2014: On Entering a New Chapter in V Acts

Human time constructs are so elusive. It feels like just the other day that I decided to pack up and run away with the circus! Now I find myself, almost three years later (2015? How can that be?) facing another crossroads, on the brink of a new chapter, and in typical Polly fashion I’m diving into it completely head-first. Although this time at least it is clear where my next journey begins…right back where it started at The Apple Farm. That’s right folks! California is calling this farmgirl back to her roots. But before I explain why/how/when in the final Act, I’d like to back up a little because so much has happened since I last wrote (was that really a year ago? Oh wait…I did an interview for an online magazine…The Grown Up Truth…that counts right?) and Act V wouldn’t make much sense without its predecessors. Acts I-IV are a bit lengthy. I apologize and hope you’ll bare with me. It’s multimedia for your entertainment!

Act I: Winter and Spring

When I last wrote I had just returned from Jam Cruise and a pretty brutal winter tour (for those of you not on my email list, I’ll be posting my old updates to this website once a week from newest to oldest so you can catch up :-). Winter quickly gave way to March Fourth’s birthday show for which we designed and built this ridiculous life size stilt elephant. I rode it into the middle of the crowd (it was rolled along and controlled by two stilt walkers) and proceeded to drop into its belly and perform my lyra/aerial hoop debut. Crystal Ze Elephant, as we called her, was the star of the show and although she came together in a last minute scramble she played a very important role in the band. The birthday show is a celebration of how far MarchFourth has come and often includes various alumni. As our stage show has gotten tighter and more planned out it’s become harder for old members to fit themselves back into the controlled chaos. Designing, creating, assembling, and manning Crystal took serious work and got a lot of alumni excited about and involved in the show in a really special way. Ze coming to life was also really significant to Aaron and me who had been dreaming up and designing this magnificent beast on the road for months. Unfortunately she proved too bulky and time consuming to take on the road with us…but god was ze glorious!

Crystal Ze Elephant

Crystal Ze Elephant

Photos by Geoffrey Silver

Photos by Geoffrey Silver

Spring was suddenly upon us and brought with it much needed pay raises for the band and a pretty awesome tour to the Southwest. On a break between tours I had the opportunity to return to Santa Fe to spend more time with an amazing connection there and to finally check out Wise Fool Circus, which I’d been hearing about for years. That part of the world and that city in particular has a special kind of captivating energy and my time there was deeply transformative and opened the door to new levels of self-exploration and cultivation.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe

In the midst of much introspection and difficult reflection I was struck by bad news from home…my sister-in-law was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and would begin treatment immediately. I wanted desperately to be with family then and to help however I could (my brother works full time and they have two young boys) and being unable to head to California due to the upcoming tour caused me to question, really for the first time, how entrenched I had become in MarchFourth.   I didn’t have a sub, or anyone who could fill my position at that point, and while I had worked very hard to make myself a valuable member of the team I began to realize that I needed more flexibility than I was setting myself up for. Shortly afterwards I flew to Austin, TX where I had a few days off before the band arrived. I was lucky enough to be immediately welcomed like a sister into the life of a sweet old friend who showed me an incredible time in Austin. We visited his girlfriend’s family farm, swam in the sweet rivers around the city, biked all over, helped make silicone mermaid tales, and I met some incredibly inspiring people. Unfortunately at the end of my time there he suddenly and without warning slipped back into a psychologically unstable place in a way I’d never seen before. It was hard to leave him like that after he had done so much to make me feel welcome, but he was still able to come to our show and find joy in it and I could tell he was surrounded by an amazing community who would take good care of him.

Photo by Dominic Hendrix

Photo by Dominic Hendrix

Spring was in full swing and when I reunited with the band I found myself in the midst of a tangled love quadrangle of sorts. Aaron and I had only recently begun exploring a more intimate connection and our entangled situation and the interests and desires of others pretty immediately tested it. As I knew from growing up in a small town and living and working with family on the farm, the alchemy of love, life, and work can be intriguing and tempting but also very challenging and can rapidly border on volatile. Throw more than two hearts into the mix and things get complicated fast. The rest of the tour for me was marked by long challenging processing conversations and uncomfortable situations. I learned a thing or two about my boundaries and how to express them and ultimately came out stronger on the other end, though it was a serious challenge considering everything else I was going through. Some time off in the red rocks of Sedona (and a chance to finally visit my friend Porangui!) and the captivating landscape of Joshua helped immensely, as did ending the tour with a sold out show in Oakland. Staying in the Bay for a couple weeks on my own afterwards was the best decision I could have made for myself…I got to join the incredible group SambaFunk! on stilts for Carnaval and spend a little time helping Joe and Gemme out and becoming a part of my nephews’ lives again.

