Delighted to have Michael Harren on my show. He is a multi-media artist, musician, podcaster, vegan and animal advocate. His book, The Animal Book, is a wonderful introduction to advocacy.
Duration: 31 minutes
Delighted to have Michael Harren on my show. He is a multi-media artist, musician, podcaster, vegan and animal advocate. His book, The Animal Book, is a wonderful introduction to advocacy. His Mikeypod podcast is a delightful collection of diverse and compassionate folks who are helping to make our world a better place.
Dee: Hello, Michael. Welcome to my podcast.
Michael: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.
Dee: I’m so excited. I know that I reached out to you a few weeks ago and to invite you to be on my podcast and you were like, sure, that’s great – When?
Dee: And I’m like, no, no, no. We’ve got to slow down because I’m a researcher, and I’d like to look at your book. I’d like to listen to your music. And so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last weeks and I’m just blown away by the body of work that you’ve created. So you are a writer, a podcaster, musician, multimedia artist, animal activist, Vegan. Oh my goodness. You’re a busy guy.
Michael: It’s been sort of cool to try to figure out how to make all that stuff work together and I guess I’m still figuring it out, but uh, yeah, it feels kind of nice when you say all that stuff. I’m like, Hey, do you do all that stuff?
Dee: You do and you’re really good at it. And you’re educating us, and you’re pulling at our heartstrings, and I think you’re making me and others look at things from a different perspective. Um, so yeah, you just have a very unique style. So I just thank you very much for everything. It’s just great. And okay, can I jump to your book?
Michael: Yeah, I’ll, I’ll talk about anything you want.
Dee: Okay. So I have a copy of your beautiful book, Color photos galore. It’s called The Animal Book. This started because you were the artist in residence at Tamerlaine Sanctuary, is that right?
Michael: Yeah, yeah. Um, I was their first ever and only ever so far artist, resident or resident artist.
Dee: And so your experiences there, I guess, gave you the idea to do this, this book and The Animal Show music.
Michael: Yeah. You know, they kind of went together. The ideas I wanted to, um, I had written another show that and it was my first solo performance art music show, whatever you call this thing that I do called Tentative Armor. And it felt like it was kind of like a fluke that I was able to do that and I finished it and I made a book and an album based on that too. Thanks to my friend Luke at BD Studios (NY) who designs my books and zines and all this stuff they make. I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I felt like that whole project was done. And then I went to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary for their ThanksLiving event. It was the first one I’d ever been to. It was my first or second visit to a sanctuary and it made me really realize, you know, how cool sanctuaries are. I had the idea there, maybe that’s what my next show could be. I could do some kind of long-term volunteer thing at a sanctuary. And write about that. Yeah.
Dee: Sure. This book came about and I just would like to describe it for the folks listening. It’s, you know, they say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I have to say, Michael, this is a clever book cover you have here.
Michael: Oh, thanks. I’m glad you like it. There was a lot like, I had some friends who were like, you can’t make the cover like that. Your face isn’t on it, but it seemed perfect. It’s just on the back.
Dee: It’s on the back. So actually, yes, you know, and I love everything that you’ve written and it’s not a huge book. So in other words, folks can read this book and kind of savor this book. It’s not going to take them weeks and weeks, which is great. And I love the photography. Okay, here’s what I have to tell you. I need to make sure I say this to you today. So the chapter Trees Breathe Harmony. You’re talking about the frat house where the roosters are. So Tamerlaine Sanctuary started out with, with mostly chickens, right?
Michael: Yeah. Started out with just two roosters that they adopted. I think they adopted them for Woodstock, if I’m not mistaken. Um, and they just wanted to like give a home to a couple of roosters and then from there they became a full fledged sanctuary, but it was mostly chickens at first.
Dee: Yeah. Yeah, I listened to that episode with the founders. Yeah, that was very good. And so then in your book, I’m turning the page and on page 24 there is this hilarious close-up of a rooster or a chicken. I’m thinking. Okay. Oh yeah, because you said there were, there was a yard of chickens, like 70 of them you wrote, you said, here you go: “I am awestruck when I see Maggie, the caregiver, enters the yard and reflexively tells me the names of these chickens, one after the other. She knows them all.” And then you turn the page and I’m not going to spoil it for the audience, but you’ve got this two-page spread and what you’ve done here with the names. It just took my breath away. I’m like, oh my God, that’s brilliant, Michael.
Michael: Uh, that is all Luke. That was his design.
