Circus is Not Dead

tenacious

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.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

flying

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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.

circus-ing

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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.

cautionworkinprogress

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

More soon. Here’s to living the questions.

~

 

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Interview with Cycling Advocates Jean Chong and Jack Becker

Hi all! I’m happy to announce this newest installation in the series of interviews––in which I make myself bower bird-like, gathering voices of people who are doing cool things in the world.

There is so much beauty, so much blue! Take a step into the nest…

bowerbird

gathering, gathering… 

Jean Chong of Cycle Write Blog is a volunteer cycling advocate in Vancouver. Prior to this work she was active for over a decade in organizations dedicated to social justice and race relations in the Toronto area.

jeanchong

love that hi-vis!

Jack (Hans-Jurgen) Becker is an active proponent of cycling and combined mobility of cycling on transit and public transportation, as an activist and as a consultant. Jack is a principal of Third Wave Cycling Group Inc. and is based in Vancouver, BC and Calgary, AB. Prior to retirement, he worked for a national oil firm and was a weekend beef farmer in Ontario.

Becker photo

Both Jean and Jack have lived a car-free life for the last 23 years.

It was a pleasure to learn a bit more about their activism.


Devi: Tell me a story about water or climate change.

Jean: I live in downtown Calgary, two blocks away from the river near a popular bike-pedestrian path.

In June 2013 I was evacuated along with nearly 100,000 residents after the Bow-Elbow River overflowed its riverbanks in city of Calgary. On the evening of the flood, the police alerted our condo building to evacuate. I didn’t believe it because I didn’t see our neighbourhood listed on the city’s website. I should have known because during a short evening stroll to check the rising river, foot patrol police told me to return home.

I evacuated at 3:30 am after the city website announced that the downtown light transit rail (as well as my workplace building) was flooded. Standing outside my building, I could hear the mighty river’s floodwaters roaring into the night. More about the post-flood time here: https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/major-flood-or-disaster-do-transportation-habits-change/

There are now public murals by the river that flooded at the base. This art installation will be removed by end of 2015 as per contract.

The second story is just a personal regret and wish:

I regret I didn’t travel to Asia 20 years ago. Car use in China is so much higher now because car ownership is still a status symbol there. Less blue sky days and air pollution would bother us, especially my partner who is far more allergic to pollutants and airborne particulate matter.

Devi: What inspired you to start taking bike trips? When and where did it happen?

Jean: I bought my first geared bike in 1992. My first bike trip was later that autumn in Vermont. I started taking bike trips with Jack just about 5 months later.

Jack: People around my work and in the bicycle club that I rode with at that time took cycling trips. As my leg muscles developed and I was riding longer trips, touring seemed to be the way to go. I always enjoyed traveling and had done much by car and other modes of travel within North America and Europe, so it seemed that touring by bicycle was the way to go.

Devi: Why do you ride a bike?

Jean: I gave up my driver’s license in my early 20s. I had problems learning to drive and was never comfortable driving on expressways. I would be a danger to others on the road. I’ve had the occasional nightmare where I’m driving a car and panicking.

For the last 23 years I have cycled to work, to shop, to get around, as well as for fitness and touring. I walk or use public transit in really awful weather.

Jack: I need to get exercise. My body demands that. Getting exercise by bicycle was much more interesting than being in an exercise room or swimming.

I use the bicycle for transportation to work, shopping, meetings, and any other purpose. I do combine trips with other modes of transportation when it makes sense: transit, rail, planes, ferries, etc.

Devi: What projects are you working on?

Jean: For the past few months I’ve been recovering from a head injury. Another cyclist collided into me while I was biking in Vancouver on New Year’s Day. I lost my memory for 6 hours that day.

My injury made me realize how much we rely on our brain for every movement of our limbs and turns of the head, for vision and cognition, to recognize objects, sounds and screening out lesser information. Our brain is a powerhouse for processing information every waking moment. No wonder why I was so tired post-collision. For several weeks, just to read emails for 15 minutes or walk, then microwave a bagel, made me tired. Only now am I phasing back into my full-time job.

John: I’m working to develop an organization that promotes cycling touring in British Columbia called CyloTouringBC.

Devi: What are you most proud of?

Jean: I am most proud of what I have created over the years: what I’ve written, painted, articulated and occasionally translated into volunteer work and paid jobs.

