On Chichi Devayne and Re-inventing Oneself


The now cult-like, Rupaul’s Drag Race is known for plucking talent from obscurity and hurling small town heroes into drag queen super stardom. The eighth season of the reality TV show was no exception. The most recent season showcased ChiChi Devayne from Shreveport, Louisiana, a self-confessed “cheap queen” with a lot of talent and little to show for it. While the other contestants flounced into the work room clad in designer drag, Chichi arrived in her own hand-made trash bag couture topped with her “good wig”. Over the course of the season we learned of Chichi’s struggles growing up in the ghettos of Shreveport, being in and out of gangs and struggling to get out of a place from which people usually don’t leave. As seasoned and celebrated queens fell under the pressures of the exhausting competition, Devayne never seemed to run out of steam, constructing looks for the runway in her hotel room the night before their presentation and upstaging her fellow queens with acrobatic lipsyncs that saved her from elimination on multiple occasions. What was perhaps most relatable about Chichi Devayne wasn’t her southern charm or her undeniable talent, it was how over the course of the season we watched her come to terms with her past and her present to excel in the competition.

Chichi Devayne was routinely pegged for being a country queen by both the judges and the other contestants. Although she often tried to escape that brand and carve out a new niche, she was criticized for not being true to herself and was instead advised to “own that bayou charm”. Chichi’s narrative is all too familiar to me. As someone who was raised in a small rural community in Canada and now lives in an Asian metropolis, I am far flung from selling gourds on the side of a gravel road and waking up early to catch leopard frogs in the long grass. Sewing my polarized identities together has always posed a problem for me. A lot of my interests, skills and perspectives were informed by the rural culture that was once all I knew and as I accumulate life experience the distance between me and the green hills of the valley increases.

My first response was to resent the place that I was born into because of the strife it caused me. This too, was Chichi’s tactic. With the struggles of Shreveport behind her she hoped to reinvent herself. She pushed against being labeled “ghetto” or “country” because those identities represent a Chichi who wasn’t fulfilled. Both Chichi and myself saw our humble pasts as an obstacle that we overcame or as a chapter that had closed. During the judges’ critiques Chichi mentioned how “its damn hard to get out of the ghetto” and that she doesn’t want to be “ghetto”. I too, thought that having graduated to life in the city my rural roots were irrelevant. However, the always harsh Michelle Visage provided some illuminating critiques. “Just be you,” she said. “We dont need you to be somebody else”. These simple words were what allowed Chichi to really channel her energy and elevate herself as a contender for the crown.

I think what Chichi Devayne and I both realized was that in order to be a fully-realized version of ourselves we need to acknowledge both our present and our past as being parts of that harmony. Chichi needed to embrace her bayou charm and humble reference points to further herself in the present. I am not a rural bumpkin, nor am I still traumatized by my small town youth, but my regional accent, my encyclopedic knowledge of poultry breeds, and my ability to split wood are just a few of the qualities that contribute to my charm and allow others to relate to me in a unique way. Present Michael isn’t up for re-invention because there is a life-long narrative that leads up to this point. A tree cannot stand without its roots and although to me, they often don’t seem very nice, to others the narrative that traces back to my roots is full of rich sounds, vibrant colours, and beautiful originality. Roots are almost entirely hidden underground, but the parts that are visible only serve to compliment the tree itself, or in some cases the queen herself.


On feeling far away


I have been reading Alice and Wonderland lately and it is a really good book for anyone that is living alone in a foreign country. Alice is the most incompetent, flailing person to ever try and navigate a place that is different and strange, yet every time she finds herself in a bind, things seem to resolve themselves on their own. This has definitely been the case with the hiccups I’ve encountered relocating to Taipei. I’ve learned to adopt a wait and see kind of mentality. It has helped with the bizarre winter they have here. I regularly see people wearing parkas and flip-flops at the same time and it has rained so heavily and so steadily these past few months that I’ve wondered how the island is still afloat. I’m originally from Ottawa, Canada, which is often the coldest capital city in the world. To try and make me feel at home there were a couple of days when Taipei fell to 6°C. The air smelled like Canada and the news reported that several people died from the cold. I was perplexed to say the least. I find Alice’s adventures are good for reminding me of how curious things like this can be at times when I wish I hadn’t climbed down the rabbit hole.

As of now the clouds are finally giving way to some sunny days in Taipei and the city gains from it, a new energy. I came to Taiwan 6 months ago. I had never been here before and I didn’t know anybody. I just booked a flight and figured out a life once I arrived. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here longer than I have, but as the White Rabbit explains to Alice, forever is “sometimes just one second”.

The Rhythm of Tayrona

Of my 3 week visit to Colombia the three days I had scheduled to be in Tayrona National Park were by far what I was most excited for. Ever since I was a little boy collecting plastic frogs and staring at posters of the Amazon, I had craved visiting a tropical forest. I imagined myself ducking for cover as striped monkeys leaped in the canopy above me and being kept awake at night from the deafening chorus of the unseen jungle inhabitants.

