Sheepish Apology/Comeback #1001: Back-to-School (Er, Midterm) Edition

21 10 2008

Hey, guys.  Remember when there was this person (_______), who used to write this blog (________), about this Brazilian martial art (_________)?  If you were able to fill in all the missing blanks there, please give yourself a pat on the back, a gold star, and um abraço from me!

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I know it must be getting very, very old by now, considering practically every post since late spring has been a “sorry for not posting” post, but I am very much hoping that THIS post will serve as indication that Mandingueira has indeed survived (albeit somewhat scathed) the busiest and most jam-packed summer [and first half-semester, oops] I’ve ever had—especially with the blog’s 1-year anniversary (!!!!!) coming up!  Thank you so, so much for waiting it out, for continuing to check in and comment, and for coming back again!

As for excuses, I’m guessing “my dog ate my computer” won’t cut it, so I can only plead work, training, volunteering, the firm maintenance of a non-capoeira social life ( 😛 ) and, as you may have guessed, the start of my new school year.  And since I’m back in Canada, this means I no longer have the luxury of homework-free courses, a 4-day weekend, and two random classes cancelled every week, à la France.  So, I’ve also been experimenting with this new thing my friend suggested, called “time-management”, aka “not doing everything last-minute”, aka “certified all-nighter prevention strategy” (edit: which turned out to be not-so-certified, but that’s beside the point).

Now that things have settled down a bit (hah! read: now that I have more work than ever to procrastinate)(okay, really, more like I miss writing and I miss talking with all of you), I’m hoping to get back into a steady posting routine before the end of this month.  As a compromise between a perfect world and my sanity, I’ll be aiming for a modest rate of one post per week instead of my former one post per day (which, looking back now, I have no freaking idea how I EVER kept up!!!).

The upshot of this is that not once have I not posted because of lack of topics or ideas, so I’m hoping we can look forward to an ideas-building-up-pressure-into-a-giant-explosion-of-mind-blowing-prose sort of phenomenon here.  Thanks again for your unending (saintly, really) patience and…yes, loyalty (*please remove all capoeira grupo-cult connotations of word at your own discretion*), and I look forward to hearing lots from you as we work up even deeper levels and wider ranges of discussion on this blog!

Um GRANDE abraço,
Joaninha

p.s. Just so you know I’m serious, I’ve already written up a real post to follow this one, so come back in a few days to check it out! 😀





Looking at the “Capoeira” in “Capoeira Regional”

5 08 2008

Capoeira regional

Something very interesting occurred to me as I was typing up my responses to the “Feminism, Capoeira, Cultural Appropriation, & Black Self-Determinationdiscussion. The funny thing is that after I published and reread what I’d written, I realized that my “epiphany” was actually a really common and oft-argued viewpoint. So common and oft-argued, in fact, that I’d never felt terribly interested in discussing it on here before. But thanks to that conversation, I ended up arriving at this one point from the complete opposite side. It felt exactly like the difference between arriving in China by plane, and arriving in China through a tunnel you started digging in your own backyard.

(*For context and background information, before continuing, I strongly recommend you first click here and read the original discussion):

In the very wide-ranging, thought-provoking, and possibly inflammatory conversation we’ve all been sharing in, several points have been brought up in direct reference to capoeira, such as cultural appropriation, changing or ditching tradition and bringing in your own values, and focusing on what you like and distilling out the rest.

Now, what I realized—is it just me, or does that describe exactly what happened in the development of capoeira regional?

If Greg Downey’s Learning Capoeira is correct, and if I recall it correctly, he wrote that regional is faster, flashier, and more focused on kicks and acrobatics because that’s what the majority demographic of its practitioners were interested in. This demographic consisted of middle-to-upper-class, white students who urged or convinced Mestre Bimba to concentrate more on the martial and acrobatic aspects of capoeira in their learning, while simultaneously encouraging him away from the ritualistic and traditional aspects, out of disinterest. At the same time, these students possibly incorporated one or two things they had learned from previous martial art experience, as well.

