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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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:

It’s autumn. I have things to tell you.

Fine people of the internet:

Holy goodness, it’s been a while. I have so much to tell you! This is going to be a long post, so fasten your seat belts, friends. Pour a cup of tea. The last month has been full of life.

Autumn always makes me think of new beginnings: the start of school, most intimately (I’m two years out of university, but the feeling still lingers)––classes and lectures and rowing practice and long shadows in the afternoons. It’s a time to go internal, to breathe deeply in that slippery light.

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Kapiti Coast

 

Everything starts in blue, right?

In mid-March I ventured north from the Kapiti Coast to volunteer for three days at WOMAD New Zealand, a world music festival that takes over New Plymouth once a year. The acts were something out of this world. Tami Neilson’s Album “Don’t Be Afraid” has been on heavy rotation in my world for the last six months or so; it was divine to see her perform live. You best believe I danced my socks off.

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Seriously, go listen to her stuff right now.

And then there was DakhaBrakha, a Ukrainian quartet who wear funky hats and dedicate themselves to preserving Ukrainian folk songs. Their creative process is something like this: 1) go to the remote mountain areas in Ukraine, 2) find the oldest living women in the mountain villages, 3) ask them to sing the folk songs they know, 4) record said songs, and 5) reimagine the songs for today’s audience.

The result is AMAZING. Talk about kick-ass percussion. And of course my inner folklorist is dancing.

From Taranaki I traveled north to Auckland for a wedding. Because sometimes surprise things happen on the road.

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Speaking of which, I’d love to introduce you all to my travel buddy from here on out… Charlotte Chadwick!

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We clean up okay. This was at Charlotte’s high school bff’s wedding in Auckland. 

Charlotte is a singer-songwriter, poet, and theater-person extraordinaire (actor / director / playwright / etc.) from Aotearoa New Zealand who also happens to be an awesome ESL teacher. She’s traveled all over and tells great stories, to boot. You can listen to some of Charlotte’s music here: charlottechadwick.bandcamp.com

The journey will be solo at times, together at times, and delightfully messy, as per always. Because that is what journeys are. Journeys change. And this change is most definitely good.

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Happy Devi is happy 🙂 

From Auckland, Charlotte and I headed to Tauranga to learn some coding skills from the delightfully talented Robert O’Brien, a software developer who has generously given his time to make the next phase of the One Bike One Year journey a reality. His son, Max, has also kindly volunteered his design talents.

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Octocat, a new friend

Ya’ll know how I have been alluding to making a map on a website where you can click on a point and listen to a story from that place?

Well, it’s coming to fruition. Slowly, but yes. Things are happening. Stay tuned.

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Doing metadata research at the National Library audio archives in Wellington & geeking out over all the old audio equipment 

Then Charlotte & I started to plot a way out of Aotearoa. This wasn’t easy, because I had made a commitment not to fly.

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Friends, we tried everything.

I went back and forth for four months with a cargo ship executive who had promised me a free trip out of New Zealand. Long story short, he couldn’t make it happen. There were insurance problems. Oy.

Then we tried for super yacht / sailing positions. But it’s the wrong season to sail towards Southeast Asia. The cruise ship companies we talked to didn’t have positions that would suit our needs, but we applied anyway and heard nothing.

Then, grudgingly, we looked at flights. There was a ridiculous sale going from Wellington to Bangkok in mid-May.

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We bought the tickets.

I’ll be writing more about this soon, but weighing the value of travel and continuing to collect stories vs. the carbon footprint of a flight (or even a cargo ship trip, for that matter)… it’s sticky stuff. And stuff that it’s necessary to talk more about.

Honestly, poetry helps get me through.

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And while I do have a small place in the “family of things”, it’s my duty as an activist to tread lightly on this planet while doing the kind of listening work that has become my life.

“You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves.”

So many questions. Mary Oliver is a goddess of questions.

In other news:

The cardboard sign turned three years old! HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the wrinkly piece of cardboard that has helped me collect hundreds of stories in five countries during the last 3 years. There will be a new incarnation of the cardboard sign in SE Asia, most likely with words in more than one language. Woot!

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Baby cardboard sign / day one of story collecting / Boston / April 2013

chronicles of a story listener — 1.5 years and counting

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the well-worn sign in all its glory #tellmeastory

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Speaking of multi-lingualism, my work was featured in a newspaper in Vietnam:

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And last week was pretty big: I did an interview  with the German enorm Magazin for their June issue, plus an interview & photo shoot with Bicycling Magazine in the good ol’ US of A. Not sure when that print copy will be out, but I’ll post some sneak peak photos as soon as I have them to share.

It was a windy afternoon on top of the world where Jacob Howard took the photos for Bicycling––you check out some of his other work here. The big uphill climb up beyond the Brooklyn Turbine was totally worth it.

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Big wind, big sky, bigger things ahead.

Onwards,

Devi

Happy Birthday, Cardboard Sign!

Two years ago today (April 15, 2013) I took my first step out the door as a story collector with a cardboard sign around my neck & an audio recorder in hand.

I still travel with the same cardboard sign, though it now says “tell me a story about water” on one side and “tell me a story about climate change” on the other.

The first version said “open call for stories” (and some people asked me if I was selling telephones, so I decided to be a bit more direct).

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April 15, 2013: such a new & clean cardboard sign! Now the same sign is all full of life and wrinkles and I love it.

Here’s what I wrote on day one:

i just got back from spending all afternoon walking around somerville & downtown boston will a sign around my neck and a voice recorder (only turned on when people were comfortable with it). people have the most amazing stories to tell. i need to spend some time transcribing all this — i met homeless vietnam vets, a woman who lost everyone on her block to the earthquake in haiti and now works in a lady liberty costume holding parking signs near park street, a T employee who swears that his mother was dead for 48 hours and came back to life after he prayed that he could just have one more coffee with her, a woman who had very strong feelings about a dog, a twenty-something on his way to a bar who busted out a rap dedicated to me and my sign right there on the street with his friend backing him up with beatboxing, a v. inquisitive psychologist, a man whose best friend is a clown, a guy who was worried about his friend who was trying to choose between grad school in one city and a girlfriend in another, a woman who had written a poem that morning and pulled it out of her purse to read it to me, and a retired spanish teacher who swore that the statue of liberty was modeled after marie antoinette.

You know those tiny, beautiful moments where everything, for a moment, feels in line––vibrating with life & light? Where you feel you have found your thing? I brushed up against that the moment I stepped out of the door with my sign. Suddenly the world was new and full of stories, if only I had the courage to ask.

It’s been a wild and wonderful journey––me and my cardboard sign––in four countries, down countless rivers, and in and out of many human voices and ways of thinking.

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August 2013: I cycled 800 miles down the Mississippi River Trail from Memphis, TN to Venice, LA to end up at the “End of the World,” all the while collecting stories from the wonderful people I met along the way.

There is nothing else I would rather be doing right now.

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sun-drenched in San Francisco, October 2014

In subsequent outings I ditched the balloons and added a bicycle.

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March 2015 in Greymouth, New Zealand

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Whanganui, NZ: a town with a river

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March 2014: just outside Picton, New Zealand

I can’t wait to see where the stories lead me next.

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Dancing with the light after a day of collecting water & climate change stories in Los Angeles back in October 2014––my last sunset in the states for a good long while!

Thanks for being a part of this journey.

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Onwards!