… and, I’m back …

It has been almost 4 full years since last I posted on this site, and true to the quote that I chose to feature as my tagline, in the space of that 4 years, I find myself another, and yet the same …

Things that have changed: I have moved from a large metropolis to a small northern city, exchanging crowds and easy access to just about anything you can think of to (mostly) quiet streets and almost instant access to some 330 bodies of water and a wide expanse of bush and forest. Another huge change is that I have moved from permanent full-time to temporary part-time employment. My life has slowed down considerably, and I like that, though I will admit that at times I do miss some of the amenities and, sometimes, even the crowds. The past year has been a period of transition, to say the least.

When I began this blog, I had a vision in the back of my mind about a future where, once I was no longer having to report in to a daily job, I would adopt some largish hypo-allergenic dog, name him Buddy, acquire a Tiny House on wheels, and then ramble about for the next several decades. I would spend winters in the southern US and summers in Canada. I started preparing for this life by buying a folding bike, downsizing my possessions, whittling my wardrobe down, reducing my reliance on electric appliances, and engaging in discussion with myself and others about the benefits and disadvantages of compost toilets and living “off grid.”  But as I learned more, and started following blogs by tiny-house owners, I learned about some not so minor challenges about travelling with a tiny house. You need a large truck with which to haul the house. Large trucks are not cheap to buy nor to maintain. You need to be able to hook the house up to said truck, and, once arrived at wherever you plan to spend the night/week/month, you need to unhook house from truck, level it, attach all the necessary hoses and cords to ensure adequate heat, plumbing, running water, etc. With some alarm, I also learned about things that can go wrong, about the kinds of  engineering and mechanical problems that arise on the fly. Roofing tiles and sky lights get damaged by low-hanging trees. Trucks develop mechanical issues. Plumbing fails. Black water systems break down. Things fall apart.

And I realized that as companionable as Buddy was likely to be, he was not going to be much help with any of that. A tiny house seemed to come with some not so tiny challenges, and I didn’t feel equipped to deal with them solo. So then I began to dream of Buddy and I living out of a largish camping van, which is less likely to run into the kinds of problems that the average garage isn’t experienced with.  Our travel would be limited to climates that allowed us to live our lives largely out-of-doors (because, as friends and family hastily pointed out, Buddy would need room to wag his tale, and I would need to be able to stand upright on a regular basis). The van idea might have worked, but it appears that even hypo-allergenic dogs are no match for my heightened sensitivity to animal dander. Over the years, it’s become clear that no fur-bearing animal and I can co-habitate without my requiring some serious medications. My pulmonologist strenuously discourages any such co-habitations. And yet I could not imagine life on the road without some kind of companion. So, back to the tiny house plan I went, this time imagining a tiny house community. That’s a plan that by it’s very definition requires a community. That means more time to design, to plan, and more people to do all of that with. When my job ended (more on that some other time, maybe), I had an opportunity to think about how to achieve some piece of that dream.

I am not just back to this blog, I am also back in my home town. As it became clear to me that my tiny house/camper van travels could not materialize in quite the form I’d hoped, I thought about what might replace that dream. I thought about where I might be able to land, for a least a while, so I could figure out what this next phase of my life might look like. When I closed my eyes, what came to me was the sound of the wind in the pine trees and of lake water lapping. Those sounds hearken back to my earliest memories, my most comforting moments. And so I came home a year ago. Kinda like a slow boomerang. When I left some 19 years ago, I flew out in a wide arc from Sudbury to the Pacific Northwest for several years before looping back to Montreal before finally circling back to Sudbury. The views have been spectacular, the experiences many and varied. There is an old saw that claims you can never go back, but that’s not quite true. You can’t go back to what was, but you can go back to something different. And so I have. Sudbury, like me, has changed quite a bit in the 18 years I was gone, but in many ways it remains the same. Re-greening projects have changed the landscape, there are trails and pathways that facilitate cycling and walking, and a number of groups have established strong cultural roots in the city. Friends and family have come and gone and stayed and relationships amongst and between us all have changed. Even with all those changes, there are still familiar landmarks and faces.

