Circus is Not Dead

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waist-high dandelions at roadside, Montreal

Two weeks ago I was in Montreal connecting with Jeremie Robert, a super-talented acrobat and circus performer currently performing with Compagnie XY.

Jeremie and I met through his work with ArtCirq, an indigenous circus in Igloolik, Nunavut, Canada.

I have been applying for grants to travel to Nunavut for about two years now (still no luck) and would love to write about these performers in the Arctic. It’s super-expensive to get to the far north, though.

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Image via ArtCirq

Climate change is occurring in the Arctic twice as fast as in the rest of the globe, with a predicted 5 to 7 degree Celsius temperature rise in the next century.

Igloolik is a community on the front-lines of climate change, and also a place deeply invested in the healing powers of performance art. I can’t imagine a better place to record stories.

What is circus, anyway?

I asked this question to a Compagnie XY acrobat at a barbecue a few nights before their first show.

“Almost anything can be circus in the right context,” she said, “and there are whole theoretical classes at circus school devoted to this exact question. Circus art is something that you have to train and study for years in order to perfect.”

(I’m familiar with this line of questioning, though I’m usually on the receiving end of it: What is Folklore & Mythology?“)

Circuses are generally performed in round tents, too––or so I learned from a mini-exhibition at TOHU.

Ringling Bros. is dead, but circus is not. Modern circuses don’t have animals. It’s more about skill and training than flashy oddities.

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If I decide to go to grad school in the coming years, Performance Studies is a field I’m considering. I love the idea of wrestling with the circus question, and interviewing / writing about performers in this sphere.

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Montreal though, what a place. Light tastes different in every city.

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My favorite thing to do in Montreal was just wander.

c'est moi

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Montreal is spiral staircases on the outside of homes.

(I love walking up and down these kinds of stairs. It feels like being inside of a seashell.)

island full of curvy staircases

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…long afternoons in the park, eating fruit and watching the world go by,

long summer days mean more time for adventures 🌞

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… rainbows everywhere,

🌈

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I will take all the rainbows, please 🌈

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… and of course, poutine. (Pro tip: poutine tastes best after drinking local beer in the park with a new friend, and will keep you full forever & ever.)

baby's first poutine 👍🏽

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I think I’m falling in love with public spaces / places where people can picnic. Afternoon light. Fists full of blueberries — blue blessings.

Montreal is full of bicycles. Jeremie let me borrow his for the week.

borrowing my friend's 🚲to explore the city on 2 wheels

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In attending a few performances at Montreal Completement Cirque, I learned that I’m fascinated with flying… maybe because I know it is something my body won’t do.

Is it too late to learn?

#rouge #montrealcompletementcirque

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Why do I travel?

To see more fully. To be surprised. To search for the blessing that sits just outside of my comfort zone. To begin over and over again.

When I travel to a new place, the days are long. Empty and waiting to be filled.

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Before I left the states I bought myself two rings, one for the middle finger on each hand. My left hand is a tree, to remind me to stay grounded:

growing roots

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The right is a feather for flying free. Serendipity.

When I visit a city, there are always layers––the detritus of cities I have been. The shape of houses in Montreal is not unlike DC. The parks that make me breathe deeper remind me of Paris. And anywhere I feel disoriented in language has an odd similarity––I could be in Fiji, or Tuvalu, or Thailand again.

I’m grateful for the sense of dislocation that not knowing a local language can provide. I get lost in the recesses of myself that I didn’t realize were still there.

I am the postcard monster.

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Montreal, I’ll be back. I want to connect with the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS) this fall, where I have been an affiliate for three years.

… and maybe find some Canadian folks to collaborate with on the audio map in progress.

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still one of my favorite signs — spotted in Suva, Fiji, 2014

More soon. Here’s to living the questions.

~

 

Send me on my way

LET THE ADVENTURES BEGIN!

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2.5 months around the 🌎  for climate / water stories (of course), starting now:

Montpelier –> Montreal –> Chengdu –> Beijing –> Copenhagen –> Stockholm –> Chicago –> Boston

Goals for this trip:

  • Record water / climate change stories in each place
  • Learn whatever it is that the journey has to teach me
  • Get more comfortable taking portrait photographs

I bought a used DSLR camera & I’m learning my way around the different settings / breaking through the shyness that I have of photographing people.

