Monday, February 21, 2011

So, Burlesque

Becoming part of an underground, albeit thriving, community such as the Vancouver Burlesque community has presented a variety of unforeseen challenges. Yes networking is a challenge, yes finding the funds and time factor as well, and the sporadic nature of creativity can hamper even the most determined performer. Identity may prove to be the most difficult aspect to wrangle.

For some, choosing a performance identity is a matter of being themselves to music. For others, it's the opportunity to become a completely new character. The simplicity of those concepts obscures several important nuances. Going through this process opens your eyes to the fact that whatever characterization you go with - that's the role you are carving out for yourself. It's who you will be to everyone you meet within that community. And they want to know you that way. It's the first thing they will ask - what's your stage name? No matter how inclusive and welcoming people are, they are assessing you in part on this item. That's because creating yourself within a closed, tightly knit community requires you pick up on the politics of that space almost before you start.

Does someone in your area already have the performance name that you've chosen? Does your chosen name sound too close to anyone else's? You don't want to step on any toes right out of the gate. Likewise, somehow you have to develop routines and a style that don't bite on what anyone else has got going on. These are gestures of basic respect for the genre and other performers, much like listening to the flow of a conversation before interjecting your own opinions on the topic to show that you're engaging with the other participants, not just masturbating in public.

Once you start to think about your creative efforts in this way, you can get further mired in these sorts of considerations. Are you doing songs that are "appropriate," ie. has anyone else been doing that song in your area, has that song been part of any keystone historical performances, and whatnot. You run the risk of seriously offending people on two fronts when it comes to song choice. If you aren't intimately familiar with your local scene, you may not know that one of the other established performers does that song, perhaps on a regular basis, perhaps as a signature performance. If you're new to burlesque, you may not be tremendously aware of the history of the genre. Have you attempted a performance that is already "owned" by one of the legends of burlesque? If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," then you're in trouble.

These quagmires might incline you not to over determine your performance character until you've been performing for some time. Yet, for those starting off, you need somewhere to start and having a character and aesthetic can provide a platform for you to jump off at. The resulting tension is frustrating.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Conservation, ethics and pragmatism

This coming week is my last at The Land Conservancy. I found I couldn't trade job security for two more months of ethically fulfilling yet infuriatingly stunted work.

In my seven months there, I saw the beginning of a 5 year campaign to save hectares of natural space, and I saw the end of a 2.5 year campaign to purchase Madrona Farm - an organic farm that provides food to 1500 households and restaurants on Vancouver Island. I saw the restoration of Craigflower Schoolhouse after it was ravaged by fire.

The Land Conservancy is a very unusual conservation organization; it's mandate is to save pretty much anything that plays an important role in the community. Officially it is to save spaces of agricultural, heritage, or environmental importance. However, if there isn't a strong community interest in save a place then the chances of TLC being interested are limited.

There are so many things I wish for this organisation. And I love working for things I believe in - despite the fact that doing writing and public education seem somewhat removed from on the ground property stewardship.

Nonetheless, I start as an academic advisor with the Arts Institute at the end of the month. TLC can't offer me an ongoing position. Or at least they can't say one way or the other. A livable wage, RRSP contributions, benefits...These are the things that bought me. Am I selling out? Is it possible to work on something you believe in without sacrificing the life goals you set for yourself? Is it so bad that I just want to pay back my student loans?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why did it never occur to me that there was something genetically innappropriate about mass replanting after logging?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Good things

Good things that have happened to me in the last year and a half:
1) acceptance to awesome conference
2) funding for awesome conference
3) great apartment
4) another great apartment falling into my lap when first apartment became less great
5) job offers
6) new career passion discovered
7) reconnection with estranged family and friends

I was about to be jealous of a friend who has some really awesome things going right now....then i remembered that things are also rocking for me even if they get lost in a fury of packing and work hiccups.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Environmentalist, Spawn of the BC Ministry of Forests

One day when I was in Grade 4, I came home from school with one of those colouring posters that shows a slice of forest ecology; here's an owl, here's a tree, here's a deer... In the lower corner of my poster was a logger. When I showed my mother my completed artwork, she said to me of the loggers "Your daddy builds the roads for those loggers." Thus, a piece of colouring homework provided the initial site for ongoing, sublimated feelings of guilty shame in my father and I.

My mother had no sooner uttered those words than I began a righteous tirade. I confronted my father, as much as it could be said I did so considering in Grade 4 my head barely reached his belt. I chastised him for allowing foresters into the forest to cut down the trees and indignantly asked him if he knew that he was damaging the forest ecosystem and ruining the environment. My father put in for a transfer to Highways later that week.

