Review of Christy Tending’s High Priestess of the Apocalypse: A Memoir of Disobedience by François Bereaud

by | Jun 19, 2024 | Bending Genres Presents, Blog, Microviews, Reviews

The introduction to Christy Tending’s remarkable memoir in flash essays, High Priestess of the Apocalypse: A Memoir of Disobedience, opens with the following questions:

  • How do we meet the feeling that the world as we know it is ending? 
  • How do we maintain compassion for ourselves in the midst of grief and chaos? 
  • How do we inspire ourselves to action in the face of hopelessness designed to keep us complacent?

Right then, I knew Tending was speaking directly to me as well as so many others. Many nights, I have lain awake despairing over the livable future of our planet for my children’s generation and those to follow. Sometimes every action or non-action produces a guilty reaction. Do I need this? Why am I not doing more?

The two greatest qualities of Tending’s prose are its beauty and searing honesty. She tackles those questions in giving us her journey, a journey of activism, a journey of parenthood, a journey of despair, and a journey of forgetting. In an early essay, “Alive”, she recounts her flirtations with death including a bear encounter, riding her horse way too fast, and one of many encounters with the cops. When the cops in tactical gear do not beat me into the pavement, but my cheeks are a swamp from tear gas and adrenaline. She ends the essay with these brilliant lines while holding her son’s “sweaty paw”. In the brilliance of his luminescence, I cease to exist. I try to forget that the act of ushering him into life nearly ended us both: this is what it is to be alive.

A subsequent essay, “Pink Hair” takes us to her activist days before becoming a parent. It was with pink hair that I learned to become a comfortable public speaker; that I learned how to launch a balloon banner without getting pinched by mall security; that I learned that being pinched by mall security wasn’t a big deal. Perhaps it would have happened anyway. Or perhaps the pink hair was the crucible I needed to become the next iteration of myself, the mark of someone who was prepared to stand out and rise against. By the essay’s end, she’s forty with pink hair once again, asking her son and his peers to “imagine a new world.”

The narrative gives imaginings of a new world as well as the means to try and change the current one. In essays she explains to us how to freehand a banner, interact with cops – though Tending is clear this is not legal advice, how to fill out a form once arrested, and how to make a lockbox with PVC, cords, and carabiners. Tending is technical and theoretical. We understand the depth of her commitment to achieving some form of climate justice while also maintaining her life and raising a child in a pandemic. 

Tending shows us squarely the conflicts and tolls this struggle places on her. She ends the banner essay by describing her young son making his first picket sign for a strike in which his uncle is involved. Her last line sings with beauty. Joy is what we fight for, too. In a later essay, she is back with her son, on the porch, trying somehow to push aside the grief. The world is ending, so we are eating popsicles on the porch. This line will stay with me as well.

The High Priestess of the Apocalypse: A Memoir of Disobedience both ends gorgeously on the page and is completely unfinished in reality. There is solace and solidarity in knowing that Tending and her family will continue to fight, consequences and conditions be damned. Her memories, stories, and wisdom are a true gift, ones which will encourage me, and other readers I’m sure, to join her in the struggle.

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