This is my friend Cora Brooks in Montpelier, VT. She writes poems and taught me how to bake bread.

We met 5-ish years ago through the archives at the Schlesinger Library, where I was doing a research project on poets who have their papers archived there.

I started alphabetically by last name, elbow deep in grey boxes and filing folders. After a few weeks I realized that Cora was still alive (most people donate their papers only after they’ve passed).

I wrote her a letter. She wrote back. We’ve been writing each other letters ever since.

I’ve visited Cora in Montpelier a few times over the years, and every visit is a new kind of magic. Today we walked to town and ate beetroot and orange gelato.

Cora teaches me how to enjoy slowness. Her home is full of words. She has a cat whose name changes every time I visit. Last time he was Zebra Tattoo. Today he is Barcelona.

Here’s to intergenerational friendships.

Stay tuned for more. I’m looking forward to updating you all from the road.

xo,
D

Collaborations are the Best

Back in February I met Rosie Summers and some of her Leeds College of Art classmates at a Greenpeace Leeds meeting in the UK.

They asked if they could animate one of the water / climate change stories that I recorded. They chose a story from Noelline Gillies, a woman in her 80s from Omarama, New Zealand who I recorded in 2015.

Here’s a trailer of the result.

I am so, so happy with their work! Enjoy.

In Which I Fall in Love with a Bike Path

I visited Chicago last year, fell in love with a bike path, and wrote this for Bicycling Magazine

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I mean, the beauty. How could I resist?

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inside the Chakaia Booker sculpture

Experiencing the Bloomingdale Trail has made me want more out of cities. I don’t want to spend all of my mental energy dodging cars. I want to have corridors (or heck, whole carless streets) that let me intersect with art, poetry, and other humans face to face. I want topographical variations that make the eye move. I want the air to taste good (read: lots of plants).

Most of all, I want outdoor spaces that inspire people to get out of their homes and have conversations with one another. And I want those conversations to cross borders of race and gender and age and class and ability.

Long live the Bloomingdale Trail!

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poetry underfoot

The School of System Change Launches in London

Back in February I attended opening days of the School of System Change, a cross-cultural gathering orchestrated by Forum for the Future in London.

Here are some of the notes that I scribbled down during opening days:

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The world is a system that is constantly changing. Through storytelling, we can co-create what is needed to address complex challenges. Stories are a map for understanding the world, a microcosm of what’s happening in the larger whole.

The goal of the School of System Change is to build a community of people practicing those skills. We are alive and part of this ecology, this system.

What is the shape / thread / wave of your life? What is the context? Life is change, is motion.

If you frame things too quickly, it becomes your prison.

Sin crisis no hay crecimiento.

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Walking away from the thing often means circling back to it. Challenge your own story. Create a structure, a framework, but recognize when you’re holding onto old stories, and have the strength to let them go.

What is the story that you always tell yourself about your life? What happens when you let that story go, and tell another story?

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We can understand ourselves as agents of change. There are many roles.

(At the moment my role is Connector / Amplifier / Disruptpr / Archivist. I move between).

We can look at change through the lens of relationships. Working smarter means getting out of our silos.

People don’t like change. People fear change. To admit that your theory is wrong is really hard.

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London is dense with layers of time.

Become cunning. Bring others in. Give them the opportunity to become part of the change. Rather than telling them something, bring them on board.

System change is about partnerships. How can we create spaces where those relationships are built? People are very busy. We need to find spaces to step out of  busy-ness and reflect.

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#resist together (Paris)

The Latin root of the word “conversation” means “to turn together. Human communication is a dance ritual.

We live in language. Language is a place. You’re a different person in a different language.

Find the part of the system that you can twang. Seek a journey for maximum wobble.

The future is a figment. It doesn’t exist. The future is a product of the present.

Institutions aren’t immutable. They can be redesigned and reinvented. Think for the long-arc, the 100-200 year future.