I’ve had the incredible privilege of meeting and learning from a very diverse range of people from all walks of life in both my working career and in volunteer work. I am passionate about social justice matters, information literacy, active transportation, and the development of liveable communities.

John: During my 23 years as a cycling advocate, I am proud to have seen the growth of cycling for transportation and infrastructure design that is more human-oriented than engineering––and those are words coming from a person with an undergraduate degree in civil engineering!

Devi: What do you see as the “big issues” in your home right now?

Jean: Alberta is Canada’s primary oil and gas industry driver. Our big issues include fracking and questions on water contamination as well as earth stability and oil sands extraction. Oil sands extraction is only temporarily suspended by some firms because of the drop in world oil prices. Sour gas from gas flaring is a long-term air pollutant.

Some resource extraction and processing activities are hundreds of kilometres away from Calgary but the major companies have their headquarter offices in our city.

Another problem is the prairie mentality that we have to surround ourselves with lots of space. This expands urban sprawl because we have no natural barriers except for the river. Many long-time citizens here are moving at a snail’s pace to understand the health and social benefits of ensuring communities are built to incorporate active transportation with services and shops located near by so that we aren’t always car dependent.

Our city has mushroomed to nearly 1.3 million people in past few years as Canada’s fastest growing city. But affordable housing has not kept pace. There are some socio-economic problems in certain communities that require trained professionals and counselors that speak non-English languages. In Toronto and Vancouver, where I’ve lived previously and still visit, there are well-established multilingual social services and strong, articulate community advocates who are also teachers, health care professionals and counselors who develop programs and work hard with the government on funding. Their issues and efforts to solve social problems, are reported in their local press frequently. This is not the case in Calgary. Here’s an example.

John: Our “big issues” are lack of commitment from government, staff, planners, and engineers to move towards truly sustainable. vibrant, liveable cities than move away from cars.

Devi: Who inspires you?

Jean: Doris McCarthy, a Canadian painter who died several years ago. I had the chance to meet this gracious and prolific artist in Toronto when she was nearly 90 years old. I have read three of her autobiographies and have a painting of hers. She was a gregarious artist and teacher who shared with other artists and students. There are photos of her painting outdoors in the Canadian Arctic in the snow and of her ice skating on her house property pond when she was in her 70’s.

mccarthy

Doris McCarthy at work in the Arctic

Devi: What are you reading/listening to right now?

Jean: On the Map by Simon Garfield is a history of maps from medieval to present. Some of the earlier maps were jammed with information describing place details, local things seen, something like a precursor to our infographic.

John: Baroque music.

Devi: What is your favorite place on earth?

Jean: Anywhere with mountains by ocean, forest and clear blue skies.

John: Vancouver, France, or the Rockies, touring on my bicycle.

Devi: What’s your favorite word?

Jean: Passion.

John: Optimism.

Devi: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jean: May you have many tailwinds.

John: I’m interested in how you are going to use the information and what conclusions or theories you are trying to work towards. Enjoy your travels, wherever they may take you.


That’s all for today! Be sure to check out Jean & John’s work online and drop them a line of support.

http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com

http://velourbanismblog.wordpress.com/

http://www.cyclotouringbc.com/wordpress/

Exciting Things Are Afoot

ONE:

I just heard that I have been accepted as an affiliate at the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling.

http://storytelling.concordia.ca/content/lockwood-devi-k

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 3.52.21 AM

tl;dr The audio stories I am recording are going to have an archival home… in Montreal!

I love archives. I am beyond excited.

cohds

 

 

TWO:

I’M GOING TO AUSTRALIA.

… as an Artist in Residence at Montsalvat, May 19th – July 6, 2015.

(HOLY GUACAMOLE. CRIKEY. ETC.)

Meaning that I will be able to waltz through doors like this one while getting down to the nitty gritty business of editing the audio files I have recorded, and writing poems.

montsalvat_door

Work. The real stuff.

I’m not sure what kind of karmic magic was up in my email inbox this week, but I’m going to keep on collecting stories and applying to things that make sense to keep this project going.

Here’s to serendipity and the power of saying YES.

