‘Traverse Talks’ Episode 7: Ross Gay On Tenderness And Finding Delight

Ross Gay smiles on October 15, 2020, while virtually chatting with host Sueann Ramella for 'Traverse Talks'

In this episode of Traverse Talks with Sueann Ramella, poet and professor Ross Gay discusses ways to recognize and incorporate tenderness into your life. Ramella and Gay cover everything from the benefits of gardening to why he doesn’t often give advice. Listen to his episode below or stream Traverse Talks with Sueann Ramella, wherever you get your podcasts.

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Conversation Highlights:

Thoughts on Tenderness and Vulnerability:

Sueann Ramella: So when I view tenderness, I almost think it touches on vulnerability that in our society we don’t want to touched.

Ross Gay: Yeah.

Sueann: We’re not comfortable with that, especially for men. And I’m curious how you would suggest we facilitate more tenderness with our young boys and our young men.

Ross: One thing, just sort of across the board, I feel like we have an unfortunate notion of what freedom or independence means. And there’s this thing that I think is really way more interesting, which is our interdependence and our need and that our need is actually as beautiful a thing about us as there is. I think part of the performance of being a kind of self-sufficient person, quote, unquote, is that you pretend you aren’t like constantly in need and that can be brutalizing. So to imagine oneself as a discrete individual, not entangled with the microbes in your stomach, not entangled with all of the things that make the air breathable, not entangled with the water, not entangled with the people, you know? So I feel like we should hold up our need, hold up our interdependence and hold up our entanglements.

The Act of Gardening Helps To Process Complex Thoughts:

Sueann:  In one of your interviews you were discussing how gardening helps you have joy, because it has taught you about the seasons and particularly about death. So I was wondering, because I feel like we live in a society that really doesn’t like to talk about things that are difficult or that we would rather hide away from things then to face them. What have you learned about death that helps you prepare for your own?

Ross: You know, I realized that the deeper I got into gardening, the more I’m with the tempo of things coming and going. I am more at ease with the idea of the cycles. Also, when you’re in a garden, you also know that when plants return to the soil, they’re sort of living again by nourishing what comes next. And I sort of feel when I’m able to really be steady in that, by gardening a lot, I feel more at ease around death for sure.

Ross Gay and Sueann Ramella during the recording of this episode of Traverse Talks.

Host Sueann Ramella listens to guest Ross Gay during a virtual recording at the NWPB podcast studios.

Advice Might Not Always Be So Helpful:

Sueann: I’m curious to know, as a half black, half white, you probably, I’m assuming, identify as a black man. What advice do you have for other biracial kids?

Ross: You know, I don’t do a whole lot of advice.

Sueann: Tell me why. I mean, that’s good, but why?

Ross: I think maybe, I’m more interested in like, inquiry. I don’t feel like I’m sure of anything, you know what I mean?

Sueann: I think that’s fascinating, but I feel as if that makes you more wise admitting you’re not sure of anything. When did you get enlightened?

Ross: (laughs) I’ll let you know when it happens. You know, if I was talking to a young biracial kid, I feel like I could have a nice conversation, but I feel like I’d know more about my experience from having the conversation. I wouldn’t feel more interested in giving that person advice, but I think I’d be more like “oh, now I understand things better for myself from this conversation.”

Sueann: Oh Ross, that’s so deep because when I speak to other people, I do learn more about myself after getting to know them, so I see where that comes from. What advice could I possibly have when we’re still all learning who we are in this world?

Ross: See, that’s beautiful advice to me. We’re all learning who we are on this earth, on this planet, etc. That’s beautiful advice to me.

*Question and responses were edited for length and clarity.

Ross Gay and Sueann Ramella during the recording of this episode of Traverse Talks.

Guest Ross Gay and host Sueann Ramella during the virtual recording of this episode of ‘Traverse Talks.’

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