Leadership in systems change requires that we have:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Courage (to look deeply at ourselves & our strengths and weaknesses / biases; to know them; to listen to others).
  3. Joy (because it’s hard to overcome the barrier of time and attention)
  4. A group of people who believe in the need to change and define the problem together.
  5. Fail fast. Fail forward.

What does your ideal future look like, feel like, etc.?

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textures of home, other side of the pond

How do we get people who have the power to change the system involved in system change?

We must have the patience to listen and seek to understand perspectives that are different than our own.

A map is a tool. A systems diagram embodies structure and causation.

What is the behavior in the system that we want to change?

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You don’t create systems change. You create the conditions for it. Do the thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because you expect the right outcome.

Keep options open. Do stuff and see what happens. Then re-frame your strategy, noticing things that were completely outside of your strategy that work well.

What is the underlying assumption of the system?

Everything is in a state of flux. Things are always in the process of becoming, just as a murmuration of birds flows and shifts.

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Image via alain delorme

Tensions make life rich. We have to deal with tensions that can’t be resolved. Unsolvable tension is, sometimes, good.

Things emerge when something changes that suits the local conditions.

Embracing complexity means embracing that the world is more systemic and emergent than we’d like to think it is.

~

Here is some audio I recorded from other participants on their thoughts on Basecamp’s opening days.

March for Science, DC

You know what rocks?

Science.

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This Saturday I marched in a very wet March for Science in DC.

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…can’t wait to be back in DC for the People’s Climate March next weekend.

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On Sunday, the story sign version 3.0 made its debut at the Smithsonian Earth Optimism‘s Teen Only event.

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— fresh cardboard + a silver shoelace + black Sharpie = GOOD TO GO!

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It was an honor to be in a room with some awesome conservation leaders and scientists.

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I recorded stories from eight teens, covering everything from mass extinctions to permafrost melting, ocean acidification to water quality issues.

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O is for Optimism

The kids are alright.

Happy Earth Day, world.

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Balloons and Stories

Back in April 2013, I started listening. I walked around Boston for a day with a cardboard sign, an audio recorder, and bunch of balloons.

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People talked to me, all sorts of people.

I met homeless Vietnam vets, a woman dressed up as Lady Liberty who lost everyone on her block to the earthquake in Haiti, a T employee who swears that his mother was dead for 48 hours and came back to life after he prayed to have just one more coffee with her, and a retired Spanish teacher who swore that the Statue of Liberty was modeled after Marie Antoinette.

So, some backstory:

It started out as an act of healing. The Boston Marathon bombings had happened just a few days before. After being stuck inside on lockdown, I wanted to get out in my city––to talk to people and to listen.

Cycling home from class, I passed the tail-end of event in Conway Park. I don’t know what they were celebrating. Someone was giving away bunches of blue and green balloons. I took a set of six and tied the orange ribbon holding them together to the handlebars of my bike.

I cycled home and stashed the balloons in my room.

The next day, I scavenged in the recycling bin for an old cardboard box. I cut the box open and covered it with a paper bag. I used a Sharpie to write: “open call for stories” on its face. I poked a hole on either side of the top and threaded a green piece of ribbon through so that I could wear the cardboard sign around my neck, and use both hands to record audio unencumbered.

That was four years ago. Since then I’ve been recording stories about water and climate change in 11 countries, mostly on my bicycle. I haven’t intersected with balloons on the trip. Until now.

This weekend I’m visiting Julie Zauzmer in Washington, D.C. Julie is a bad-ass balloon twister who doubles as a reporter for the Washington Post. Back in college Julie started a club on campus called Class Clowns, which I joined because I know how to juggle and unicycle (but not at the same time). It seemed like a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Fast forward to 2017. So back in February I sent Julie a message asking if we could make “some kind of story-collecting-booth out of balloons.”

She said yes.

We spent today twisting.

Tomorrow we’ll be at Malcolm X Park starting around 9:30am. I’ll have my audio recorder with me. Tell me a story about water and/or climate change?

Here’s a small preview. More photos to come.

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