Andrés Thomas Conteris’s family is from North and South America. His uncle, Hiber Conteris, was a political prisoner for eight years under the military dictatorship in Uruguay beginning in 1976. Andrés organized a worldwide campaign on behalf of him and worked closely with several human rights organizations.
He graduated with honors with a B.A. in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College in 1984, focusing on Gandhian nonviolence, human rights advocacy, and intentional faith-based communities of justice and peace. He was awarded the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to pursue the topic "Theology of Resistance." He has an M.A. in religious studies from Howard University. Since initiating Democracy Now! en Español in 2005, Andrés worked to build a network of more than 500 radio stations throughout the Americas and Spain which air the headline news in Spanish of Democracy Now!´s War and Peace Report, a daily, grassroots, global, unembedded, international, independent news program.
Since 2006, Andrés has been part of the Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness program of the California Institute of Integral Studies. His passion for cosmology is something an elder traditional woman from the Oneida nation recognized when he was a child and granted him the name, “Shooting Star.” He is now working on a writing project that weaves the wisdom of the cosmos with the need for revolutionary change on planet earth.
I know you primarily as an activist. How has being an activist led or prepared you for the discipline of writing?
For me, activism is about affirming life in the death cycle. My sense is that our planet is in a time of its history where death is prevalent. This is most visible with the mass extinction of species happening at a rate of more than 20,000 per year. It also manifests in the death of tens of thousands of children, who perish every day for reasons that could be remedied if our species had different priorities. The priorities of the U.S. government revolve around war and war preparation more than anything else, and activists need to face this head on, along with the racism that is ending DACA and the sexism that allows for a president who is a sexual predator. My writing involves many of these issues and the reality of it all further compels me to do the practice of writing.
I know you've done writing retreats. Were they helpful to you? Any drawbacks?
Yes, the writing retreats I have done have been helpful. I remember doing an exercise of writing blurbs for my own work, and this allowed me to get distance from the story itself and appreciate it from a different perspective. It is a gift to be able to go on retreat and focus on the discipline itself. Drawbacks include the fact that the length is often too short and that often there is no coaching available or helpful feedback from others at a retreat.
How important is the spiritual life to your activism? To your writing? Please define what a spiritual life means to you.
My spiritual life is the sine-qua-non of my dedication to being actively life affirming. Spirituality is what nurtures my commitment to make this world a more wholesome place. This involves prayer, meditation, community, a practice of gratitude, honoring nature, seeing the divine in all and much more. By honoring my spiritual life, I nurture my writing. The two are inseparable.
What makes good writing in your mind? What are you trying to accomplish as a writer?
One of the qualities of good writing involves authenticity. If something genuinely speaks to me, if I find it compelling, then the expression in written word will be all the more genius. When I write about things that I truly believe in, then the writing itself shows it. What I am trying to accomplish as a writer is to tell a story that has been writing me for eons.
Here is an excerpt:
A few months ago I accompanied my father at his hospital bedside on the last night of his life. My sister spent much of the last five years tending to him yet as fate would have it, I was the only family member present during his last hours.
He asked me to tell him a story.
Decades earlier, dad worked as a pastor in Oneida, Wisconsin where Melissa, a traditional elder woman from the community looked into my five-year-old eyes and in ceremony with my family bequeathed me the name “Shooting Star.” Half a lifetime later, my father gifted me a ring (which I haven’t removed for years) with shooting stars engraved all around. While I still await to learn how to pronounce my name in the original Oneida language, a story infused with the spirit of the gift from Melissa has been writing me for eons. Although dad had heard it before, he paid close attention to the first chapter, a letter from a would-be father to his would-be daughter.
My dearest Satyya,
I wonder how old you would have become when first you’d come across the word “sidereal.” It’s not a very common word, and truth be told, many grownups go through their whole lives never understanding what it means. Oh, but it’s such an important word since it means having to do “with the stars.”
And what is it, my beloved daughter, why do these diamonds in the night sky invite such gentle-fierce fascination? How is it that when we first see one appear at twilight we’re compelled to make a wish? Could these fiery furnaces that dance in the day-blind heavens be so in tune with desire itself that they can grant one’s deepest longing?
Well, sweet one, there's another term that helps make the connection. It's something that even fewer adults ever light upon since it comes from a strange and ancient tongue called Latin. “Why strange?” you ask. It's because hardly anyone speaks it anymore even though it's the source of many words in lots of different languages. If you had grown old enough to go to college, you might have majored in this forgotten form of communication. And even though it's something few folks will ever cross paths with, this Latin term illuminates why we sometimes have the urge to wish upon these radiant stellar beings.
And what is this other term dearheart? It's “de sidus.” I can almost hear your sweet voice say ... “day-see-deuce.”
What's cool, maybe even way-cool, is that “de sidus” rhymes with “deduce.” (If you had been born, I'm sure you would have been the first to teach me what makes something “way-cool!”)
So what does “de sidus” mean? How can this term from a language that isn't alive any longer have any relevance at all? Well, just like the word sidereal, de sidus also means, having to do “with the stars.”
And there's something else really important, sweet one. These two Latin words make up the root of one English word: desire.
I'm convinced that if you were right here with me now, you would deduce that de sidus points to how the stars themselves are born of desire! And once that's figured out, you just might wonder something else, since it begs the question (can you imagine something begging a question?) For what do the stars themselves yearn for? What is it that they most want to beckon into being?
Well, my precious Satyya, if these cousin constellations in the dark sky above are such kin with longing, there's one thing for which they burn with desire more than anything …
Stars wish to go home.
All my love,
Your would-be father
Dad paused a moment and then his weakened voice whispered words I will never forget. “I want to go home.” As best I could, I tried to explain that in the morning we would talk about it with his daughter. His next words left me completely dumbfounded, “I can't wait that long.” Even after he said it, I was clueless that he knew something more than anyone else. He asked me to lend him my forearm and tried to pull himself out of bed. To no avail. He felt helpless, and so did I.
In the morning I woke with a start to the alarm of the heart monitor. The nurse raced in and asked if I wanted them to do CPR to revive him. His status was DNR (do not resuscitate) and if there had been no family present, the question would not have arisen. When I said I had to call my sister, he replied “there's no time.”
I initially told the medical team to do everything possible to save dad's life, though it soon became clear that something else was at play: the stars' wish (maybe even the wish of shooting stars!). The same desire of every single one of trillions of cosmic stellar candles invited me to take a deep breath and know it was ok to let dad pass.
Since my sister was unreachable working at a different hospital, I called and spoke with my brother who overheard his father gasp for air and asked, “was that his last breath?” My first thought was “how in the world could I possibly know?” And then I looked up at the cardio monitor … the line was flat. Dad's desire to go home after a long and blessed life had come true.
It was pure gift for me to have been present at this most propitious of moments. The zeitgeist conjured by the multiple synchronicities confirmed that I had no choice but to give it my all and return the favor to the story that has been writing me for lifetimes and thus fulfill my deepest soulful desire.
ANDRES THOMAS CONTERIS