Dee: Oh, okay. This right here. I think my mouth dropped open and I said this is such a brilliant way to symbolize, on so many different levels, they’re individuals, they have names and there’s a bunch of them here. You know, and these are the lucky ones and I just wanted to tell you that was an incredible page-turner. Okay.
Michael: Oh, that’s fantastic. That’s really exciting. Luke is going to love to hear that A, and B, it’s really like a cool, you know, the book is based on the show, right? Like I wrote the show first but I kind of knew I was going to make a book based on the show too, but it’s a really cool extra layer of interaction with the material, you know, like for you to turn have that feeling when you turn the page, you could think of it as just words on a page, but…
Dee: No, it’s not, It’s not words. It’s… I wish I could articulate it – maybe I will. Maybe I’ll think about it and I’ll let you know later if I can articulate my exact feeling at the time, but I may have even sat back in my chair and just stared at these two pages for a few minutes and then I’ll have you know, I read every single name, out loud.
Michael: Yeah. Those are all names of chickens at Tamerlaine. I wrote to Gabby when Luke had the idea – to see if she could send me a list of names.
Dee: Oh, absolutely. Yes. I know. And this is, it’s, it’s brilliant. It’s touching. And so yeah, I just wanted to make the point about that. Yeah. So your book is gorgeous. Again, The Animal Book and then your music, your album, The Animal Show. I was listening to that. I’m on the way home. I have a long commute back and forth and I was listening to that and what really, I’ll never forget where I was. It’s one of those things where when something big happens, you remember where you were and I was on this. I was turning right on this particular street. And you were talking about the chant that you did when you were doing the vigil. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Can you tell me a little bit about that, that vigil?
Michael: Sure. Um, so there’s a ritual called kaporos and I’ll be general. It’s a ritual that happens right before Yom Kippur that a lot of ultra-orthodox Jewish people do. And it’s sects, it’s not everyone. It happens on a huge scale, like 60,000 chickens just in Brooklyn are brought in and they do this ritual where they swing the chicken over their heads and say a prayer that transfers their sins into the chicken. That’s what they believe. And then they, they killed the chicken. Yeah. Yeah. Um, so we were, it was a few years ago, the protests and vigils have really shifted since then. But this particular year we were sort of, it was still a little haphazard and we found this little corner lot where they were doing the ritual. So, you know, we all contacted each other, all the activists and so one by one we started converging on this space, this very little corner lot where there were crates of chicken stacked up and it was my first time to see this happening.
Michael: So there were so many chickens and there was filth everywhere and smelled and, and, um, the whole thing like escalated the cops came there more and more of us showed up to protest and more and more of the neighbors were coming out and setting off their car alarms. And then there was just one point where I saw one of the people that were doing the ritual had a chicken over his head and was like shaking the chicken, like at us – and the chicken was alive. And we realized or I realized in that second like, oh my God, like he’s torturing this chicken to try to upset us. But he’s, there’s a chicken, you know, like I’ll never forget, I’ll never forget that night because we all saw that and sort of shifted. There were probably like 30, 35 of us. And we were in this penned-in area by the police and we all just sort of shifted and started doing that: (chant) “We see you, We’re sorry, We care, We’re trying.” And it just became this, it was such a moving moment was so sad and we all, I mean I felt really helpless because we couldn’t do anything. All we could do is just stand there and like show them that we didn’t want them to do this, but it was still happening anyway.
Dee: Yep, Yep. Yeah. That chant: “We see you. We care. We’re sorry. We’re trying.”
Michael: Yeah. And if you hear in the, on the album you might’ve guessed this already, but the chant that you hear in the background that’s from that actual night I was, I recorded it on my phone.
Dee: I thought it might be. Yeah.
Michael: Yeah. I have video. Yeah. I’ll never forget that night.
Dee: Wow. That’s pretty intense. I’ve not done that yet. Um, I’ve not gone to a vigil.
Michael: This is a rough one. It’s pretty much the hardest thing, I feel like we all, like for weeks after it happens every year and this year we were more organized and more civilized, you know, that was really well organized. It’s really traumatizing because it’s a lot of chickens, a lot. Like it’s rough.
Dee: I was thinking that I need to write my Vegan story one day. But the incidents and the things that awakened me through my lifetime, because it has been since I was a child, I can remember things that kind of traumatized me along the way. And some folks might say, well that’s a bit dramatic, but no, it’s really not because I’m a sensitive person. Like most advocates and activists. I don’t care who you’re advocating, you’re advocating for – if you’re advocating for a community or a sick child or whatever you’re passionate about it. But um, just to kind of bring this to a more common type of intensity… That I remember going to the local county animal shelter. I was looking for a cat. I needed to have a friend at home. My 17-year old cat stayed with me as long as she could, so I’d go to this county shelter.
