Winnie-the-Pooh Helps Me Out With A Short Presentation About Nothing

Winnie-the-Pooh On Nothing (from The House at Pooh Corner, with thanks to Louise Dubreuil)

As part of the Mile End Poets’ Festival, I’ll be giving a Short Presentation About Nothing. A kind of performative lecture bringing together bits & pieces of readings, reflections, actions (and non-actions) that all point to the very paradoxical and ever-so-stimulating notion of Doing Nothing. I’ll also be sharing the stage with two of Montreal’s finest poet/performers, Kaie Kellough and Tanya Evanson, along with musical act Skin Tone.

Where: Casa del popolo, 4873 St-Laurent
When: April 4, 2017; doors open at 8pm, show starts at 9pm
How much: $7

– read more about the festival here –

Post-Talk Thoughts: Curtis & Carly on Doing Nothing

A small group of keeners braved the snow storm this past March 15 to come out and partake in the informal conversation being led by Curtis Murphy and Carly Gaylor, two young Unitarian ministers who will soon be starting their own “slow ministry” in Hamilton Ontario.

As the third in the series of Talking About Nothing With… this was Curtis and Carly’s first time “giving ministry” (as it were) as a duo, taking the opportunity to test the waters as a couple. (What can I say, I am so honoured!)

And so, a short presentation by Carly and then by Curtis was followed by an animated conversation over tea and homemade banana bread – excellent items to be consuming in a storm.

Here below, a smattering of some of the bite-sized reflections that were shared…

First off, before we even got there, I was at my partner’s place during which time he was teasing me for not cancelling the talk. “Everything is closed today because of the snow, even McGill University! And you’re still having your talk?! You are so determined.” To which I replied, “Yeah… it’s because it’s in the evening and it’s inside (unlike most of my other gatherings, which are more weather-sensitive because of taking place outdoors). People will have had time to shovel, and we’ll be cozy in the DARE-DARE trailer.”

Then, as if on cue, Curtis appeared (he and Carly are temporarily my partner’s roommates while Curtis finishes up seminary school) and he says: “Well, everyone has something to do, so all their somethings are cancelled. But have nothing to do. So there’s nothing to cancel.”

…BOOM!

More quotes from Curtis:

“This whole ‘work/life balance’ idea needs to be revisited; it assumes that work is separate from life…We’re starting from a terrible place if work is not a part of life.”

“We’re experimenting with a Digital Sabbath; how it is we make less screen time in our downtime. It started when I asked myself, ‘What’s the thing that I default to which is taking me away from what I really want to do?’ When you take away the default mode (in my case and for many people, reverting to a computer or tablet, or phone) it leaves room for something else. So at first when I began limiting my internet use I had lots of anxiety. But then that eventually gave way to huge space – to more time…!”

“Often we’re struggling against the currents in our own lives, of everything circulating around us, in order to do nothing, or less, or slow…”

And Carly shared an anecdote which for her represented a definitive moment in her desire to want to initiate a “slow ministry.” She described having been called in to do supplemental work for a church out west, and how all the members of the parish were working like fiends. They took on tons of projects, in an effort to stay contemporary and bring in more members, but the end result in the community around her was stress and burnout. At one point during her tenure there Carly realized that this is exactly the kind of operation she did not want to be part of. From there on she began to let go of more and more responsibilities, preferring instead to do less, but do things with greater calm and presence.

“Taking on more and more and more just causes more anxiety. So I had a revelation, a rule of thumb that became my ‘ministry to myself’: I like slower…”

The question of “freedom” in connection to the “right to choose rest” came up, but how this sense of freedom can in fact end up undermining our freedom – a kind of “Capitalism as Freedom” whereby, like in the realm of capitalism (and our unspoken obligation to be a part of this system), “We’re forced to be free.”

This lead to a brief discussion on the question of “limitations” and whether limits are necessary, I.e: deciding to do less, to stop working, to make space for unproductive time. “How do we institute limitations and it not feel like punishment?”, One person asked.

…Or shame. We came back to that (very prescient and ubiquitous) idea of how doing less or doing little is often equated with a lack: of strength, of discipline, of morality. How we are trained from a very young age to go into the world as productive beings as this is also a proof of (good) health.

…So the new ministry, as Curtis and Carly described, is definitely trying to “think outside the box,” wishing to address all these issues and more, looking toward “Doing Nothing” as a communal act.

…As Curtis aptly put it: “…I feel as though I am reclaiming time as a spiritual quest.”