SambaFunk!  Carnaval with the talented Miss Lisa Lynn

SambaFunk! Carnaval with the talented Miss Lisa Lynn

Reading postcards from Aunt Kay with Max and Otto!

Reading postcards from Aunt Kay with Max and Otto!

Act II: Summer

Summer was around the corner but it barely felt like spring back in Portland. Karolina had decided she didn’t want to do every tour so she could continue working with Beats Antique and we found ourselves desperate to find another dancer. Shortly after returning I went to dance class and saw Jamie again (one of my best friends here and my partner in crime in Cuba) and she commented on how much she loved the acrobatics we’d been doing and asked, jokingly, if I could throw her around. “Actually, yes!” I replied and immediately dragged her to rehearsal to meet the team. She was an obvious fit with her dance training and capoeira skills and picked up acrobatics quickly but we were running off to shows all over the Midwest and barely had time to work with her before we threw her on the bus. She handled it marvelously and stepped up to the challenge like a champ! It was such a treat to have an amazing friend on the road with me, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to train her to do as many routines as we needed the 4th dancer to be doing, which set me up for a very physically challenging summer. It didn’t help that the shows weren’t that exciting either. Aside from Oregon Country Fair (which has always been an epic experience for me and was no different this year) we played a lot of small venues, street arts fairs, and way fewer music festivals than in the past and our schedule was quite grueling. In the time we did have off in Portland I ended up having to move. Luckily it worked out super easily and I moved down to South East Portland with Jason, an amazing musician and M4 alumni, Stanley the cat, a beautiful back yard and a hot tub.

My new sanctuary of a room!

My new sanctuary of a room!

Then came the tour from hell that no one wants to talk about. Sierra Nevada brewing company was doing “Beer Camp Across America” and had hired us as the entertainment for all of their events. That in itself was fine (though not my favorite since I don’t drink beer) and some of the shows were really fun, but at a lot of them we found ourselves being ambient entertainment at the far end of the festival in the middle of the day in the hot summer sun…needless to say not many drunken beer lovers ventured out to dance or even get very close to the stage. While we always strive to put on the best show possible, audience participation and the energy we get back from the crowd goes a long way in fueling us. Our schedule was also jam-packed and we had the bare minimum amount of time to set up, eat, get dressed and warmed up before each of those shows. Again, that was challenging but all good and fine…until the bus broke down, twice. We ended up doing the bulk of the month-long tour in 3 vans and a box truck, desperately trying to make it to every show (by some miracle we did!), get some amount of sleep, and take care of basic needs. It was on this tour that I realized just how different the basic needs of a dancer/acrobat are from those of a musician on tour (especially when you account for dietary restrictions, of which I currently have many). We are used to having a fully stocked fridge on the bus and being able to cook for ourselves regularly. Without that, and with a schedule that barely allowed for sleep plus musicians and management in charge of routing, we found ourselves constantly hungry and it soon became very challenging to do our jobs safely. I had a particularly heavy acrobatic load and the dance team was still in the general mindset that we had to do every routine every night even if the conditions were a little sketchy (something I’ve been working very hard to shift). It wasn’t long before I hit my breaking point, as many of us did at some point. Thank god I had Aaron’s emotional support, but even so I found myself in a very dark place, in a rut of self-victimization and too physically and emotionally weary to gracefully deal with the every day realities of that tour. I’m not proud of how I behaved or treated other people, but somehow we all survived and in the end found it within ourselves to forgive each other and bond together over the shared suffering. And there was a silver lining! We ended the tour with great shows in Nevada City and Ashland, where we shared the stage with my dear old friends Sambada and Jamie and I were invited to dance with them (my first time in a full Samba bikini!) during their set.

Jamie and me with the amazing Laura of SambaDa!

Jamie and me with the amazing Laura of SambaDa!

Act III: Autumn

After that tour I had a lot of re-prioritizing to do. I needed to figure out how to take care of myself better if I wanted to continue touring with this model. I hadn’t planned on going to Burning Man but my dear friend Jeremy put a bug in my ear and I barely even had to put it out there that I was interested before a ticket was gifted to me by a complete stranger connected to the Samba Stilt Circus camp. I knew it would be either the best or the worst thing I could do for myself at the point…so of course I decided to go! I won’t give too much detail except to say it was the former. Out there on that barren landscape where anything is possible I connected and re-connected with so many inspiring beings and felt, for the first time since I moved to Portland, like I was able to lift my head above the March Fourth bubble and see the world as my oyster again…teeming with opportunities and ideas and possibilities…and they were calling to me.