So if you think about it, it really seems like capoeira regional was created precisely through cultural appropriation, infusion of own values, and discarding of under-valued aspects by “outsiders” to capoeira’s original community—but still with the help and cooperation of part of the community itself. Yet, it was because of precisely such changes that capoeira had its big explosion, paving the way for regional and thus opening up opportunities for angola’s revival later…paving the way for capoeira, period.

So, where does this leave us? With the conclusion that capoeira regional “is not capoeira”? Or is that an example of change happening from within a community…yet with outsiders’ “help”, or “hybridization” (and if so, does that legitimize those concepts to at least a certain extent)? Or is it just a fact of life to accept—that things change, in and of themselves (especially considering, moreover, that we haven’t lost the “original” [if one takes angola as that] despite such change)?





Feminism, Capoeira, Cultural Appropriation, & Black Self-Determination

22 07 2008

Last week, a very important and unsettling (for me) but necessarily tough conversation began underneath my “Why ‘Sexist Capoeirista’ is an Oxymoron” post. Kimbandeira raised many deep issues that span across feminism, anti-racism, social values, and of course, our own positions in relation to capoeira.

...taking the time to take Africa and the cultural and intellectual production of African seriously.

These included issues such as the “position of privilege” from which “white [or, I suppose, ‘whitewashed’] feminists” seem to speak while advocating feminism, disregarding or trampling over (inadvertently or not) the not necessarily similar positions of black or brown women in the process, or of other women of colour.

A second major issue was cultural appropriation and sense of entitlement: As “gringas/gringos”, do we have the “right” to change capoeira from its original form/context and modify it into better suiting our own values (even a value such as gender equality)?

Finally, how valid is our 21st-century belief (exemplified in my own short story post, “Contours“) that the individual is what matters, freedom of choice and self-expression, options and unrestrained pursuit of happiness, as opposed to the values system of social responsibility, where duty to society, community, and family comes before the individual, no matter what?

The first issue, regarding mainstream feminism and anti-racism, is one I’ve wanted to approach for a while now, but didn’t because I knew I’d be going in way over my head. So, I have Kimbandeira to thank for giving me the opportunity to bring it to all of your guys’ attention. Please read her comments, and all of the responses, for what I consider to be a completely thought-provoking and eye-opening read. Click here.





Better a Conscious Hellcat than a Sleeping Beauty…

14 07 2008

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(Excerpted from “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening“, Robert Frost)

I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that not many of you have become hypothermic while stranded in a snowstorm in the middle of nowhere. (Just for the record, I haven’t, either.) If you ever do find yourself in this situation, just remember one thing: don’t go to sleep. When your body temperature drops below a certain level, and you begin to feel tired and heavy all over, and all you want to do is close your eyes and sink your head into that soft, fluffy pillow of snow…that’s when sleep means certain death.

To relax is to put yourself in the ultimate danger, here. Compliance is fatal. And yet…it’s so easy. It’s so much easier to close your eyes and let yourself fade away into rest—and oblivion—than to keep struggling, if not with eyes wide open then from one blink to the next. Everything is telling you to board the sweet, cotton candy cloud of dreams: your eyelids, falling like blinds; the giant pillow, waiting underneath; the drifting flakes, promising to cover you in a perfect quilt; your body, begging for relief. But then what?

Though slightly dramatic as far as extended metaphors go, sometimes I feel like that 2nd-stage hypothermic wanderer. Only instead of my body wanting to shut down and rest, it’s my mind and personality.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, especially during instances when the following monologue runs through my head: “Okay, so should I ‘play feminist’ and say something here, or just let it go? Do I want to ruin the fun? Will it even make a difference? Is it really that big of a deal? Oh who cares, whatever!”

Basically, I’ve found, ignorance is bliss. Apathy is peace. Indifference is tranquility, and obliviousness is happiness.

