Water is Life
An Autobiographical Inquiry
Ms. Oliver: "You need empathy with it rather than just reporting. Reporting is for field guides. And they’re great. They’re helpful. But that’s what they are. They’re not thought provokers. They don’t go anywhere. And I say somewhere that attention is the beginning of devotion, which I do believe. But that’s it. A lot of these things are said but can’t be explained."
(From the episode of On Being with Krista Tippett called "Mary Oliver - Listening to the World," re-broadcast just after her death on January 17, 2019)
I found myself in Ann Chinnery's class in September, 2018, at the beginning of this Professional Development Program. One of the things that we addressed in that first class was indigenous knowledge, and I remember Ann urging us to put in the work and build some kind of relationship with the land on which we're living. It was a call to pay attention. That afternoon I hopped on the Trans Canada Trail where it crests Burnaby Mountain on SFU's campus and hiked down to the water of Burrard Inlet at the foot of the mountain. This, for me, was the conscious start of the inquiry that I've attempted to lay out here. My process was somewhat non-linear - it both draws upon past experiences to retrospectively make them part of this journey and looks forward to my future experiences as a teacher - but I've done my best to organize things here chronologically, as a story, as much as possible. I haven't formally held to a rigourous methodology here, but my thinking around inquiry has been shaped this year by Rita Irwin's writing on what she terms "A/r/tography." Irwin proposes that the Art educator engage in living inquiry by blending their practices as Artist, Researcher, and Teacher and recording ("-ography") that experience. "A/r/tographers are committed to artistic forms of engagement that help them to create, interpret, and/or represent new forms of knowledge," she writes. "Knowing (theoria), doing (praxis), and making (poiesis) are folded together in a/r/tography to form rhizomatic ways of experiencing the world and creating the circumstances to produce knowledge and understanding through inquiry-laden processes. Furthermore, knowledge is always in a state of becoming, meaning that there is a need to be continuously committed to inquiry over time." (Irwin, p. 27) Ideas of embodiment and the inter-relatedness of Life are core in A/r/tography, and also the identity within which the inquiry is being held, and that is what I have pursued below.
- Isak Dinesen
At some point during my teenage years our family acquired a sturdy, 17-foot long daysailer named Ol' Yeller which we kept on a trailer and periodically took out to nearby Moberly Lake to sail. I may have been introduced to sailing on Thetis, but I figured out sailing on Moberly... through a lot of trial and error and storms. Later, I would work as a counsellor and sailing instructor at a summer camp on the lake called Sagitawa. Our family had a relationship with the camp through our church, and decided to donate Ol' Yeller to the camp for instructional use. I had the privilege of taking campers out on the lake all summer in a boat I already knew and loved and teaching them the joy of sailing. On at least one occasion we flew a Jolly Roger, rigged up a slingshot on the bow, and sailed around bombarding the kayaking class with water balloons. Those were golden days.
Back in the fall of 2018, as I was finding my feet in the PDP, I was also gaming. For about a decade now I've been a pretty avid player of tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, and have always found it to be a thoroughly rewarding creative outlet. I joined a superhero-themed game that a friend of mine was running in Coquitlam, the story of a team of heroes based in a near-future version of Vancouver called "New Van City," where Seth Rogen is the mayor and weird mystical threats constantly need to be dealt with. I had to create a character for myself with a mystical/spiritual hook to him, and at the time I was doing a lot of sailing and doing a lot of walking to and from the marina along False Creek where I enjoyed the layered culture and barnacled, kelp-y aesthetic of the waterfront. I'd been listening to a lot of Stan Rogers, too, particularly his song Day to Day about the first ship to traverse the Northwest Passage:
The pack-ice 'round us cracks and groans;
The old St. Roch, she creaks and moans.
The icy fog is in my bones,
And the ache won't go away.
Outside I bet it's warm and fair.
I could have her fingers in my hair,
But it's long, cold miles to her out there
So I guess I'll have to stay
And just take it from day to day!
We're as far North as I want to come,
But Larsen's got us under his thumb,
And I signed up for the whole damned run,
I can't get off half way...
I had a steampunk gaming miniature that I really wanted to paint up as St. Rock, who I'd decided would be gallivanting about in a big suit of demon-powered armour. There were some problems though. I thought that the boiler and chimney on the figure's back would do much better as a jetpack, and for a jetpack I would need to add wings. Also, the figure's head was a monacled, bearded old man, and the superhero I was building required some sort of tactical breathing apparatus, which I found on a different figure. I hacked up both figures, swapped their heads, flipped the chimney and then built a set of wings from scratch that I incorporated in the figure. I was pretty chuffed with the results of my first kitbashing attempt; you can see process shots in the Instagram post here, and the painted figure below.