Thursday, August 29, 2013

First Day

It's the first day of the school year.  It's Baz's first day of 5th grade.  Ayla's first day of 4th grade.  Isa's first day of 1st grade.  And my first day without any children at home.  Relief, liberation, and terror all mixed together for me.  For the kids, they have the normal first-day-of-school nervousness.  There are some great changes this year - more kids, a new teacher.  But for the most part, they are settling right back into their routines.

Here is Totem's final school group.  They are, from left to right, Baz (10), Yahor (11), Isa (6), Ayla (8), Anthony (13), Alisa (9), Kherlen (7), Dasha (7), Sophia (15), Gipsy (7), and Ilya (6).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Totem profiles: David Godbout

David Godbout is one of the Totem School's beloved teachers.  He is originally from New Brunswick.  He has taught two of Totem's three years - he did the first year, then took a sabbatical year, and then came back for year 3.  He will also be teaching our final class in year 4.

He had a circuitous route into teaching for Cirque du Soleil.  In 1986 he was working as a national park guide, and trying to figure out what he wanted to do next.   A friend suggested education, and he went back to school to get his teaching certificate.  He originally planned to teach teenagers.  His favorite subjects in school were geography and art.

David's first teaching job was at a school for the Inuit population in Northern Quebec (the Arctic).  He stayed there for 4 years.

But a secondary passion kept drawing him back - beginning at age 23, David started taking trips down to Brazil and living with the Yanomami indigenous people in the rainforest.  At one point he stayed for 3 years, teaching them basic literacy in exchange for food and shelter.  Now, David has been to Brazil at least a dozen times, most recently last year during his sabbatical.

Back in Montreal, in 1997, David heard that Cirque du Soleil was seeking teachers.  But he had spent years traveling at that point, and wasn't interested.  When Cirque called with an offer, he rejected it.  They called him again, this time offering him a position teaching at headquarters in Montreal (an arrangement Cirque makes sometimes for the children of artists who are training or recuperating there for a period of time).  David took them up on this offer, and worked there in 1998-1999.

From there, a few twists and turns eventually led him to the touring life.  He was sent to work on Alegria from 2000-2003, and then to Quidam from 2003-2010, until Quidam changed to an arena show and the school was closed.  In 2010 he came to Totem.  With Cirque, David has traveled to nearly every region of the world.  He has been through Japan, South America, Europe, and Australia.

Teaching circus children, David says, is always interesting and challenging.  You teach multiple levels, in both French and English, all the time.  There is a lot of one-on-one time with the students.  And he feels very fortunate to have been able to have this career for so many years.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Time magazine recently did a feature on the Pursuit of Happiness in America.  It had lots of interesting information, and one quote really jumped out at me:
All human beings may come equipped with the pursuit-of-happiness impulse - the urge to find lusher land just over the hill, fatter buffalo in the next valley - but it's Americans who have codified the idea, written it into the Declaration of Independence and made it a central mandate of the national character.  American happiness would never be about savor-the-moment contentment.  That way led the reflective cafe culture of the Old World - fine for Europe, not for Jamestown.  Our happiness would be bred, instead, of an almost adolescent restlessness, an itch to do the Next Big Thing.
The article goes on to explain that Americans are actually genetically more adventure-seeking and inclined to take risks than people in other parts of the world.  That, naturally, the people who strove to reach America in the first place were those sorts of restless entrepreneurs, and it remains in our heritage.

Here in Middle America I am spending a lot of time reflecting on American-ness, and also on happiness.  Time says that in middle age we are at a low point for personal happiness.  But I'm happier and more at peace than ever.  Maybe it just gets better from here?

As for American-ness.  Sigh.  So much of America is like these suburbs.  It is such an insulated world - there is space, time, and money for all your material desires, and you never need to think about anything very challenging or uncomfortable, or confront people or lifestyles very different from your own.  There are certainly immigrants here - but they are doing all they can, at least externally, to Americanize and blend in.  And here, it is about the car in your driveway, the square footage of your pre-fabricated home, the careful lawn maintenance, finding the best parking space at the mall.