Sleeping, not thinking, would mean being able to appreciate the humour in a joke instead of being annoyed by its premise; able to be chill/cool/relaxed/generic instead of worked up and politicized; able to play along/get along/sing along without feeling like an ever-so-slightly hypocritical sell-out. Sleeping (or is it dreaming?) would mean being able to laugh at everything my friends find funny, and like/respect my capoeira teachers without doubts, and watch a certain new Pixar film without feeling the need to roll my eyes at every gender stereotype along the way, and just enjoy the cuteness.

When you’re asleep, you don’t feel angry, indignant, incensed, or infuriated. When you don’t think or don’t care, you’re not bothered by injustice; you can read the news with cool, desensitized nonchalance; and the full weight of a systemic, worldwide, fundamental, political, religious, societal, deep-rooted undermining, suppressing, assault, and attack on you and/or yours in all his slightest and heaviest forms leaves you well undisturbed.

But at the same time, lest we forget…sleep is death. And that storm will still come to bear down on you, in some way or form, no matter how much you ignore or disregard it.

I once read a quote that began, “Finding feminism is like discovering the Matrix”*—and it is spot on. Who do you think leads happier lives in the movie, those inside the Matrix or those outside of it? But who, after knowing, goes back? Who would purposely commit mental and intellectual, and possibly ethical, suicide?

So yes, sleep would be nice. And, as I said, easy.  (Because what’s easier than default?)  But ignorance and apathy are two things I hate/fear probably just as much as, if not more than, misogyny and other types of discrimination. So, let’s just say…it’s a good thing I’m used to all-nighters.

*“Finding feminism is like discovering the Matrix. You can’t believe you didn’t notice all this stuff, you can’t believe no one told you how fucked up things are. You feel angry for knowing, angry for having not known. It’s such a harsh transition to make. You don’t just gently start to pick up on misogyny here and there. Once the floodgates are open you are smacked relentlessly with realization after realization. It can be devastating and it can feel like the only way not to drown is to find a really big crew and a really big boat, put your head down—and paddle.” -Julia Gonzalves





“Nobody Can Say!”: The “Roda” That Is Capoeira Arguments

7 07 2008

“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers.”

Capoeira is like philosophy. And I don’t mean it’s like a philosophy, as in “the philosophy of capoeira”. Capoeira is like the entire field of philosophy—at least when it comes to the discussions.

Who can say?  Maybe somewhere in the stars...

It struck me shortly after I came back home and finally broke it to my capoeira group (read: teachers) that I’d been training with another group in France. (I’d kept it a secret during all of last year…slightly long story there. But I digress.) What I then found amusing (as well as not so amusing) about the whole thing was how each side of the pond so readily disdained the other, even though I love and esteem both. And they all have their not-unreasonable explanations, including for why they’re each superior to a separate third group—who, I have no doubt, considers itself better than my two!

As one of my teachers pointed out, “…and it’s all opinion anyway! Maybe you think this capoeira group is better, but I think that capoeira group is better. Everyone has their own preference.” Most capoeiristas recognize this, yet many capoeira groups still claim, for one reason or another, to be the best (or at least pretty darn up there). It’s funny because with every capoeira group touting their own superiority, their claims kind of all cancel each other out, and so in the end it comes right back down to personal opinion anyway. After all, at least when it comes to capoeira style and capoeira philosophy, nobody can say!

Similarly, about a week later, I got into a conversation about fights breaking out in capoeira, and capoeiristas who “play” really to fight other group’s capoeiristas, and ended up saying something like, “It’s not capoeira!” (Since “just dancing” isn’t capoeira, so it’s okay to say “just fighting” isn’t capoeira either, right?) After I said that though, another one of my capoeira teachers ended it with the inevitable line: “But what is capoeira? Nobody can say.”