The actual Tayrona is located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, about 1 hour from the city of Santa Marta. The park itself is mainly mountainous jungle with large boulder outcroppings dispersed throughout, and iced with white sand beaches along the seaside edge. Where I, and my Colombian travel partner were headed was Cabo San Juan, a campsite located 2 hours deep into the jungle where basic amenities and a place to sleep could be found.

Cabo San Juan
Cabo San Juan

After paying our entry and a very sweaty hike to our destination, we arrived and Tayrona Day 1 had begun. We spent the remainder of that day hanging around the campsite at Cabo San Juan and by the time night fell I hadn’t seen a single flock of macaws , nor had I been enveloped in a technicolour swirl of tropical fish while swimming at the beach. Exhausted we went to bed early in our open-air hammocks and I told myself that the jungle would open itself to me in the morning.

On Day 2 of Tayrona I woke up in good time and set off on a hike by myself up the mountainous Pueblito trail. I scrambled over boulders and saw more lizards than I could count, but I eventually sweat myself dry and I surrendered to Cabo San Juan in the midday heat. I had enjoyed my hike and to the park’s credit I did see one colourful frog, but the magical connection with an other worldly presence of nature was still evading me.

As the day drew to an end I started to question whether Tayrona was going to be what I expected it to be. Although, I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting it to be. Night vanquished we visitors by no later than 8pm, the mosquitos and the heat were oppressive to say the least and the hammocks and our camping food were getting old fast. I started to think that maybe three days was too long and that maybe whatever it was that I was looking for never actually existed. Regardless I still had a couple days to wait and hopefully see.

On our last full day we decided to go to La Piscina, which is a beach about a 20 minute hike away from the main camp site. The site is a bay with a string of rocks about 500 metres out that break the waves and make the bay a calm natural swimming pool, hence the name “La Piscina”. To cool off from the heat I immediately went for a swim when we arrived and I started to day dream in the sun as I tread water just deep enough that my toes couldn’t touch the bottom. Suddenly to wake me from my stupor, a heard a jet of spray nearby and a bearded face obscured by goggles and a snorkel emerged from the waves. “Una tortuga más grande”, my newly discovered swimming partner shouted to me with salt water muffling his words. My travel Spanish not failing me, I ducked under the surface to hopefully get a glimpse of the supposed “big turtle” that this person was reporting. But, despite the amount of times I dove down I couldn’t make out the shape of “una tortuga” amongst the blurred greens and blues of La Piscina.

Seeing my desperation, my mysterious friend swam over and communicated in Spanish for me to take his goggles and snorkel so I could properly take-in the sight. With immense gratitude I shook the water from my newly acquired equipment and dove once again in search of the turtle. Now that I could see clearly, I could truly appreciate the beauty of La Piscina. Translucent fish with yellow spots explored the rocks that decorate the clay and white sand ocean floor. Beds of sea grass swayed with the tide and I could watch the powerful surf roll in from below. I patrolled this world until I couldn’t swim any longer and I retreated to the beach without having found what I was looking for. After I returned my goggles and thanked their owner, I lay down in the shade and dozed off in the sand, with my body still surging with the waves.

When I awoke I looked to La Piscina and I noticed 3 snorkels circling something out in the waves. I guessed that “la tortuga” had returned and I stumbled into the water to get my second chance. I joined the snorkels and with my feeble terrestrial vision, I could faintly make out the shape of a large sea turtle swimming below them. Once again my bearded hero came to the rescue and abandoned his gear with me on his way to the shore. I donned his goggles and shamelessly bit the end of his snorkel as I descended beneath the surface to meet the elusive “tortuga más grande”. Below me I could finally see it. A Green Sea Turtle about 3 feet long was coasting along the bottom lazily grabbing up mouthfuls of sea grass. Hyperventilating through my snorkel, I followed, floating above the carefree reptile as it gracefully navigated its sea world. I wasn’t sure when I would have the chance to do something like this ever again, so I decided to make the most of it and I swam down to stroke its slippery carapace. As I slid my hands over its shell and made eye contact with the nervous yellow remora suction cupped to the turtle’s underside, I realized that I had found what I didn’t know I was looking for in Tayrona.  I followed this nonchalant novelty until my fingers were pruned and I returned to the beach light-headed from the encounter.

La Piscina
La Piscina

After my encounter with the sea turtle, Tayrona and I were on the same wave length. I spent the afternoon swimming with schools of blue fish in the bay and collecting corals on the beach. That night I retreated to my hammock at dusk and fell asleep with the rhythm of the surf rocking my hammock back and forth. I ended up finding what I knew Tayrona had to offer, my childhood craving to connect with nature in the tropics was satisfied and I had validated my three day stay in the jungle. I learned that it takes some time to acclimatize and also a brief encounter with a sea turtle to be able to catch the rhythm of Tayrona. Thankfully, I eventually came to truly realize the amazing beauty that this place has to offer.

