Circus is Not Dead


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.


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.


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

More soon. Here’s to living the questions.




Q&A: On Loneliness

A reader asked:

“does loneliness ever strike devi lockwood?”


Let’s talk for a second about boundaries.

There are things I love to do that I can’t do when there are other people around.

Reading is one of them.


Writing is another.

I have a 30,000-word long document (starting from Jan. 20 when I touched down in New Zealand) into which I pour my heart most nights before bed. There’s a whole lot of stories that don’t go up on this blog because they need time and space to process. I am giving myself permission to slow down, in writing and in life. Stand by.


nayyirah waheed gets it. p.s. everyone go read “salt” now — it is amazing:


A third thing I can’t do with other folks around is focusing deeply on my internal life (also known as: writing internally). If I slip into this mindset when others are around, I’m not listening fully.

There’s much to be said for the importance of just lying on a patch of moss on a riverbed, looking up, with a mountain in the distance.


rocks, moss, mt. taranaki

I try not to cling to people, because people are unfixed, changing, complicated. That’s the beauty of being human. We define ourselves in real-time.

We are the stories we tell ourselves, as much as we are the stories we tell others.

By paying full attention to myself and the nonhuman actors around me, I re-center. I feel safe in that kind of deep listening––headphones off. Unplugged. Or headphones on blasting a song I have just fallen in love with.

Or, as the incomparable Carla so succinctly put it, when I was in tears on her couch in Whanganui, overwhelmed with the richness of experience that came from pausing for a week in the rivertown (I found resistance within myself, I didn’t want to leave)––

“You’re a prism, refracting rainbows,” Carla said, stroking my hair.

makingrainbows“… and even prisms need to recharge in the dark.”

She mimed cupping a prism in between her hands, told me not to rush up from the horizontal position where I had been cuddled up on the couch.

“Give yourself permission to move slowly. And here: tissues are better than issues”

I couldn’t help but smile.

This was the first time in my life that someone told me it is okay to cry. Tapa.

(Tapa is my favorite word in Tuvaluan. It means “wow” and is pronounced Taah-PAAAH!)

So here’s to darkness.


Taking the time when we need to.

Earlier in the day I had been talking with Maria, a self-professed clairvoyant, while we drove from her farm to flash-mob dance practice. The topic of conversation swerved from her adorable baby ducks to self-care.




I couldn’t choose just one baby duck photo, so ya’ll get TWO. You’re welcome.

“Oh, it’s all intertwined,” I began, taking a deep breath. “One of my goals for this year centers on self-care, but also forgiveness. Gentleness. I want to be gentle with myself, and gentle with others.”

Maria nodded as she hugged the corner, racing. We were a bit late. The conversation charged on.

“So on New Year’s Eve I was at a party with a bunch of Australian expats in Tuvalu­­––”

“That’s always a great way to start a story,” Maria laughed, zooming at 100km/hr. The limit is 85. When I haven’t been in a car for a while, I get nauseous. Too little air but so much to say.

Slow down, a sign proclaims. Kiwi road signs are refreshing in their honesty.

winding road

this was from the bottom of mt. messinger, but you get the essence of it

“There weren’t New Year’s Eve fireworks or anything. No ball drop to watch. Nothing to tether me to the usual way I know of bringing in a new year.

“The hosts––two navy guys who help to manage fisheries licenses for the many foreign boats who trawl the Tuvaluan waters––gave instructions that everyone was to dress up as a phrase that starts with a certain letter of the alphabet. As the night wore on, we would have to guess each other’s identities.

“I came as Climate Change.”

Maria smiled and took her eyes off the road to make eye contact. “That is so you.”

I smiled back, holding onto the seat with my hands. “After the party I walked 200 meters to the airplane runway––most everywhere is a few foosteps from the runway, the most salient geographic feature on the island––and made my way home. One of the Aussies offered me a ride on the back of his motorcycle but he was tipsy and I wanted to be alone.”

In inhaled the smell of hot car, eyes closed. Remembering.

“When you look at darkness from the outside, it seems like one color. One shade. But within darkness, it’s never one thing. There’s sky, speckled. The bigness of the Milky Way. Invertebrate clouds.

“But also the textures of shadows from living and nonliving things on the ground––each one its own language. A vocabulary of movement.

“Life blurs. The occasional, bright rumble of a motorbike messes with my vision, but after a few minutes of relaxing into the dark, I could see things. Things I wouldn’t see in the day. Movements. Not the suggestion of a pack of dogs but the energetic sphere of the place they had been.”

Maria nodded. “This is what I do for a living. Access the dark and bring it into focus. I get it.”

Everything is connected.

In the darkness you can see movement for its other name(s).

A prism has to be recharged. It has to go into the dark before it can come back into the light to refract.

I am a prism.

Does that sound hubristic to say? Whatever. Let me whisper it.

I am a prism. 

I am the river and the river is me.

The light is the stories of those around me.

The dark is always the dark.

I will cry when I need to cry.

I will stay grounded.

Even the act of biking can feel like floating––my body balanced on air––the tires I diligently pump to seventy pounds per square inch before every ride––as I propel myself through space, a country.

This world.


feeling free in Whanganui 

So do I feel lonely?


If anything, I relish the time I spend with myself. It is necessary and wonderful and replete with life.