And therein lies the crux of the whole thing. Capoeira reminds me of philosophy because no matter how much capoeiristas—like philosophers—talk and discuss and debate and rationalize their respective arguments, you can almost never come to any ultimate conclusion because—who can say?! What can be proven?? No one capoeirista has enough authority or knowledge to decide for all, and for better or worse, Newton concentrated his efforts on gravity rather than capoeira when making his laws.

I think one of my friends from first-year put it best (paraphrased from memory): “The thing about philosophy [or in our case, capoeira] is that you can spend hours and hours talking and going through arguments and making your points, but in the end none of it matters because nobody can prove any of it anyway!”

Although that doesn’t quite work, either (clearly it matters some, or this blog wouldn’t exist!), I just found the irony or circularness (hence “roda”) of it all amusing. So sue me! 😛

Picture source (modified):
http://s272.photobucket.com/albums/jj161/masterplats3/





10-Step Guide to Rocking the Capoeira Roda (by A. B. Ghinner)

4 07 2008

Hi everyone! Joaninha has been exhausted with work and training for the past few weeks (she slept for 15 hours last Saturday), not to mention catching up with all her Canadian friends, and apologizes dearly for having unintentionally lead you on regarding her return! I’m her hitherto unknown alter-ego, A. B. Ghinner, and she sent me to write a guest post in her absence.

Getting through a roda is easy!

Don’t tell her I told, but she’s been complaining about her performance in the roda lately, so I’m writing a post to help with that! Now, I don’t know that much about capoeira rodas, but the point is to maintain the circle, right? In that case, she’s actually pretty good! In fact, I’ve put together this fabulous guide for you guys on how to rock the roda, based on my observations of her alone. You’re sure to learn tons from it—and no need to thank me!

A. B. Ghinner’s 10-Step Guide to Rocking the Capoeira Roda

1. Watch the games, clap to the music, and sing along to the songs.

2. Be polite and “let” people go in front of you.

3. Shift your weight from foot to foot. Constantly.

4. Create a mental flowchart of conditions for buying in, and don’t even think of deviating from it.

Joaninha’s personal favourite (She’ll love how attentive I’ve been!): kid: no ==> much higher belt: no ==> floreio-happy: no ==> trains everyday with: no ==> excessively aggressive: no ==> played already in last or 2+ games: no ==> involves buying out higher belt: no ==> remaining capoeiristas: maybe, depends, we’ll see)

5. Mentally organize every other capoeirista present into order of preference for playing against.

6. Hover on the edge of the roda, preferably directly behind one or more large, shirtless, sweating men whose eye-levels you are literally below.

7. Attempt to put every capoeirista with a higher belt between you and the bateria.

8. Failing that, continually take one step towards and two steps back from the bateria/pé do berimbau. Reverse direction when you reach the other side.

9. As a last resort, practice the cha-cha or salsa steps right at the entrance to the roda.

10. Do not, under any circumstances, actually go into the roda and play.

Well, that’s it! Easy, right? You could get through a roda like that blind-folded! Although I have to admit, she only does about half of those things, but I hope my own ideas will work just as well! Be sure to let her know if they do; I’m sure she’d be so pleased. 🙂 It was great meeting you guys, and I’ll see you around!

Picture source:
http://carfwebnet.blogspot.com/2004/12/rehabilitation-in-crisis.html





“My Capoeira Teacher/Friend/Mestre is Awesome, BUT…”

20 06 2008

social friends, ideological foes?

I have a confession. As a feminist, I don’t always do my “duty”. In fact, when it comes to speaking out against things like sexism, homophobicism (a term I made up about 1 second ago, to differentiate between people who just use seemingly homophobic language and people who are actually, definitively, homophobic), and racism, a lot of times I downright fail as someone who allegedly stands for equality.

Like…if a cool friend makes rape jokes (please note the oxymoron) and I don’t say anything, or laugh. Or…if a great capoeira teacher says something sexist and I don’t say anything, or smile. And especially…if a relative gives mortifyingly old-fashioned sexist—or racist—“life advice” and I smile and nod along politely.