Four years: my city of residence has changed. My employment status has changed. My closest companions have changed. My long-term dreams have changed. And yet I remain the same: still exploring and still searching, still figuring out what the heck my life is all about and how I can best go about living it. The last twelve months have been nothing if not interesting and rewarding. There have been challenges, and not all of them were anticipated or welcome, and some were real disappointments. Sometime I WAS the disappointment. But there have also been unexpected opportunities, kindness, encouragement, support, excitement, and growth. It’s been a ride, and it’s far from over.

 

 

 

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Street battle

I have become hopelessly addicted to new style street dancing, particularly to les twins. When i was a teenager (and now I’m about to really date myself!) we hung out in one another’s houses, waved our freak flags, smoked a little (or a lot, depending!), listened to progressive rock, and from time-to-time, offered up some philosophical insight or another.  We were cool. We didn’t engage in a whole lot of strenuous physical activity. We  were cerebral.

Maybe it’s the contrast that appeals to me so much. Street dancing and the mock battles are intensely physical expressions of things we immediately recognize – conflict, anger, intense joy, freedom. All without words. And each dancer has his or her own unique style that comes out of who they are. That’s not to knock ballet or jazz or other more formulaic styles of dance. I love those too. But the organic, individualistic and spontaneous nature of street dance is just so incredibly immediate and compelling. I am continually blown away by the way the dancers do things that appear to be impossible (that backward swoop Laurent does, for example, where he seems so use the muscles in the front of his feet and ankles(!), to lift himself back up, or Bones’ and Pee Fly’s ability to free-flow their entire bodies). When Les Twins, Meech, Rayboom and the like dance, it seems to me they’re pulling from the very core of who they are. It’s so creative, earthy, and expressive. I love it, and I love them for sharing it. Check it out…

… and maybe it’s just me, but I find these battles are based in a collaborative effort that makes the term “battle” truly interesting. There’s an agreement to battle, to engage in a conflict and sometimes the dancers can get really quite aggressive. But there’s also an agreement that what happens on the dance floor stays on the dance floor (I love those hugs at the end of the battle). And even though it is a staged event, the battles are also so amazingly spontaneous and cathartic. I wish we could have the occasional street battle at work! I can’t help but think that would help us work out the barriers that get in the way of our collaboration. I can just see it now…

I am hooked. And I can’t help but think that Aristotle would approve.

Imagine

I haven’t posted for a while, but I’ve been gathering more stories about collaboration that I don’t want to lose, so I’ll be adding those over the next little while.

First up, this version of John Lennon’s Imagine by a a group of grade 5 students with a university acapella group…

…and here’s another, in case you want more. It’s hard to say who’s having more fun in this one, the kids or the college students! What a wonderful way to bridge generations!

Neandertals are human too

Robert J. Sawyer, author of the scii-fi trilogy that begins with the novel Hominids, must be loving the new findings about the relationships between humans and Neandertals. Sawyer’s trilogy plays around with the idea that Neandertals weren’t as primitive and brutish as we tend to think they are, and his story suggests that the ability to build huge steel and glass structures, tear down huge forests, and dig up the bowels of the earth doesn’t necessarily represent an advanced civilization. A more technical one, for sure, but not necessarily a healthy one…

Another big reason I love this story is that it’s set in my home town in Northern Ontario (a little place called Sudbury), and in his book, Sawyer describes places I’m very familiar with, though instead of roads and buildings, his world has the huge trees we know once grew there, back before the mining operations tore them all down to run the smelting operations.

I am nostalgic for the sound of the wind in pines and of lake water lapping at the shore, of whip ‘o wills songs, and of crows cawing their way back to their nests in the evening.

Must be getting close to time for trip back home …

BTW,, Sawyer’s also the author of the novel _Flashforward_ , now a not-too-bad TV series!

Utopia?

One evening last week I attended a lecture/discussion on food — how it’s grown, packaged, and distributed, what our relationship to it is, etc. It was a great session and I heard a lot of the same horror stories I’ve heard before: cows rarely get to live longer than 1 year and that one year ain’t too pleasant, you don’t want to know what happens to the chickens and I don’t want to tell you, and the fruit and veggies we eat today contain, on average, 40% less nutrients the same fruits and veggies contained less than 25 years ago. And these aren’t made-up stories, folk, this is our reality!