Photo by my dear friend Zipporah Lomax

Photo by my dear friend Zipporah Lomax

I knew this would mean taking a step back from the band, but where that step would lead me was unclear and I decided to not make any drastic decisions. One theme started to emerge though…I realized how important it is to me that my work take on a deeper sense of environmental and social responsibility. I want to engage more profoundly with people and concepts and places through my performance and build bridges of connection between all the things that matter to me in this life. I’ve always felt like my life at the farm and my desire to be connected to the land in a sustainable way and my natural inclination to be a performer and be social and be on the move were at odds with each other, but recently I’ve made it my personal mission to change that. I’ve been super inspired lately by The Polish Ambassador, a DJ who teamed up with an incredible singer (who was actually a few years ahead of me at Stanford) and started the “Permaculture Action Tour” in which they engaged their fans in permaculture based action days in every city they visited. The turn out was incredible and they ended up selling out a ton of their shows and inspiring what is rapidly becoming a new movement of conscious, sustainable events and tours. I want that! I’m not sure what my version of it would look like or how I could get involved, but I’ve started exploring different ideas and possibilities for collaboration with people I’ve met over the years and I am hopeful that there is indeed a way to bring all of these passions of mine together.

Over the next few months everything fell slowly into place. Aaron had been talking for almost a year about moving in a different direction that didn’t involve the band and when I returned he seemed closer to that reality again. He planned on finding and training a replacement before he left so I thought we had at least a few more months together in the project and I knew it would be too big of a blow to the team if we both left before the end of the year, so I was biding my time…feeling the push but waiting for something to pull me in another direction.

Photo by Jon Vancura

Photo by Jon Vancura

September was slow for work but we were busy training our newest dancers Jordyn and Kylee, who would end up stepping in in a different way than we expected when Aaron wasn’t able to find a replacement.Oh yeah, I almost forgot…when I got home we made a music video to an electro-swing song Karolina and Anthony wrote called “Pretty Polly Pepper!”  It should be finished soon…it’s going to be ridiculous and amazing.  We had a few rather strange local gigs and finally had a long overdue band meeting. Lots of goals were set…a re-branding, a new website and logo, a new album and things seemed hopeful. October tour promised some excitement too…gigs all over the East coast and New Orleans (my first time) for Halloween, plus several awesome festivals like Magnolia Fest in Florida and Leaf Festival in North Carolina. I even jumped off the bus during our days off to do my first crazy gig with Everyone Orchestra in Orlando…but that’s a whole other story! Overall the tour ended up being both invigorating and challenging since I found out toward the end that it would be my last tour with Aaron. He was planning on leaving Portland by December and I was planning on spending most of November in New Orleans and California and so we began the challenging process of trying to enjoy the rest of our time together while starting to untangle ourselves during that last week on the road. It was sad and difficult for both of us but ultimately freeing in some way…and despite a few misunderstandings and very different approaches to dealing with our emotions we have managed to send each other off with love and support and are redefining a sweet friendship.

Halloween was a bit of a shitshow, as one should expect in New Orleans. We had way too many gigs packed into a 24-hour period and there was too much alcohol and not enough sleep involved. The band did an amazing job overall though. And it was a really special treat for me to stay in New Orleans with my friend Ginger for a few days after the bus left (several of us did). That city is so rich and magical. I met some amazing people, saw some incredible music, took part in a fashion show and modeled some of Ginger’s work alongside a group of super badass women, and it felt like I had started to regain my sense of independence and adventure.

NOLA!

NOLA!

Then it was back to California where I was swept off my feet by friends new and old, enchanted and called back to the farm, and wrapped up in birthday love from my amazing community in the bay. My parents have been trying to convince my grandparents to move back to the farm for a while now and when they came by for a visit they actually seemed really excited about the idea. My mom, however, had been using their house as sort of a bargaining chip for whoever took on the role of her assistant for the cooking classes and weddings, and without that space to offer someone it would be difficult to figure out housing for the next season. But…my older sister Sophia had recently built a beautiful timber frame house on the farm, and shortly after it was finished decided to move to the other end of the valley with her boyfriend (life and love work in mysterious ways) and she wasn’t comfortable with just anyone living there and operating the wood burning stove, etc. Something clicked for me when we were all sitting outside for lunch, discussing the matter. I had actually asked Sophia to give me the tools and teach me how to make fire for my birthday that year…perhaps we could extend that lesson so she would feel comfortable with me living in her house…perhaps I could come back and be my mom’s assistant for the season! I suggested the possibility, not knowing if I really would want to do it, and the idea was well received…but I needed some time to think about it and feel things out with the band now that everything was shifting and I was left with more of a leadership role. I had to the opportunity to re-shape and redesign the dance team’s role in the show, which was both exciting and daunting considering I was already feeling like I wanted to invest energy elsewhere. Luckily I had time to sort it all out…and an amazing weeklong birthday celebration with my best friend Claire in Oakland served to further convince me I wanted to be back in California…

The Apple Farm!