In feminist terminology, there’s an expression that goes, “Not my Nigel“. This term refers to the attitudes of women who don’t believe that sexism or misogyny is systematic in society, or that while other men might be sexist or misogynistic, the men in their own lives never are, or “don’t mean it that way”. I.e., “Not my Nigel! He’d never think/do/say that!”

What do you do, though, when it is “your Nigel”, and you know it? How do you react when those you’ve come to like, admire, or deeply respect turn around and disappoint you—sometimes continually—in these little yet ultimately fundamental ways? How do you reconcile the jarring disjoint between your valuing these people in your life, and your values?

Of course, the most straightforward way to solve this dilemna is to just cut these people out of your life completely. If you have nothing to do with them, then you don’t have to be bothered by what they say or do, right? But obviously, “easier said than done” is a major understatement here, especially when it comes to capoeira. It’s not as if you can just leave a class or quit a capoeira group every time a sexist capoeira teacher comes along, nor should you. At the same time, how do you maintain the same respect for, and thus truly effectively learn from, someone whose values you question?

As for dropping friends, I think a close one of mine summed it up best when she said, to paraphrase, “If I were to stop being friends with every guy friend who was a jerk to a girl, I wouldn’t have any guy friends at all.” Wait! Before the comments section explodes, this is of course not 100% true, and I apologize for the extreme generalization. I would have a few guy friends left, and at the same time I might lose a few girl friends, too. However, I hope the point got across. Your friends are your friends, and if you really value them as such, it’s neither easy nor desirable to break ties with them over a verbal instance of bad judgement or two (…or five…or ten…).

Then there’s always confrontation, but when was the last time someone you knew thought it was a good idea to pipe up and go, “Excuse me, Mestre (/Professor/Instrutor/Contra-mestre), but with all due respect, don’t you think what you just said was a little bit—or very—sexist?” Actually…has that ever been done before? How might they react? Would they listen to students’ concerns and be more considerate in the future (or maybe even, against all odds, rethink their views); completely ignore the criticism; or brazenly (or humbly) plead a claim to cultural immunity?

As for friends…pretty much the only thing that happens if you say something is you or all your future related comments lose credibility due to “the feminist” in you. (Because clearly, that detracts from you being a person who just believes in that mystical equality stuff.)

Most people probably opt for one last option: ignorance is bliss! “I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that.” Or are we just up that old Egyptian river*, lacking paddles and all?

It’s a conundrum for sure, and unfortunately, one that I run into more often than normal in capoeira, perhaps due to the nature of the art and its roots. Come to think of it…I think for me, this dilemna does only exist to such an extent in capoeira. All non-capoeirista sexism suspects are cut. (Hey, you! Sexist? Hate women? Join capoeira, and get out of the dog house free! Sign up today!)

I particularly remember a batizado in Italy, which was an awesome bonding experience, but also…well, let’s just say that after some particularly charming pre-party dinner conversation, it’s a good thing capoeiristas love caipirinhas, because—wait, no, I could’ve downed a bottle of pure cachaça after that. (As things were, a Long Island Iced Tea had to suffice. It was either that, or not speak to any of my guy friends for the rest of the night.)

Returning to the issue itself, for me it’s actually part of a larger phenomenon in capoeira, that I’ll be writing about in a near-future, if not the next, post. (Teaser: “The Hidden Dark Side of Capoeira” *dun DuN DUN!*) For now, we’ll just have to keep looking for our paddles—because the only other options are to ride with it…or bail.

*“deNile”

Picture source:
http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=91669814





Apologies

6 06 2008

Dear readers,

Please accept my profuse apologies for my recent bout of being MIA! Right after my exams I kind of crashed in exhaustion/relief, and then had approximately 1 day before yet one more batizado, from which I think I’m still recovering 😉 .

