact with the world around us. 

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BioKristen Przyborski is an oceanographer and writer who has spent most of her adult life on or near the ocean. These days she lives on the shores of Long Island Sound and teaches at the University of New Haven. You can follow her on Twitter @k_przyborski.

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