But this session raised several happier scenarios as well: we heard and talked about community supported agriculture (CSA), about community gardens (right here in Montreal!), about urban agriculture — growing veggies in a sunny spot in your living room, or on your back deck, or if you’re really lucky, in your back yard. We heard from people who were collaborating on a variety of projets: one group of families within the city limits have decided to turn all their back yards into gardens and will be sharing the resulting harvests with one another, down-town dwellers (like me!) are doing similar kinds of things on balconies, rooftops, etc.The folk who set up and maintain the container gardens you see sprouting (pun intended!) at McGill were also there. (Check it out!)

And then there was a farmer who came out to tell his story about how he and his wife and a couple of their friends pooled resources, rented some land from farmers very nearby (still on the Island, even!) and started their own farm. They grow organic fruits and veggies, enough to feed themselves and sell baskets direct to subscribers in the city effectively skipping the whole middle man bit of the business which means the consumer is only paying for the food and nothing else, and the farmer gets more of the profits, which he can then put back into the fields and next year’s crops. Better for the grower and the consumer.  And because they’re renting land and started out small and are growing slowly making sure to never do more than they can handle on their own both physically and financially, they’ve not had to borrow, which means they are not subject to the demands of the bankers and other business folk. They make decisions collectively and as a result, says this farmer, they are able to make more intelligent decisions.

And when this farmer told us that it takes as little as $50,000 over 4 years to start up that kind of venture, there was a collective gasp of astonishment from the audience! Clearly, this guy and his friends have adopted a more frugal lifestyle than most of the rest of us have been able to do, and clearly he and his fellow farmers know a lot more about soil and growing stuff than the rest of us are ever likely to know.But the main message of the session was that each of us can do some small thing, start in some small way, to take control over our own food.

And I must admit – I’m intrigued …

Another one for the collaboration collection

Another form of collaboration to add to my collection: David Byrne does great stuff. I especially love that they used a brass ensemble as the core band for this collaboration (I played trombone waaaay back when and still really enjoy the sound). I also appreciate Byrne’s reflections on the reasons why we collaborate, which as he describes it, comes from the restriction of  your own freedom to engage in unlimited exploration and the responsibility for coming up with all aspects of a creative endeavour on your own, which may sound limiting, but it’s kind of a Miltonian freedom within constraints notion- working through a creative enterprise with others curtails your own explorations but also opens you up to avenues others bring to the table, avenues you might not have thought about otherwise. The result is something Bryne describes as “some kind of endorphin equivalent that is a kind of creative high.”

And we, the listeners, get to share that.

Byrne ends his post with some truly interesting questions about whether or not there’s a form of collaboration even when someone creates something without involving other people. His thinking is that even when we work alone, we’re engaged in a process that involves an iterative process that at various stages taps into various different aspects of our owns selves, which he suggests is also a form of collaboration. I love, love, love this idea.

This article, one of the more thoughtful descriptions of collaboration yet, came to me via thenoyes (thanks!)

Audience participation

All concerts should have a least one number like this:

(and for the curious, Day 4 of caffeine withdrawal, and so far so good… still hanging in — maybe a little less spacey today, definitely less head-achy though this afternoon I wanted a cappuccino something awful — but I didn’t cave 😉

Even whales do it …

Stories of team-work and collaboration just keep falling into my lap these days! Guess it’s on my mind…

Here’s one I stumbled on today – yet another story of individual creatures working together to ensure survival of the group. Today’s story is about whales and how they use tag-teaming tactics when hunting.
And just as a side-note, while reading this story I was reminded of another I read a while back about the fossil evidence which suggests that the whale evolved from a wolf-like animal that used to run around on land — Whales tag-team, wolves hunt in packs … all kinds of collaboration going on out there in the wild.
Of course, people collaborate too. And just to balance out all the hunting imagery I just gave you, here’s a photo of a friend’s barn-raising – an activity that is wholly dependent on a slew of collaborating folk, and always seems to involve lots of music and food …
Styer Barn Raising (mid-lift) by nils_peterson.

Check out the other photos, and you’ll see a barn-house that Nils built. I stayed in it once for a few days when visiting, and fell it love with it. He refused to sell it to me, or anyone else for that matter, but I still like him anyway 😉