As well, something I kind of failed to mention thus far is that I’ve actually been studying on exchange in France all this year…which explains all the travelling I’ve been able to do! And as I type right now, I’m waiting for my landlord to come up and examine my apartment (so I can get my deposit back, fingers crossed), and my suitcases are packed and waiting for me to lug them back to Canada…early tomorrow morning! The preparations for which, I hope, further explain my hiatus.

However, I haven’t stopped thinking about this blog and new topics and debates for it all this time, so as soon as I settle back into life and my new summer job back in Canada, Mandingueira will be up and running again at full force! Thank you so much for your patience and reader loyalty, and I will talk to you soon! I love you guys!

-Joaninha





Why “Sexist Capoeirista” is an Oxymoron

28 05 2008

Or: Why Sexist Capoeira Teachers Should Not Be Promoted

Capoeira is

A short while ago, my friend and I had a conversation about capoeira teachers who are sexist, who treat their female students as inferior to male students of the same level (and below…so to male students in general). One of the things that struck me about the conversation was when I heard that other (male) students and teachers had excused a contra-mestre’s behaviour by saying he just “didn’t know how to act” (being new from Brazil and all, since, you know, obviously treating students equally takes special skill and talent there compared to all other parts of the world). [On the off-chance that someone read that as being really offendingly politically incorrect, please note the dripping sarcasm!]

My friend’s (and my) response to that: How can you be a contra-mestre and “not know how to act” when it comes to teaching? Even leaving aside if you’re naturally inclined to be sexist, or genuinely hold sexist views, you’d think somewhere along the way you would’ve learned what’s acceptable and what’s not, especially in such a position of responsibility (and power). (Not that I think pretending to be not-sexist is great, but if that’s what it takes, then better than nothing.)

This is a perfect example of what Faisca mentioned in his post on teaching capoeira: “15 years does not [necessarily] a good instructor make.” However, let’s take this a little bit further:

Forget good instructors. Does 15 years a good contra-mestre make? Does 30 years a good mestre make?

To be a qualified teacher, one should know what it means to teach, and what teaching is about. More importantly, they should know what their subject is about, and know it through and through.

Being deemed and respected as a mestr(a/e), contra-mestr(a/e), or any of the nearby levels implies that you have what verges on a deep, profound knowledge of capoeira, and have at least a better than average notion of what capoeira is all about.

Well, what is the one thing that capoeira is MOST touted for being all about, by beginners and advanced capoeiristas, old guard and avant-garde alike?

Universality. All-inclusiveness. “For men, women, and children.” (-Mestre Pastinha, in case anyone forgot)

In that case, wouldn’t that mean that a capoeirista who is sexist (or racist, or in fact discriminatory in any rights-violating way), and lets it show in the capoeira environment, lacks true understanding of one of the most basic, fundamental concepts of capoeira?

And thus is not prepared to be granted the recognition and responsibility that comes with being deemed a “full”/”good”/”advanced”/”true” capoeirista in the way that today’s capoeira systems do?

I mean, think about it. Beginner and novice capoeiristas are expected to be well-rounded in terms of the “physical” aspects of capoeira in order to be promoted; they need to know both movements and music. Even if they have great floreios and great game, they won’t go anywhere if they can’t hold a berimbau or sing any songs.

As you progress in capoeira, this required all-roundedness expands to include the metaphysical—that is, capoeira philosophy. Well, a basic part of the philosophy of capoeira is that it’s for everyone: girls as well as boys, women as well as men. So, wouldn’t promoting a supposedly philosophically advanced capoeirista who doesn’t understand that concept be akin to promoting an esquiva-challenged beginner capoeirista to novice level?

Of course, none of that applies if a certain mestre or contra-mestre or so on really believes that capoeira is not for everyone, and that “true” capoeira philosophically does mean Brazilian Males Only.