The Apple Farm!

Act IV: Winter

 In December we hit it hard in rehearsals, trying to figure out what was possible with only one stilt base and three new dancers (we found this awesome girl Courtney who has dance training and some hula hoop skills and who will probably end up being my replacement come spring). I was super grateful for the opportunity to re-involve Jamie since we had decided it was important to infuse the show with more dance and theatrics and scale the acrobatics back to a more sustainable level. It was definitely challenging to watch Aaron go but I was also excited for him and his next adventures and hopeful about the new direction of the team. Ever since I joined the band I’ve wanted to make more use of my varied dance abilities and create a really awesome, challenging piece. Jamie and I finally got the band to play a samba-reggae-esque song and we choreographed an awesome huntress/orisha inspired piece to it that fills us both with immense joy and passion every time we put it on stage.  This isn’t the best video but you’ll get a good idea…dance starts about 1 min in…

I ended up spending the holidays here with a special visitor and celebrating with my adopted Portland family. Nothing quite compares to home but I have found some truly amazing community here. I got to do a PDX New Years show with March Fourth on the 30th and then fly to Boston for my first gig with the amazing Quixotic Fusion with Aaron and Mary. It was an insane whirlwind of 6 hours of performing sandwiched between 14 hours of travel, but it was an awesome experience that I hope yields more opportunities in the future!

Mary and me with Quixotic Fusion on NYE

Mary and me with Quixotic Fusion on NYE

Act V: The Present and The Future

 2015 has treated me well so far and I’ve been busy with a fun tour with lots of sold out shows and chances to reconnect with friends, but I’ve also had much needed opportunities for reflection and growth. At the beginning of the month I decided to take on the Argon Challenge (a Portland friend started doing it years ago and even wrote a book about it…it basically involves taking a month long break from things you find yourself desiring and reaching for in unhealthy ways) and gave up alcohol, drugs, coffee, refined sugars (as much as possible while on the road), and severely limited my social media and screen time. I immediately felt like I had so much more free time and creative energy and throughout the course of the month I’ve grown to feel more empowered, energized, independent, and confident than I have in a very long time. I’ve gotten back into writing (hence the website/blog), am reading more, committing to my daily practice more consistently, and feeling more and more ready to enter this new chapter of my life with grace and clarity. I plan to continue touring with March Fourth into March (3 years exactly!) and then begin my break from the band and make my way down to California where I will be committed to working at the farm through harvest, training aerial with Bones and Holly of Circus Mecca, hopefully performing occasionally, and scheming about the future. Its hard to take time away from a family, a lifestyle, a mentality like MarchFourth, especially when it feels like our hard work is finally starting to pay off and there are lots of festivals and big shows in the near future…but I know it’s never going to be a good time to take a break and I feel more and more like I need to do this for my health and sanity. I’m looking forward to having more time, energy, and flexibility to reconnect with my roots, learn as much as I can, and then find ways to integrate and share my interests and gifts! Thanks for reading…I know it was a long one yet I feel like I barely touched on many of these topics. Let me know if there is anything you’d like me to elaborate on in another post. I’ll try to write more often and keep them shorter from here on out! Please share your thoughts/ideas/comments either here or through email…I would love to hear from you!

Polly super

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7 thoughts on “2014: On Entering a New Chapter in V Acts

  1. Polly,

    You are truly an inspiration and I am so happy to have met you at the various M4 shows last year. I wish you all the best in the years to come, and look forward to reading about your travels and new experiences during those years. If you ever find yourself on the East Coast and need a place to lay your head at night my home is always open to you. Keep reading, keep learning, and keep loving!

    Cheers to you and yours,

    Tex

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  2. You always astound me–so inspiring to see someone really following (and creating) her dreams. We look forward to seeing you in the flesh soon–come by any time!

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  3. Polly,

    Lady, you are such a shining star. I’m so glad to know you, and have shared meaningful experience with you. I absolutely love you vivid descriptions of your travels and many transitions. Almost as if I am there with you 🙂 Cheers to you on your many travels and expression of the life you live.

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