Dee: I’m here in Florida is hot and I’m looking for a cat, but I decide to walk out to see the dogs. There was, there were, there were big fans, but it was not air conditioned. Okay, I’m hot, I’m uncomfortable, and I look and I see this Boston terrier mix – because my family across town has a Boston terrier. And he was a mix because he wasn’t… He had wiry hair. Okay, but he was black and white and had that flat face. And so what I learned from my family that Boston’s with that flat nose, extreme weather, heat or cold, is tough on them. And I’m standing there, Michael, I’m looking into this cage kennel and this little black and white Boston terrier mix is looking at me and he’s panting. He’s getting red because he’s overheated. And that moment right there is one reason I said, okay, oh my gosh, I can’t help this dog.
Dee: I can’t. I cannot adopt this dog, but I want to help this dog, but I can’t. And it was, I felt like the blood rush out of my whole body, I think the weight of the world just sat right there on my shoulders. I apologized to the dog and I was almost in tears. So I think that was one stepping stone to me, awakening to the fact that all animals feel pain and that we as human beings need to look out for these animals, all animals. And so I can’t imagine going to the vigils and I’ve heard other folks talking about vigils also because just there in that animal shelter, I just. Oh, my goodness. That was tough.
Michael: Yeah. I feel like we, maybe I should speak for myself. I feel like we’ll have like a common trait among vegans, it seems is empathy, right? Like I’m not being afraid to be empathetic and I think maybe it’s because we’re less able to shut it out, you know?
Dee: Yeah. It’s what’s interesting though. Well, let me ask you my next question. This is a kind of a big question. How has advocacy advocating and activism changed you? And is it still changing you to this day?
Michael: Um, yeah. It’s always been sort of interested in activism. I don’t know if you like, when I started doing my podcast it was 2005, 2006, something like that. I wasn’t Vegan yet. And partly like I went vegan because of the podcast because just different interviews I did, I realized like..
Dee: Oh, that’s cool.
Michael: Yeah. Um, I’ve, I was, I’ll tell you quick, so the podcast started, it was Houston and podcasting was just barely becoming a thing. And so I decided to start interviewing activists in Houston. And I went to a protest at the Chinese consulate where they were protesting. It was a little handful of people protesting dogs and cats, cat fur for being imported from China.
Michael: So I was trying to be cool with these people that were protesting. I was trying to relate with them and told them, oh yeah, I used to be vegetarian a long time ago. And I was an activist. I was an animal activist. And they were like: “Whoa. Used to be why, why not anymore?” And like, I, like some of the podcasts is still up there, you can hear me like: “uh, uh…” because I didn’t have any reason, I just was lazy and I just decided it was too hard. I don’t know, I guess that’s like activism changed me into a Vegan because I was just interested in activism and I was doing like a George Bush, Jr was the president at the time. So it’s doing a lot of that political related stuff and trying to learn about it. But that was when like the animal thing really started sinking in.
Michael: I realized that was the thing I felt most passionate about being an activist for. But like I feel like I keep changing all this time. It’s been maybe 11 years since I went Vegan and you know, I think just the longer I’m doing it, everything shifts. Like, oh, I feel like I’ve been dating and I feel like I always take it back to this. I’ll just do it for a second. But it’s changed. Like I was really, like, I had taken the Liberation Pledge that if people aren’t familiar, it’s um, it’s a pledge where you, like, you three parts, you pledged to go vegan and you pledge. The second part is that you make a commitment not to sit at a table where animals are being normalized, so you just won’t eat with people who are eating meat and then you try to encourage other people to take it.
Michael: So I was like that and I made a big blog post about it and it made sense to me at the time. But then I started dating this guy who’s not vegan. And then for our first few dates, I was like, I was like, Oh God, what am I going to do? So I kept, I really liked him and he was curious about veganism and um, but he also was like uh, there were a couple times you started hinting at like, oh, maybe we could go not to a vegan place. This time I was trying to just get away, which is always suggesting vegan places. So I had to really ask myself like, what do I want to keep dating this guy? Do I want to tell him nope, we’re only eating at Vegan places, you can only eat vegan around me. And just for some reason it didn’t seem like that was gonna work with him.