But otherwise…just saying. If capoeira is truly universal, as we all love to say it is, then please hang up your bigotry, or abada. Because a sexist capoeirista is, arguably, no capoeirista at all.

Picture source:
http://www.casafree.com/modules/xcgal/displayimage.php?pid=2555





Contours: A Short Story (Blog Meme)

25 05 2008

Once Upon a Bloggy NightThis is my first real attempt in recent history at creative writing, thanks to an imaginative blog meme called “Once Upon a Bloggy Night“. What are the rules? Basically: write a short story, and incorporate into it the names of all the blogs you read. So voilà, a peek into my daily reading list (I got 85-90% of them in) and some fun fiction, wrapped up in one. 😀 I hope you enjoy it!

p.s. If you’re a blogger reading this…consider yourself tagged!

***

Contours
by Joaninha

Parana e, parana e, parana—
“IE!”

The circle froze, momentarily suspended in time as people paused and found their bearings, making the always-abrupt transition from 16th century Brazil to 21st century Canada. Raia threw a private tantrum as the roda dissolved, as her teacher dissembled the berimbau she’d been crouching towards when the roda ended.

I came here to play!, she seethed. So focused was Raia on her frustration that she succumbed to Palavra’s sneak attack and, surprised out of her mood, laughed as she jolted into retaliation.

Porra!
“The gringa strikes again!” her friend triumphed.
“You’re shameless, you know that?”
“This, from someone named ‘line’ just so she’d remember to stop crossing it?”
“Hey! It happened once—”

“OI, PALAVRA!”
“Uh-oh…uhm, salve, Mestra. Como está?”
“Don’t give me any of that skelliewag, you berimbau duties shirker. Just were where you during Mestre Angoleiro’s roda last week? And the one before that?”
“I’m sorry, Mestra. But my sister got really sick, and then our house got broken into, and…”

Now those are what I call fast fictions, Raia grinned as she packed up and left the academy. If only she knew he’d skipped because of a few unfortunately placed paper cuts. I wonder if there’s anything on The Capoeira Blog about buying into mosh pit-like rodas?

The 22-year-old news intern had a month before returning to the political grind known as Parliament Hill, where she harvested fodder for the CNN Political Ticker. With the extra time and some inspiration, she’d decided to try practicing The Art of Nonconformity. So far, this meant having her mind, body, and soul capoeira-infused, openly converting to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, enrolling in a neuroanthropology course, becoming a freelance copyblogger, and turning her bedroom into a paradise of flowers and fruit. Sophocle’s Antigone was her most recent heroine.

As she cut through the park, Raia noticed a teenage girl drifting among the flowerbeds, stooping every few feet to search absent-mindedly through the fluttering palettes of colour. She appeared to be talking to herself.

“Are you alright? Do you want any help?” Raia approached the girl.
…in the search…
“What are you searching for?”
“…currents…”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“…create a way to state…
“A way to state what? Look, I’d like to help, but I can’t if I don’t understand you.”

Suddenly, the girl turned and stared straight into Raia’s eyes. Only now did Raia notice her garments: a glittery white cutoff shirt, a thin, dark green vest, and khaki short shorts. A procession of small, jagged stones wound around her neck, and a leafy twig held up her hair. What is she, EnviroWoman?

“Create a way to State,” the girl repeated.
“To state what?” Raia asked, exasperated now.
“Not to state, a state. Your state. Here.” And she held out a tattered piece of old parchment.

Raia accepted, and the scent of pine and rainforest soil rose to greet her. She unfolded the paper to find an old-fashioned compass inked in by hand. Above it, squiggly lines had been dashed off in seemingly random order. Underneath it was written:

NxE

“North by East? I don’t understand.” Raia was getting real tired of not understanding.

“Who are you? How do you live?”

Despite the strangeness of their encounter, something about the girl compelled Raia to answer, rather than walk away. And did she hear wind chimes?