Doing Nothing, Micronesian Style

The following reflection comes from a book called Today’s Gift: Daily Meditations for Families in which an inspirational quote is followed by a brief explanation as applied to daily life. This one about Doing Nothing appears in the July 4 entry (with thanks to Pohanna Pyne-Feinberg, for sending it my way!):

“In Micronesian, there’s a word, kukaro, which has no corresponding word in English. When people say they are going to kukaro, they mean they are going to relax, sit around, and hang out. They are being, not doing.” –Eli and Beth Halpern

As children, our best times are often trips to an amusement park, fishing at the lake, camping, or just sitting idly under a tree. These make the best memories, and times sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows or having a root beer after a family outing seem to bring out the love we share.

We don’t seem to be accomplishing anything at these times. No chores are getting done around the house, no schoolwork, no repairs, and no moneymaking.

But these times of peace, relaxation, and a sense of endless time of being, not doing, may be essential to our ability to get other things done later. Certainly we are most receptive to our feelings, new ideas, and unplanned adventures at these moments. Maybe we should add kukaro to our vocabulary.

Allen Ginsberg on Doing Nothing (1974)

A re-posting of Vince Tinguely’s, who brought this wonderful quote to my attention:

I’m interested in meditation, in exploring inner space, in a certain political movement which would involve a sit-in in Washington where hundreds of thousands of people would just go to Washington and sit down. Ten hours on Monday, for ten days, ten hours a day, doing nothing but sitting. I’d like to see that. That many people doing nothing would create such a pool of nothing-doing that it just wouldn’t contribute to the aggression that’s going around. I’d like to see Nixon sit down and do nothing for a while and take a rest, stop working so hard.

– Allen Ginsberg, from ‘A Conversation’ in Composed On The Tongue, August 8, 1974

Talking About Nothing With… Parlons de rien avec… Carly Gaylor & Curtis Murphy (Hamilton)

Public Forum About Nothing Presents: Talking About Nothing With…

Curtis Murphy & Carly Gaylor
March 15, 2017 from 5 to 6:30pm
DARE-DARE trailer
Intersection Atwater, Greene & Doré in front of the Atwater market

As part of the yearlong project, The Sanctimonious Sect of Nothing Is Sacred, I am inviting artists, researchers, thinkers, and practitioners of various disciplines – both within and outside of the arts – to present their reflections in an open format around the question of Doing Nothing.

The third in the series is a presentation, followed by an open discussion, with Hamilton-based Unitarian ministers Carly Gaylor and Curtis Murphy.

Carly and Curtis are currently exploring slowing down as a spiritual practice, making Sabbath a regular part of their lives, and are preparing to start a (slow) new ministry in Hamilton where they will practice doing money differently and having an answer to “how are you?” that is not “busy.” They’ll share experiences and ideas about Sabbath and taking things slow.

Presenters’ bio
Curtis is currently finishing his final year of seminary to become a Unitarian Universalist minister, and Carly was ordained in the same tradition in 2013. They enjoy yoga and meditation, subversive economics, tossing a frisbee, eating at the local all-day breakfast joint, and Star Trek.

**

Dans le cadre du projet L’édifiante secte de rien (n)’est sacré, qui se déroule sur un an, j’invite des artistes, chercheur.es et praticien.nes issu.es de diverses disciplines [artistiques ou extra-artistiques] à présenter leur réflexions durant une série de discussions informelles portant sur la question du rien faire. La formule est complètement ouverte, ce qui permet à chaque conférencier.ère de prévoir la manière dans laquelle il ou elle désire aborder le sujet et engager l’auditoire.

Le troisième rendez-vous de la série est une présentation, suivie d’une discussion ouverte, avec Carly Gaylor et Curtis Murphy, pasteurs de l’église unitarienne (Hamilton, Ontario).

Carly et Curtis explorent l’idée de ralentir comme une pratique spirituelle. En insérant le Sabbat de manière plus régulière dans leur quotidien, ils travaillent à mettre sur pied une nouvelle congrégation à Hamilton (ON), où ils souhaitent repenser le travail et essayer de trouver une autre réponse qu’«occupés» à la question : «Comment allez-vous» ? Dans le cadre de cette causerie, ils partageront leur expérience et réflexion autour du Sabbat et la notion de prendre la vie sans stress.