(even though I am legitimately terrified of all of the animals that could kill me in Australia) (really, is there a guidebook to not dying from a snake or spider bite) (help, I grew up watching Steve Irwin)

love and light,

d

Interview with Poet Laura Farina

You know those people who fall into your life and change everything, the people who let you feel more acutely the magic of being alive? Laura Farina is one of those people.

I started writing poetry the summer after fourth grade as a camper at Centauri Summer Arts Camp in Ontario, Canada. I enrolled as a dancer, but found that I liked the writing crowd better. They would spend the entire morning writing under the fondly dubbed “Poet Tree,” break for muffins, and then get back to the business of stringing words into lines, and lines into poems. I fell in love with words. I love them still.

Laura opened the door to poetry in my life. She genuinely valued every voice in the group. She made rambling okay. She had us write to music. She encouraged us to share our work (but didn’t push), even if it wasn’t anything close to polished. She endorsed climbing trees and writing in their branches. She had us lie down with our heads in the center of a circle and look up at the sky and all at once shout out our favorite word. Then we had to take someone else’s favorite word and write a poem with it.

Laura, thank you for being you.


What inspired you to start writing? When did it happen?
 

I don’t actually remember when I first started writing. My father is a great storyteller and so I feel like the act of making up stories was part of my life from a very young age. One of the first stories I remember writing was in Grade 1. It was a retelling of one of my father’s stories about a magician he met in a park on a business trip to Japan. I illustrated it and everything.  Even at a young age, I was a much better writer than artist.

I think I started to seriously write poetry in about Grade 6.  I fell in love with the work of the Canadian poet Alden Nowlan. There was something about his straightforward, conversational style, and his fondness for the details of everyday life that seemed almost revolutionary to me. I started writing my own poems that mimicked his. I wrote a poem about crosswalks, I remember.

Why do you write? 
 
I mostly write for myself –  to observe closely, to reflect, to capture moments. I’m a better human when I write, more thoughtful, connected and grateful. I also write because it’s enjoyable to me. Sure, sometimes the words don’t come and it’s frustrating, and I end up breaking my poems rather than editing them, but sometimes it’s just pure fun. Every time I sit down to write, I’m thinking it’ll be one of those fun times. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

 

Who were the best writing teachers you had in your life? What were they like? 
I’ve had two best teachers in my life, which means I am lucky.

I went to a high school for the arts, where I studied writing. My teacher there was a man named Michael Fitzpatrick. He changed my life. I’m still in touch with so many of the writers I met at that school, and as adults, we’ve had many conversations about what made Mr. Fitzpatrick such a great teacher. I don’t think we’ve ever been able to put our fingers on it. (Here’s my friend Chris taking a stab at it: http://www.fireflycreativewriting.com/mr-fitz/)

Mr. Fitzpatrick was unfailingly kind and generous with his time. He had almost impossibly high standards. He was insanely well read. He encouraged us to write in our own voices about our own experiences. He kept any secrets we wrote about on the page. I remember a friend coming out to me and when I asked, “Who else knows?” he said, “Just you. Well, you and Fitz.” He was the sort of teacher you trusted with the big stuff.

 

The second teacher is Beth Follett, the one-woman miracle behind Pedlar Press. I was Beth’s assistant when she taught creative writing at Centauri Summer Arts Camp (where I met you!) and at that time in my life, I was unbelievably stuck in my writing. I was one year into university, and the only kind of poems I felt like I knew how to make were ones from my own life, but I felt like I had written about literally everything of interest that had ever happened to me. Beth had two rules of writing, “Stop making sense” and “Great writers are great human beings”. Slowly, she introduced me to new and amazing ways of approaching poetry. She taught me that it’s more important to capture how something feels than to capture its literal details. She was always slipping me perfect books, most notably Farmer Gloomy’s New Hybrid by Stuart Ross, Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara and Songs for Relinquishing the Earth by Jan Zwicky – still some of my favourites.

 

When did you start calling yourself a poet? A teacher? 

I think I didn’t call myself a poet until my first book of poetry, This Woman Alphabetical, was published. Before that, I think I would have described myself as, “someone who likes writing poems sometimes.”

 

Even though I’d taught writing for years, I didn’t think of myself as a teacher until my grandfather gave me a page a day calendar for teachers one Christmas. It was a cheesy gift, and I don’t think I used it, but the fact that he thought of me that way meant something.

 

Where do you teach now?
 