“Well…I have a pretty normal life. I work, I go out, I go to school…the daily slog. I love to write. I’m feminist, and just started, finally, a Feminism 101 blog. I want to work for Publisher’s Weekly, or be the next Andrew Coyne. I have a weakness for men with pens. I like traveling, indie music, theatre…,” Raia suddenly laughed at herself as she recalled a website her friend had forwarded the other day, adding ironically, “you know, ‘stuff white people like‘. And capoeira, of course; I can’t wait until my trip next year to see the Bahia capoeira scene firsthand. I try to live by my own values, morals, ethics, etc. I could do better, I suppose. Sometimes I feel like I could do something great, like write a series of revolutionizing broadsides for CBC Top Stories News, or uncover some amazing lifehack that would solve all our problems…”

Why am I telling her all of this?

“Because you are lost.”

Raia blanched. “Excuse me?

“Look at the paper again.”

Raia looked, and wondered if she were hallucinating. The hand-drawn compass needle had started to quiver on the page, rotating slightly towards North, and the writing underneath had changed. It now read:

NNE

Before Raia could fully process what she was seeing, the girl began to speak.

Love“Have you ever seen Arabic calligraphy? It’s breathtaking. You take ordinary words, put them on canvas, and suddenly, they’re art. The words turn and coil, twist and bloom, moving in ways they never have before. What was once ruled lines and minced strokes becomes luxurious curves, indulgent elongation, voluptuous images and shapes. They become words without borders. Yet, what gave them the sudden capability to be this way? The seductive contours, the mesmerizing patterns; where did they come from? In actual fact…nothing did, and from nowhere.

“These qualities were an inherent part of each word all along; the only difference between love stated and love STATED was a simple decision on the part of s/he who controls the brush. Will this word be passive, and match all the rest? Or will it scream, shout, get attention, be remembered, and make its mark? Once this decision is made, the rest is simple: a little less ink here, a little more pressure on the brush there. All it takes is the choice. With that, any word easily bursts into the blinding glory of its full meaning and potential—into its true State.”

Raia opened her mouth, and a squeak came out. She tried again, “Who are you?”

The girl gave a half-smile, and shrugged. “Just a girl in short shorts talking about whatever. Would you like me to continue?”

“That piece of paper you’re holding depicts an open secret, one that is so open that people have forgotten it exists. You humans (yes, you have guessed correctly), you constantly speak of direction, of going the right way, of finding your path. Your north stars, you might say. But you become distracted, oh, so easily distracted. And so you end up veering east, and west, and sometimes even turning south—all the while thinking you are still pushing due north.

“In fact, you are already doing better than most. North by East, the compass said you were going, and further north after you began talking to me, and were forced to review your own life as a whole. It is always better to review a restaurant by sampling the whole menu, rather than focusing excessively on the daily dish. You are an economic woman, so you will appreciate knowing that at this point, it will take less work for you than it would for many others.”

“Less work for what?” Raia was slowly starting to wake up again.

“Why, to find your true State, of course. To do all the great things you say you want to do. To create a way to live your life that will lead to the fulfillment of your greatest potential. For you, that’s a mere adjustment of 22.5 degrees. Of course, it’s not even a quarter-turn in direction, but when one starts at the South Pole, go far enough and that less-than-quarter-turn becomes the difference between Greenland and Africa.

“That, incidentally, is the secret: Find where north is, then simply stay the course. Your north star represents your proper State—the full, complete, best you. Those who realize that, we call postsecret—the state of knowing in all certainty that life is worth living to the best of your passions and abilities, not to the best of traps and waylaying gnomes, not to the best of peer pressure, best of familial expectations, best of personal insecurities, or the best of false obligations. Do you understand what I’m saying, Raia?”

Raia nodded, trance-like, still staring at the dark sepia tinted compass that gauged her very life’s direction. Where to go from here? When she looked up, the girl was gone.

***

Artwork: Love by Hassan Massoudy