Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Women's Month Interviews: Carol Harris

How do we know each other?
From Maine Kantele Institute, where I shared in the catharsis of a group improvisation immortalizing your hatred of Houston in a jangle of strings.

How would you describe yourself?

Oldest child of two passionate academics, steeped from birth in rationality and the love of books and words, I have a scientific mind and yet all my life I’ve been nostalgic for the world of the old myths and tales I read as a child. I’m a dreamer, a perfectionist, a Luddite. Conscientious. Terrible at decision making. Possessed of considerable inertia (whether at rest or in motion). Aware of interconnections.
When I see someone doing something wonderful I want to be doing it myself. Now working as a freelance translator, after stints in labs, orchards and offices; now leading a women’s world music choir after trying my hand at various crafts and instruments and my body at flamenco and African dance; still not sure what I want to be and starting to suspect I will never grow up. By some miracle, relatively undamaged after 54 years in this world. Self-proclaimed totem: Heron, who is both solitary and social (and very untidy!)

In what part of the world are you located?

Sherbrooke, Québec. I like the people here and there’s enough interesting things going on; it’s a nice medium-sized pond to be a medium-sized fish in. The city is invading the pockets of urban wilderness I loved, though, and the winters are long.

Where can we find you on the web?


What don't people know about you that they ought to know?

When I seem stand-offish it's because I'm feeling insecure.

What's the most common mistake people make about you?

Thinking I come from some exotic place. Adding an e to my first name.

What are you most proud of having accomplished so far?

Learning another language well enough to really live in it. Designing and crafting some beautiful things. Developing the Choeur des Sangs Mêlés: overcoming my antisocial nature sufficiently to pull together a group of women to tackle some unusual and sometimes quite challenging music; the enjoyment people get from our performances; the artistic achievement of choosing the pieces, figuring out or writing the arrangements and weaving them together around a theme to form a meaningful whole that resonates with people; the money we’ve raised for some good causes.

What ambitions do you have ahead of you?
Creating more concerts, around the themes of peace and magical transformation, among others. Maybe organizing a joint event with other local groups. Making a transition to the country, growing at least part of my own food, getting partially or completely off the grid.

What's the best compliment you've ever received?
After one of our choir concerts, a friend whom I admire greatly as a musician and a person told me she had left the house feeling so bummed she wasn’t even sure she wanted to come, but the concert had turned her around completely and made her remember what live music is for.

If something great happens to you, how do you celebrate?

I take my boyfriend out for Indian food. Or do a little dance, or hug the nearest cat …

What's your best method for coping with stress?
Putting my iPod on shuffle and going out for a walk works pretty well.

What makes you laugh?

Mimicry; physical humour. Peter Sellers, Jim Carrey. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The cats playing. Orgasm!

What makes you cry?

“And everywhere the free space fills
Like a punctured diving suit
And I’m paralyzed in the face of it all,
Cursed with the curse of these modern times”
-- Bruce Cockburn, “Gavin’s Woodpile”

Beings that are cast aside after years of loyal service; beings that trust and are betrayed; beings struggling so incredibly hard to live when what they need just isn’t there. Plants stunted, bees unable to find their way back to the hive, polar bears adrift on dwindling icebergs, playful dolphins massacred. Big Bear with the white world closing in, the AIDS-ridden Bushmen in their resettlement camp dancing their healing dance as a tourist attraction. Sheer frustration. Magic mushrooms (way back when).

What do you love?
Wind. Trees. Birdsong. Cats. Funny people (Louis in particular). Bright, rich colours. Complex patterns. Craftsmanship. Natural materials. Music with a wildness to it that evokes the steppe. Art in any medium that tears the veil between this world and one that is wider and deeper.

What do you loathe?
Manipulative, twisted thinking posing as rationality; sleaziness. Ersatz anything. Oversimplification, homogenization, reduction to the lowest common denominator. Saccharine pop culture; cutesiness.

What's sexy?
Eye contact; a certain kind of lingering look. African master drummers. Confidence: I find real confidence (not insecurity masquerading as machismo) very sexy.

What's the best advice you were ever given?

All my life people have been telling me to relax. That's definitely the best advice I have been given, but I still don't have the faintest idea how to follow it.

How should people be spending their money?
People should be buying locally produced or Free Trade, organic or environmentally friendly everything, whenever possible, even if it costs more. And supporting local musicians and artists.

Which woman/women have inspired you?
My mother, who grew up poor in a fishing village and went on to get a PhD in chemistry in the early 50s when that was even more non-traditional than it is now. Who worked full-time and raised four kids and kept the artist alive inside her through it all. The talented, creative, sensitive, generous women I sing with.

If I gave you a million dollars, what would you do?
Probably give most of it to organizations like Survival International, First Peoples Worldwide, Équiterre, Sierra Legal, Greenpeace … it’s horrifying to think that a million would be a drop in the bucket, really.

Thank you so much for being part of this celebration: you are fabulous!

Thank you for holding it, fabulous Kate! These are great questions; it’s been a real pleasure thinking about them.

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