I teach after school writers’ workshops at a place called Christianne’s Lyceum of Literature and Art in Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

What do you hope for your students?

I hope that my students all discover the pleasure of writing a good sentence. I hope that some write novels, or books of poetry and that some start music review blogs, and that some write precise shopping lists. I hope each of them gets that feeling of satisfaction from getting something down exactly as they see or feel it.

 

How do you approach teaching poetry to a group of young adults?

I think the two things I can do to make a writing workshop good are to provide an uninterrupted block of time where participants are not required to do anything but focus on their own writing and to take the pressure off participants to create brilliant works of literature by giving prompts that pull them out of their usual ways of doing things.

 

With young people, I try to keep things really relaxed. I think it’s important that a writers’ workshop be a very different space than school. I let there be a small amount of chatter, I think a strictly enforced silence is sort of creepy. Whenever I can, I try to write along with the people in my workshop. I think things tend to go better when there isn’t this sense that there’s a teacher, and there are students and those roles are really separate. I like the idea that we’ve all just come together to write.

 

The other thing I like to do is keep things moving. I often tell participants that there will be a lot of different prompts given, so if they find one that works for them, they should just go with it for as long as they need, but if a prompt really doesn’t work for them, they shouldn’t get worked up, because another prompt will be coming really soon. So much of a good writers workshop is keeping people relaxed enough that their own creativity can take over.

 

Who inspires you?

I am inspired by people who go for what they want, who take creative risks. I am inspired by people who are unabashedly themselves. I’m inspired by people who have learned how to do something, anything, really, really well. I’m inspired by people who make things.

 

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a few books of poetry. The Sleep of Four Cities by Jen Currin, and Sympathy Loophole by Jaime Forsythe (which I’ve been reading on repeat for the past few months because its brilliant). Also, today it was pouring rain outside, so I read almost all of The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman while eating day-old doughnut holes.

 

What projects are you working on? 

My latest book of poetry, Some Talk of Being Human, just came out this month, so I’m sort of casting around for a new project. So far, I think I want to write a long poem in parts about living with chronic illness. But very image-based, and listy. And sort of funny. It’s hard to explain, but almost clear in my head.

 

Do you have any stories related to water or climate change that you would like to share? 

Remember how I said my dad was a great storyteller? When I was a kid, we were swimming one day at our cottage, and he dove down much deeper than I could go.  When he came up, he had a pack of gum in his hand. He told me that he’d found a bubblegum tree at the bottom of the lake. The deal with the tree was that he was the only person who could find it, and if we didn’t believe in it, it would probably move. I was obsessed with this tree, particularly with wondering what a bubblegum blossom might look like.

 

My cousin was perhaps less enchanted, and told us that my dad probably just put the gum in the pocket of his swimming trunks. When my dad heard about this, he assembled my entire family on the dock, promptly got naked and dove in to find the tree. And wouldn’t you know it, he came back with gum. When I asked him, years later, how he did it, he said, “You don’t want to know,” which is gross because I ate that gum.

 

What is your favorite place on earth?

My family goes to a cottage in the Kawarthas in Ontario every summer. It belonged to my grandmother’s best friend from high school, and is now being run by her daughter. It is my favourite place on earth. My mom has been going there for her entire life, and I’ve been going there for mine. It’s magical. And quiet. It has a hammock that is perfect for reading in. There’s this sleeping cabin that three generations of children have slept in. They’ve all written their names on the walls and hung their boy band pictures from the ceilings. The days just pass by there. I’m never as relaxed as I am sitting on the dock, looking out over the lake. If your water travels ever take you to Ontario, you’ll have to swing by. My cottage family has SUCH good stories.

 

What’s your favorite word? (Is it still “cinematographer”?) 

I do so love that word! I can’t believe you remember! I really like it in that Paul Simon song, “I Know What I Know.” The line goes, “She said, ‘Don’t I know you from the cinematographer’s party?’ and I said, ‘Who am I to blow against the wind?'” So pleasing….

 


 

Laura2Laura Farina’s first book of poetry, This Woman Alphabetical, won the Archibald Lampman Prize. She grew up in Ottawa, and gradually made her way west, where she currently lives, writes and teaches creative writing in Vancouver, BC. Her latest poetry collection, Some Talk of Being Human, came out this fall.