Michael: So I unpledged the pledge and started sitting with him while he was eating meat and it and I realized by sitting at the table with him, that was also a powerful statement because he knows everything. He read my book, he knows how I feel about this stuff and when I do things like National Animal Rights Day, which I did since we’ve been dating, um, and the kaporos stuff, he listens and he and I talked to him about how hard it is to do that stuff. Then when we sit at the table, I know he’s thinking about it, you know, like, and I feel like that’s a powerful form of advocacy too. It’s rough because I really sometimes want to draw a harder line, but I don’t think some people are going to respond to that. And letting people have their process, as painful as it is for us to sit and watch them, you know, and he asked me one time if it made me sad to watch him eat meat. Oh yeah. And I was like, it does, but I makes me sad to see everyone eat meat and know I know how to blot it out. But yeah, it does, you know, like, so it’s just interesting having that process, making me rethink how I do things in general. So I guess I don’t know if that’s the answer to the question.
Dee: Yeah. Yeah. No that’s. No, I think that’s a great answer and I feel the same way. I feel like for me, advocating and speaking my truths, especially on a podcast. Yeah, I mean, holy moly, really? Seriously, I’m doing this and um, yes. So I had to, I had to dive deep. So last year, so it’s been one year since I’ve started my podcast. I didn’t launch it until June of 2018 because it took me six months to learn everything. And um, oh yeah, when I was diving deep and really thinking – well I can’t speak up and talk unless I really believe this stuff and if I really believe that it’s an honest approach and an honest perspective and all that. I found myself shifting on things that I did not think I would shift on and taking different perspectives, like the whole 360 degrees. And the way it’s changed me – advocating, especially publicly now because I went Vegan, I say I went Vegan in 2013 because in 2012 – I don’t like to overstate things – but 2012 was when I started to learn how to go Vegan, but there was this one spinach and artichoke dip that I could not stay away from that had cheese in it.
Dee: So I’m like, I can’t call myself a Vegan until I get off of this spinach and artichoke dip. I’m like 99 percent Vegan in 2012, but that dang spinach artichoke dip. Okay. So then I said, okay, that’s it, you know because I got off of ice cream, which was a major hurdle for me. Ice Cream was my thing. Thank goodness, now there’s so many delicious plant-based versions. But last year the more I learned about myself and about advocating, the more questions I had, so I’m like, oh, now I’ve got to learn about this. I’m really curious about this. So it’s taken me down different avenues and I just feel like I’m a sponge just trying to learn so much. I mean even outside of, on my website, I share with folks that I have three groups that I hold dear to my heart, people with disabilities – because I have hearing loss – and then animals and then plant-based living, but through this whole creative process for me in 2018 and I’m like, yeah, but I’m also interested in that topic over there and, and it’s all related to advocacy and it’s all related to creating a more compassionate world.
Dee: So I didn’t, I did not know this would happen, Michael. I did not anticipate. I said, Oh yeah, I’ll do a podcast, I’ll do a blog, I’ll write essays, but my whole world is just opened up tremendously and I’m meeting more people either in person or, or like you and I connected on social media and what an amazing thing. So you know, for folks who were interested in jumping into advocating, your whole life will change. And to me it’s changed for the better, most likely… I mean 100 percent I can say that change for the better.
Michael: Yeah. Yeah. Agreed. And there’s so many ways for us now like we have access to so many different ways of reaching people like this podcast, right? Like how cool is that? Like, and then you post it on the Internet and it’s just there now. Like people can track it, find it and learn from it whenever, like, I dunno, I feel like the grandma when I say like, it’s so amazing this technology we’ve got nowadays,
Dee: But thank goodness, you know, I’m glad we weren’t born 300 years ago because that would have taken a long time to get the message out.
Michael: Yeah. Yeah. It’s really great. Like people complain about Social Media a lot and it has this down downsides for sure. But um, access to other people and connecting with like-minded people the way we can now is so great and we can connect in and work together and we increase our power.
Dee: Oh absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And also with everyone on social media and especially the folks.. advocates.. to me, just tend to be so honest about their struggles and whether they’ve: “Oh I tried this and I failed at that didn’t work.” So people are very open and in the community of, you know, advocacy. So you’re like, oh good, I don’t have to be perfect at this. I can, I can be not so great at that, but here’s my strength. But it’s okay. It’s all the big picture, just keep going, keep, keep moving forward, keep creating, keep putting out the message of kindness and compassion and gratitude and all of that. And somehow it’s working. You know, I don’t know how many folks are listening to my podcast either, but that’s okay because I just want to put these messages out there. Somebody will go, oh, I need to reconsider that point or think about that or whatever.
Michael: And you never know who’s considering. Right?
Dee: Absolutely. And so another question. Let’s see. Two more questions for you. Let’s, let’s, I’ve got two more questions. What has been the most joyful gift you’ve received as an advocate activist? The most joyful gift to you – in however that is?