He didn't stay for long and my burgeoning environmentalism seemed to pass like a mere fancy, distracted as I was by things like ballet lessons, baseball and the transition of moving mid-school year. But as it turns out, when we each get stripped down to our core values my dad truly loves his job and believes in the purpose set for him by the Ministry of Forests and I am inevitably seduced by the call of conservationism.

Odd as it may sound, this schism of ideology doesn't hurt our relationship. In fact it has virtually no explicit influence on us at all. Our divergent and opposed beliefs work upon us by far more implicit venues. We are affected by a mutually held guilt that our beliefs let the other person down. The only evidence of its effects rests in two instances. In the story I have just told you, my dad felt he was somehow not living up to the person his daughter expected him to be and attempted to change. Over the past weekend, we negotiated the same dynamic.

The past year has been quite a trial for me in terms of career and life goals, the result of which has been a switch for me from studying Victorian Literaure to pursuing a career in environmental and animal studies (academic or otherwise). One of the catalysing factors for this change was a class I took on the fetishization of the West Coast forest. To make a long story short, I was lucky enough to present my final paper from that course at this year's ASLE conference, where it and I was embraced with open arms. I now have to offers for publishing, an invitation to join ALECC and a network of people in the field of literature and the environment to contact about future plans. David Suzuki was in the audience when I presented my paper.

Afterwards, I phoned my dad and shared my success with him. With a mixture of pride and embarassment on both sides, he congratulated me and told me to be happy with what I have accomplished. But not without calling David Suzuki a forestry basher and asking me if I told everyone that logging was evil and we should stop all human infringement on the forest. I said "No, I think we should log it all [it being the Pine Beetle forest], start processing our own lumber instead of shipping it to Japan or the States, and allow for natural burn-off." Then my dad was truly proud of me. We seem to have found some sort of common ground, united by pragmatic acceptance that it is in the best interest of all stakeholders to come up with the best possible forest management practice. The forestry industry doesn't want to dessimate the forest - that would be the end of their existence. And as far as conservation goes, I'm not a traditional conservationist. I do not believe that no forest management is the best forest management and I also don't think that preventing human use of the forest is a feesible option. I don't think this new position would have been inhabitable to me without the emotional tension underpinning my childhood. Perhaps it has helped pave the way for a new avenue of environmental education - for lack of a better phrase, conservational/environmental pragmatism.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Birding gone astray

So, I decided to take up birding a few weeks ago. I bought a Smithsonian guidebook to North American birds. It came with a cd of excellent bird calls that shows a pic of the bird on your mp3 player. They make excellent alarm noises for those of you who have ipod alarm clocks.
Anyhow - listening to the weird noises bluejays make (sound like misty bells) it occurred to me that they should be used as elements of some sort of musical endeavor.

Todd plays guitar and is into atmospheric stuff and I'm hoping that bass guitars aren't hard to transition to from violins.

There may or may not be more to follow.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Mid-Career Crisis

Seven years of post-secondary education in English and Philosophy. Where will it really get me? I know I'm good at it, but that doesn't mean I'll get a job at the end. If I do, it may not be the kind of gainful employment necessary to pay off the massive amount of student debt accrued getting that employment.

This is the basic concern of just about every graduate student I know. At least in the Humanities. But what is to be done? Also like the other grad students I know, I have contemplated other career options - I have even gotten as far as coming up with careers I may even be passionate about (though theory and reality don't always match up, like when I first realised that being a prof meant no 9-5 hours). My naivete aside, other problems appear.

A part of me desperately wants to work for Environment Canada or Canada Wildlife Service. I blame my newfound interest in ecocriticism and resurgence of a longstanding infatuation with ecological/wildlife concerns. Sounds fine, except that the logistics of retraining are ridiculous.

I am in debt, so I can't pay for retraining. I'm 26, so being unemployed into my 30's is pretty intimidating. I've delayed entry to the labour force for so long that employers may hesitate to hire me. I've earned 3 degrees so employers may hesitate to hire me. My skills are so applicable to every job that no one asks explicitly for them, thus very few job applications seem to apply. My skills are so applicable that they are simultaneously without specific application, so few job applications seem to apply.

The biggest problem though is that there is no right answer. I am left facing a choice that affects every portion of my life and there is no advice, no epiphany, no knowledge to be had over what I should do and what I shouldn't. I almost went and had my tea leaves read to see if a complete stranger (and possibly grifter) had any insights into my career options that may have eluded me.

I hear the biological clock ticking. It has nothing to do with babies and everything to do with education, money, seniority and retirement packages.