As much as I find this all intellectually suffocating, there is a visceral comfort here.  It's all so understandable.  But coming back to Time's point, I recognize this American adventure-seeking quality as intrinsic to who I am.  How do these two things relate?

Maybe being here, this month, is about bringing me back to earth.  And recognizing that, as much as I like to think of myself as a firebrand, as an individualist, whatever you want to say - there are huge sides of me that crave routine and ease.  That if I stayed long enough in a place like this, the adventure of finding a new television station might suffice.  And this does not mean I would be unhappy.  But it does mean that I wouldn't be giving my all to the world.

On my nightstand this week is American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, which seems quite appropriate.  Next on my list is The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Not that bad

I kind of hate to admit this, but our new home here in Ohio is not actually that bad.

Given my innate pre-disposition to hate the Midwest, and to hate the suburbs, I was all prepared to have a month of rage.  We are living in a community of carefully build modern townhouses in Dublin, which is about as white and comfy of a suburb as you could dream up.  Philosophically I am full of angst.

But practically?  Life is pretty damn easy here.  You can walk across the street to a massive Kroger, restaurants, hair salons.  The prices of everything are a stunning relief of reasonable-ness.  There is a bike path to a big, beautiful playground, a 1/2 mile away.  We have our very own townhouse with a garage!  Where we can park our bikes!  And the kids can get out their bikes and go tooling around our safely-small-sized neighborhood all by themselves.  Just the access to the fresh air is noticeable - being able to open doors and windows and walk outside to check the weather.

Most delightfully, I discovered LifeTime Fitness on our first day here.  It's a .2 mile walk from our house, and it's one of the most massive fitness complexes I've ever seen.  It includes multiple exercise studios, basketball courts, two giant pools (inside and outside) with watersides, a big childcare center, and programs for kids like Rock Climbing!  (Isa got to do this for the first time and loved it!)

I am hooked.  I plan to be over there every day, taking classes, running on the cardio machines, or just soaking up the sauna.  These endorphins are going to sail me right through our 30 days here, I'm pretty certain.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Philadelphia hangover (& circus camp video!)

We left Philadelphia this morning, and although I consumed almost no alcohol during our two weeks there, I feel distinctly wrecked.  This seems to happen every time I go home.  As much as I love it, the lack of sleep, exercise, and mental breathing room just wears me down.  Life is so marvelously hectic; there are never enough hours in the day; and returning to tour life feels a bit like coming back to a different planet.  (a much quieter planet)

We had several goals during this trip: to send the kids to two weeks of Circus Summer Camp; to host some major planning meetings at PSCA; for Greg, to fly planes and to work on a juggling project; and to take care of lots of little business items like banking, doctor's appointments, going through mail and storage.

Sending my kids to summer camp this year was absolutely glorious.  Off they went, my three capable little offspring, into the competent hands of my marvelously talented employees. The universe perfectly aligned.  And of course I was thrilled to see them practicing (and enjoying!) their circus skills.  Here is the montage video of their final performances (6 minutes)


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Getting critical

I'm at that last-few-days-of-the-city stage, where I start to focus on everything around me that is irritable or inconvenient.  And then I think, "thank goodness, I'll be done with that soon!" Ottawa is not the easiest city to nitpick, as I love so much about this place.  But our apartment leaves some things to be desired, and Canada a few things in general, so on the blacklist for this week are:

- the broken dishwasher rack, oven that never gets hot enough, and generally crappy little galley kitchen
- apartment which has no fitted sheets, no clocks, and no desk
- milk in bags
- exorbitant grocery-store prices
- inability to use text / data on my iPhone

It's a short list.  As I've said, I'm pretty happy here.  But it is the time to concentrate on the negatives!  We have three more days before heading back Stateside.