Bio des conférencier•ère•s
Curtis en est à sa dernière année de séminaire pour devenir un pasteur de l’église Unitarienne Universelle. Carly a été ordonnée dans la même confession en 2013. Ils aiment le yoga et la méditation, les économies subversives, jouer au frisbee, manger au resto-déjeuner du coin et regarder Star Trek.

Doing Nothing in Le Devoir

I mentioned this article in the previous post but for those who want a fast peek (and to not have to dig around to find it): … a very thoughtful piece written by Jérôme Delgado making parallels between my project and an installation in Quebec City by an Italian collective on the importance of slowing down.

http://www.ledevoir.com/culture/actualites-culturelles/492496/ne-rien-faire-a-l-affiche

The Skyline Will Reappear (?!)

Hey V

the skyline will reappear!
they’ll build bigger towers behind the condos.
still i may join the elegy.

***
This was my friend Jhave’s response after I sent out the invitation to come collectively mourn the disappearing skyline (see previous post). Which – ironically enough – ended up being quoted in Le Devoir, when I decided to share the anecdote with journalist Jérôme Delgado. Jh’s reflection (translated into French) was incorporated into a rather thoughtful piece exploring the parallels between the skyline ‘non-action’ and an installation in Quebec City created by an Italian collective on the benefits of slowing down.

You can read the article here:
http://www.ledevoir.com/culture/actualites-culturelles/492496/ne-rien-faire-a-l-affiche

***

But this, in turn, spurred a fun (and somewhat evocative) little correspondence between Jh & I, the contents of which I also wish to share here:

Jh: I cycled down to join your event today but I was a little late and then didn’t find you, so a bit cold and buffered by rain, I end up (o so ironically) going inside the canal.ca condo showroom where they are selling phase 4 of skyline eroding development homes. Looks pretty pretty nice actually, a bit expensive, but genuinely comfortable.

V: Oh no!!! I’m sorry we missed you and you missed us. But that is a very interesting find and thank you for this little piece of future-looking documentation.

The line from your previous email ended up making it into the article that came out in the Le Devoir this past Friday (I mentioned it in passing anecdotally to the journalist who saw fit to quote you. lol!!!)

Jh: Your event sounds lovely.

And I didn’t know whether what I wrote (in my previous email) was almost dismissive or defensive or concerned or apathetic or wise or simply casual … But it made me laugh to realize it made it into le Devoir: S had told me about that article, and I’d told her I was going to the performance. What I didn’t anticipate was the bike paths covered in ice and snow along the canal. That paused me in my capacity to find you because I was wearing running shoes… As it turned out I felt as if was part of the vigil, albeit in a different context.

V: I think it was a bit of all of the above… as is (often) your way…!!

The paths are pretty treacherous this time of year, for sure. I am impressed that you braved the trip down by bike!!

And interestingly, it’s not the first time that someone (or small group) has come looking for me/us and not found me/us and then had their own ‘nothing’ experience nonetheless. Which is to say, the person in question, like you telling me here now, had an awareness of having been part of something (a consciousness of their participation) even if it wasn’t in direct contact with me.

Which, to my mind, is just as valid (and exciting.)

Jh: Nice and wonderful.

I agree about the parallel events as part of the experience. That’s why I respect your work.

***

So, clearly, the complexity of ‘gentrification’ – well beyond the scope of the Nothing project – could not not be addressed, even if in a cursory way. That the title of the whole project (Sanctimonious Sect…) takes on another kind of resonance this time around, as the city decides that Nothing is indeed sacred. The view of the (current) skyline included. However, it goes even further… these changes are afoot but what I have done to try to stop them? Nothing. Instead I (we) stop at the site of construction, and do nothing. Which is to say, not do anything about these developments that seem to be hurtling forward and coming right at us. One brick at a time.

I (we) do nothing as an act of mourning & contemplation.

And I do nothing about this ‘problem.’ (Maybe I, too, am part of the problem?)

So when is Doing Nothing a form of resistance? When is Doing Nothing a form of apathy? Who gets to decide?

…These are just some things I am left thinking about at this juncture…

“Doing Nothing” continues to boggle my mind.

Watching the Montreal Skyline Disappear

skyline_1_cc

As a resident of the Southwest in Montreal, I often take the bike path along the Lachine Canal to get to several points across the city both east and north. In the short six years I’ve been living down here, with each new condo development going up, the cityscape – a once prominent and attractive feature of this path – has been basically vanishing.

In what I think is probably my most despairing of non-actions in the collected moments of Doing Nothing, you are invited to come to the Canal and stand with me, as we collectively watch (and mourn) the disappearing skyline.