Michael: A sense of community that I have with other activists. I’ve always been someone who sort of felt like an outsider and a lot of ways, you know, my family life wasn’t bad, but I was like always the odd one in the family. And like when I was a kid in school I always was. I always was just odd, like not always weird or a freak, but just like I think people got a sense from people that they were like, Huh.
Michael: I hear you. I feel you on that, Michael. Yeah, I totally get that. Oh, I feel the same way actually.
Michael: Yeah. But having this connection with other people who are passionate about animals and changing the world and believing that we can. Yeah, I have, I have friendships now like I’ve never had before.
Dee: Yep, Yep. Yeah. No, I agree. I. Oh, that’s a great answer. Thank you for saying that. So, let’s see. I have one more question for you, but before I ask you, let’s tell the folks where they may find you, your website and your podcast.
Michael: Uh, sure. Like I strive to have everything available on my website which is Michael Harren.com, h, a r, r e n, so you can find links there, the podcast and to all my social media stuff, but almost all my social media stuff is also at MichaelHarren.com And you can email me at Michael dot Harren at Gmail dot com. I would totally love hearing from people.
Dee: Awesome. Awesome. Okay, so here’s my final question for today and I would love to have you back on my podcast.
Michael: Oh my God. Anytime.
Dee: Okay, great. All right Michael here’s the last question…
Michael: This is gonna be good, I can feel it.
Dee: What brings you hope for our world?
Michael: I’m seeing things changed… Like you know, like the things that really give me hope are when on Facebook I’ll, you know, I’m not, I don’t, I used to be a lot rantier on Facebook than I am now, but I still like post animal advocacy stuff. When I get that random email or a message from someone who I haven’t heard from forever and I have assumed had long since unfollowed me on Facebook and they asked me a question like: “Hey, I’m thinking about eating less meat. Can you like give me some pointers?” Like those random people that pop out of nowhere. I’m like, aw, people are listening. They may not be ready to make, take any steps, but for every one of those people that comes out of the blue, I’m sure there are more people that are at least considering the things that I’m trying to communicate to them. That actually does give me a lot of hope and know seeing so many vegan products showing up and just more and more mainstream. I think we’re a long way. Well, I shouldn’t say that because we’re talking about hope, a lot of progress. It’s a lot of progress towards veganism.
Dee: No, no, no. Good answer. I like that. No, I do too. For as much work as we still need to do to make a compassionate world and, and to, to reach our 10 percent tipping point as a Vegan social change movement, there’s a lot of work to do, but there are so many smart people working beside us. There’s so many compassionate people working beside us and then yes, seeing folks go, uh, let me, let me consider what you’re talking about or even asking, is it okay if I eat this at the dinner table? It’s so folks are asking, they’re, they’re engaged on some level. I’m actually very hopeful about the future.
Michael: Yeah, I am too. I wish we could get there faster because there are animals going through… We’re getting there.
Dee: We’ll just keep creating our podcasts…well, so tell me. Okay. As a closing note, what’s coming up for you in 2019 here this New Year?
Michael: I was just having a conversation with the aforementioned guy I’m dating last night about taking, making some momentum. I want to do another round of shows that animal sanctuaries the summer in the northeast. I have some in mind, but I haven’t even reached out to them yet. Doing that today. That’s my official commitment to that to you. I’m, I’m working. I’ve been releasing these zines on Patreon.com/Michael Harren, which is a membership platform for creators so people can subscribe to my work and I’m going to start doing those quarterly now like officially every quarter I’m going to release a little handmade zine with a story in it and a download of a song. Um, so those are the two main things I’m working on. I had a plan to go to India and work with this organization called Animal Aid, but I’m gonna wait a year and try to work on building an audience for my work. A bigger audience for my work in hopes that I’ll be able. They’ll be. Yeah, there’s money is always an issue in getting to India turned out to be harder than. Yeah, because it’s the trip and paying for my expenses for that month while I’m not working.
Dee: Yeah, that’s huge. That’s a huge thing. That’s a huge endeavor.
Michael: Yeah. But that trip to India, I, I really, it’s the seed for an idea for a whole new show just about experiencing because animals, they’re regarded entirely differently and they’re everywhere. Just stray animals everywhere. So those are the immediate goals and longterm goals.
Dee: Well, Michael, this has been a delight. Truly, truly. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Michael: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate your interest in my work and your interest in telling other people about it. It means so much.
Dee: Oh, you bet. You Bet. And, uh, I will reach out to you soon and we’ll have another conversation.
Michael: I’d love it.