As for my bearded saviour, he introduced himself to me in Spanish as Rocko the Brazilian who had come from the coast of Brazil through Peru and Bolivia on his motorcyle. He also mentioned something about Venezuela and an “inglesa” in Suriname, but I mostly just thanked him and I will again. Gracias!

“Moving” On

The view up Bronson Ave.
The view up Bronson Ave.

I had never actually moved houses for the sake of moving houses before. Since leaving my parent’s home my changes of residence depended on university semesters or the duration of my visa. This is the first time I find myself moving houses just to have a different house.

My old apartment suited me well. It was on an efficient bus route to get to class on time. It was in a great location not too far from anything I really needed. My roommates were easy-going and pleasant and the accompanying cats quickly became my favourite part after moving in. I didn’t know anything about the place before I agreed to fill an empty room. I just knew that I was returning to Canada from France and needed a place to live in Ottawa, so I arranged to take the spot of a friend of mine who was moving to a different city.

It was very much student housing. The building was a big old home that was converted into apartments (that I’m quite certain are a step down from the property’s previous glory), however, the remaining glory could still be noticed in the high ceilings, which were always the first thing people would comment on upon entering. My favourite quote about the apartment was…

“Wow! I feel so small in this apartment. The ceilings are so high and the cats are so big.”

Other than that, the house had all the charm and burdens of an old home. Everything just seemed kind of shabby and grimy. Our underdeveloped housekeeping skills were of little use in fighting the filth that three lazy young adults, two large cats, and whoever else we brought into our nest, could create. The apartment was also poorly lit. Almost all of our windows opened up to a narrow alley and a view of the brick building next door. This combined with the fact that we couldn’t open the windows without the cats escaping (Shnuggles scratched holes in all the screens), meant that our windows did little in terms of bringing the outside world in. This presented an even bigger problem during the hottest spells of the summer where fighting an onslaught of fruit flies buzzing in the stagnant, humid, multiple-litterbox scented air was an uphill battle. Despite my qualms with the beauty of the place, I was quite happy to live there. It was very warm and cozy in the freezing winter months and a great spacious place to have friends over that wasn’t too inconvenient for anyone to get to.

I do feel sad though, as I am about to leave this place behind. Even though I’ve only lived here for a year and a half, a lot has happened to me here. This is where I lived during the suffering of the last months of university. This is where I lived when I got my first real job and began the daily commute downtown. After a year of adventure on exchange, this is where I settled to be practical and to establish myself before embarking out into the world again. My successes, my failures, firsts, lasts, drama, romance, and comedy all unfolded within the confines of the four walls of my room. A backdrop that holds many memories is difficult to leave behind.

Although, in a year and a half I have matured, which is exactly why I need to leave this apartment. 2015 Michael is free from the demands of school and wants to progress. Thus far he goes to the gym, cooks, eats relatively healthy, and has time to pursue his interests. In the spirit of maximizing life’s enjoyment, I move into my new bachelor March 1st, a 10 min walk from my old apartment. A move I think suits the direction I want to take. I will miss the cats. I will miss my roommates. I will miss the apartment, but change is a double edged sword and doing something new will be good. Besides I am keeping my keys for now to wean myself off of the cat’s attention.

4 Saisons au Marché By

season market

April 26th 2014 was my first day of training for the job that has acted as a backdrop to my life for almost a year. The Byward Market has served me well since then. A summer of varied market schlepping for the Byward BIA and City Market’s Management has contributed partly into molding me into what I now present as my current self. My tolerance for summer heat and glaring sun has improved significantly, my French immersion French, turned French exchange French has now evolved into Franco-Ontarian working French. My clerical skills have also begun to bud after a rocky start with Microsoft Excel. I have glimpsed into the lives of Ottawa’s homeless, bandaged broken arms, called 911 more times than I could have imagined, and I made some of the most unusual friendships and acquaintances being a part of this community.

I now sit as an Administrative City Clerk at an information desk during the sleepy market off season. The demanding vendors of the summer are hibernating from the snow and I, armed with long-johns, brace against the blasts of cold air that come every time the door next to my kiosk opens. Kiki, my work wife, who once kept me company, packed herself up and shipped off to Toronto. Now I am the only employee among the remaining dregs of summer student staff who can work the info desk during the week. Coffee in hand, I am happy to wait out nicer weather because I am by no means overworked and the company of my office colleagues, the shop owners, and the “regulars” is almost entirely to my liking.

For now the routines of everyone in the market punctuates my day and, being fresh from the omnipresent demands of university, a simple season of doing one thing at a time will be rejuvenating, or at least it will be different. It will also be an exercise in creativity because for the times when civil servantry demands little, one is only as bored as long as their imagination fails them.

An excellent time to begin a blog non?