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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Yours Truly on the TV

A few months ago I did an interview with NationTV 22 in Bangkok for the show Mong Rao Mong Lok / มองเรามองโลก.

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me & Veenarat Laohapakakul, who asks wonderful questions

Here’s the full show that aired this weekend in Thailand –– it’s in Thai, but the interview is in English with subtitles! Hope you enjoy:

Our Digital Lives

On digital lives, photographs, and “the human necessity of leaving some things untagged and undeclared” — 

Sometimes I think I am afraid of forgetting.
I record voices (always with consent). I journal daily.
I have found myself in the act of creating an archive.
But then I read a piece like this that upends me

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“To make intimacy public is often to render it less intimate.”
I hope to always respect the stories that I record.
I shy away from taking photos, sometimes,
because their afterlife scares me. It’s a delicate balance.

How much of my own story do I let infuse
the stories I am recording about water and climate change?
What can I tell you that will let you know
just enough about me to keep you interested,

but also little enough that I can keep my life to myself,
that I can live and love and be, without outside eyes
to perform for? Who am I to decide what stays and what goes,
what becomes part of the archive, and what is forgotten?

Around the World One Story at a Time

Hey beautiful people!

Over the weekend I had the great pleasure of visiting Rockhampton & getting to know the one and only Jacquie Mackay. Her morning radio show is well worth a listen.

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Jacquie, me, and the cardboard sign in Rockhampton, QLD, Australia

Thanks again, ABC Capricornia, for having me on the air! You can listen to the interview here:

http://blogs.abc.net.au/queensland/2015/09/around-the-world-one-story-at-a-time.html?site=capricornia&program=capricornia_breakfast

Check it out!

Jacquie is an incredible human with a real talent for storytelling and storylistening. After the recording in studio, we talked about how the job of an interviewer is to be a conduit for story––not to interrupt the flow but to be there to redirect and keep a storyteller on course, if needed.

Water weaves through language in the most beautiful / surprising ways.

Later in the afternoon we meandered to the top of a mountain to see the Fitzroy River, a ribbon of gold from above.

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It was lovely to see the inner-workings of the ABC studio, to learn about storytelling in the public broadcasting world (Jacquie, can I be you when I grow up?), and to be on the other side of the microphone for a change. 

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Jacquie also introduced me to this mug, which I love. Lovely!

For folks in Central Queensland, there’s a listing of ABC Radio frequencies here. Otherwise you can listen to Jacquie’s many interviews online at: http://www.abc.net.au/capricornia/programs/capricornia_breakfast/ 

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I love the way that a radio in a home becomes like another person––the voices we choose to invite into our lives mean so much.

Long live public radio & the art of storytelling.

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Love and light,

D

Some Stories Rush Through Me Like Rising Water

I have been taken in by a South African family in a suburb just outside Gold Coast. They were visiting Sri Lanka with their two young sons in 2004 and survived the tsunami. They ran.

Their description of the rising water gave me the chills. A wedge. Speed. The terror of being separated and the relief of finding each other alive.

I can’t do justice to the story here (the recording speaks for itself), but wow.

I am so, so grateful to the people who open up their homes and their hearts to me and tell me a story.

Can I say that I love what I’m doing? I love what I’m doing. Sometimes I have my doubts and wish that I chose an easier path, but this is my path. I’m a listener, through and through.

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the tools of the trade — my Sony M-10

Collaboration with Lock The Gate Aotearoa

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Earlier this month I had the chance to attend a weekend-long conference, Taranaki’s Beauty and the Beast – Community issues with Fossil Fuels and Climate Change, at Marae Muru Raupatu. The event was organized by ECO, Climate Justice Taranaki and Sustainable Whanganui Trust.

Saturday’s program included an environmental justice tour of northern Taranaki to learn first-hand from residents what it’s like to live amidst oil and gas fields.

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I recorded a story from a local farmer (complete with cows mooing in the background––we were standing in front of a paddock) and edited it into this version, now live at Lock the Gate Aotearoa. Click here & scroll to the bottom of the page to give it a listen.

When I get back to the states, my plan is to edit the audio files I have recorded (215+ stories to date) and create a map on a website where a visitor can click on a point and listen to a story told from that place.

I’m currently researching grants that will make such a website platform possible.

Bird by bird.

Rhythm

In the first three weeks of this trip, I have recorded nearly eight hours of stories about water and climate change in New York City, New Orleans, Rosedale, Clarksdale, Oxford, Memphis, and, most recently, St. Louis and Ferguson. The processing of this audio is slow going, but it’s a work in progress. I am looking forward to uploading and sharing these stories with you when they are ready.

I’m learning to become a better listener. Recognizing rhythm is a huge part of that.

In her book “Talk to Me,” Anna Deavere Smith writes:

“Character, then, seemed to me to be an improvisation on given rhythms. The more successful you were at improvising on language, the more jazz you have, the more likely you could be found in your language, that is, if you wanted to be found in your language. Some people use language as a mask. And some want to create designed language that appears to reveal them but does not. Yet from time to time we are betrayed by language, if not in the words themselves, in the rhythm with which we deliver our words. Over time, I would learn to listen for those wonderful moments when people spoke a kind of personal music, which left a rhythmic architecture of who they were. I would be much more interested in those rhythmic architectures than in the information they might or might not reveal.”

What am I listening for this week? I’m listening for rhythm in a storyteller’s speech––iambs and trochees and spondees. I’m listening for patterns and the moments where those patterns break down.

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This is especially relevant in light of the protests in St. Louis and Ferguson that I am participating in this weekend as a part of #FergusonOctober. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that racial injustice and climate injustice are inextricably linked. I am in the area because on-the-ground leaders have asked for support. All our grievances are connected, and no one will win until we all win––racial justice IS climate justice.

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I am still processing the events of the last 24 hours. Last night I participated in a march from the neighborhood where Mike Brown was shot to the Ferguson Police Department alongside members of Mike Brown’s family. This is a world far outside of my own experience as a white woman from Boston, and I recognize that. I worry about what will happen after this weekend’s events, when the crowds of outsiders (not all are white, but many are) leave. This thought makes my heart hurt.

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While we walked, we chanted:

“NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE. NO RACIST POLICE.”

“HANDS UP. DON’T SHOOT. HANDS UP. DON’T SHOOT.”

“INDICT, CONVICT, SENT THAT KILLER COP TO JAIL. THE WHOLE DAMN SYSTEM IS GUILTY AS HELL.”

alllivesmatterThere is power in hundreds, if not thousands of voices speaking as one. Even when the chants fractured and there were different groups saying different words at once, the energy was electric. Thank god for bullhorns.

The march ended at the Ferguson Police Station, where there was a POLICE: DO NOT CROSS line reinforced by some fifty police in shields, helmets, and riot gear holding batons in one hand and tear gas in the other.

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I am nervous and eager for Monday’s civil disobedience. I am all ears.