When: Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 at 3pm
Where: Meet at Metro Georges Vanier (2040, rue St-Antoine Ouest, H3J 1A6), we will walk over together from there. If you arrive late, come to the canal off Rue des Seigneurs and walk eastward (without crossing the bridge) till you find us. If you want to make sure to find us, please arrive on time at the metro.
Important: Wear warm clothes and good winter/walking boots

> http://www.dare-dare.org/en/events/victoria-stanton
> http://www.dare-dare.org/en/events/watching-the-montreal-skyline-disappear

***

En tant que résidente du sud-ouest de Montréal, j’emprunte souvent la piste cyclable qui borde le canal Lachine pour me rendre en plusieurs points de la ville, à la fois à l’est et au nord. Durant les six dernières années, j’ai vu rapidement le paysage urbain se transformer, un condo à la fois. La vue sur l’horizon de la ville – autrefois une particularité attrayante de ce parcours – est en train de disparaitre.

Dans ce qui est probablement la ‘non-action’ la plus désespérée de la série Ne Rien Faire, vous êtes invités à vous rassembler avec moi près du Canal, pour regarder ensemble (et faire le deuil) de la disparition de la silhouette de la ville.

Quand : le vendredi 24 février 2017 à 15 h
: Rendez-vous à la station de métro Georges-Vanier pour faire la marche ensemble (2040, rue St-Antoine Ouest, H3J 1A6). Si vous arrivez en retard, rejoignez-nous par la Rue des Seigneurs, puis longez le canal vers l’est (sans traverser le pont). Assurez-vous d’être à l’heure au point de rencontre si vous ne voulez pas manquer le groupe.
Important : Portez des vêtements chauds et des bottes d’hiver.

> http://dare-dare.org/fr/evenements/victoria-stanton
> http://dare-dare.org/fr/evenements/regarder-la-ligne-dhorizon-de-montreal-disparaitre

Nothing Inspires Nothing

johannezzits_nothingaction2
Johannes Zits’ Score For “Getting Into Nothing”

Toronto-based performance artist Johannes Zits wrote to me recently about a new project he’s doing. Apparently, Nothing is contagious. Here is what he had to say:

“I am still thinking about The Sanctimonious Sect of Nothing Is Sacred project at DARE-DARE and have been trying to catch up on your blog about the project.

Over the past few weeks I have been developing a score for a performance with the working title of “Getting Into Nothing.” The performance is centered around what I am calling a Nothing Shuffle; maybe not a great name for this action but for now, it will do.  For me, this action is one “without direction” but it goes beyond that. After reading articles on the blog, and through moving my body in the studio, I have come to realize that if I have time to process an action or allow myself to think about what to do next, it then starts to become something, even if it is on a very simple level. For example, moving towards the ground is significant if it is done as a conscious act. If it happens randomly and is followed by another unrelated movement, it avoids intention.

To frame the Nothing Shuffle, my score also works with emptiness, waiting, stillness, inaction and a pause or gap in the actions. For me these elements exemplify how nothing can become something within a given context. As in many of my other performances, I will be wearing nothing for most of this piece. However, undressing will deliberately be worked into the beginning of this score. The act of undressing is meant to present the naked state as an intention rather than just “something I do.” The last section of the score, doing nothing with something, still needs to be worked out. Will it be possible to bring my clothing back in to the space but treat them in a completely irreverent way while doing the Nothing Shuffle? I would conclude the performance as it began, by standing in front of the audience fully dressed.

Above is an image of the score that I have been working on.”

Best Birthday Gift Ever

I celebrated my mmblmbrmbth birthday this past weekend (apologies, my pronunciation’s not so good these days) and received this most lovely gift from my dear friend & colleague Julie which I wanted to share here:

Chère Victoria,
je tiens à te souhaiter un bel anniversaire et je te souhaite rien du tout.
Imagine une boîte bien emballée comme un cadeau avec du papier rayé gris et vert.
Je te la donne.
Tu la déballes et tu l’ouvres.
Dedans il n’y a rien.
Bonne fête.
Je t’aime,

Julie

***

(Translation for my non-French-speaking readers)

Dear Victoria,
I wish you a happy birthday, and I wish you nothing at all.
Imagine a beautifully wrapped gift box in striped gray and green paper.
I’m giving this to you.
You unwrap it, and you open it.
Inside, there is nothing.
Happy birthday.
I love you,

Julie