So I’ve been aware of Joy de Vivre and her Siren School for a while, and was even set to visit one of her San-Diego-area camps last year that involved irresistible swan maidens and a whole lot of white feathers. Siren School hosts fantasy-based camps, parties, tours and even cruises centered around romantic, magical creatures (including, of course, mermaids) that every woman might want to be for a day—or longer. You can see a list of upcoming events here. More recently, she’s launched a cool online magazine called la Vie Sirene and this month its focus is mermaids. Check out the cover and click around to read, among other things, Joy’s awesome interview with one of my favorite mermaids, Weeki Wachee’s Barbara Wynns:
I ask Joy for further gorgeous illumination below.
Can you tell us something about yourself?
I am a confessed siren! I don’t use my gifts or talents to lure men to their doom; but I do appreciate being a woman and all that it entails.
I have always known I was cursed with the entrepreneurial bug, but before I struck out on my own I worked in film production and marketing in the performing arts. I’ve owned a few small businesses I absolutely loved, including a tea room, fine dining garden restaurant and a theater company. But my latest venture, Siren School, looks to be the most fulfilling as it inspires and buoys women to find and express their true selves.
How did you become interested in mermaids?
My favorite story as a child was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, which, as readers know, has a different sensibility than the Disneyfied version. My mom forbade me reading it cuz I would be late to dinner, crying in my room while pouring over the especially heart-wrenching parts
Have you long been involved in mermaid culture, etc?
I flirted with the culture from the fringes for ages. When the movie Splash came out I was nicknamed Madison because of my long blonde hair. And as a SoCal beach girl I have always had a very personal, passionate and altogether primal relationship with the sea. In fact, I am convinced I have salt water coursing through my veins. I am most alive and at peace and ‘myself’ when I am in the ocean.
What is La Vie Sirene?
It is a grass-rootsy online magazine “of the sirens, by the sirens, for the sirens.” In my dealings with members of the mer community I have run into scores of talented artists, authors (you may have been my first!), jewelry & tail designers, rabid enthusiasts, etc., who deserved to be showcased for their dedication and artistry. Unfortunately, many of them feel they have nothing to offer. La Vie Sirene is the place where they can not only be in the spotlight, but share their thoughts and expertise.
The magazine’s logo is made from photos of all its contributors.
I relish and encourage contributions from those who are terrified at the thought of writing anything for the public, but who secretly yearn to. While the magazine will feature topics of interest to its primary demographic, women with a penchant for fantasy, dance and esteem-building, it will do so by focusing on a single theme per month to the extent that readers will be so deluged by the theme they will beg to move onto the next issue.
June’s premier issue is about Mermaids, and every single article and ad involves something mermaidy, from mermaid artists, authors, performers and shop owners, to recipes, bath products and even mermaid-specific hotels and pubs. Instead of providing the month’s content in one chunk, the information is rolled out and posted daily, with at least one article and one attendant ad, chosen to complement said article. I wanted to make both the main content as well as the hand-picked ads stand out and give readers the chance to savour each morsel proffered. At month’s end, the issue’s contents will be compiled into one publication available in PDF, Epub, Mobi and possibly even print formats.
It just launched a few days ago and already we are getting incredibly heartening feedback. People are finding it not only entertaining, but highly informative! It’s what I worked for, but dared not expect. So I am thankful, to say the least.
While it’s exciting to get involved in new projects, and try formats that reside just beyond the envelope, by far the best part about the entire enterprise has been the connections I’ve made with some incredibly soulful and talented people. It is such a gift to see them work their magic, and to get to showcase it.
What inspired you and what can we expect in the future?
I actually just posted an article about the mermaid/belly dancer who inspired Siren School to begin with, if any of your readers are brave enough to take a gander.
As for what the future holds, specifically as it applies to the magazine, we have a list of themes in the offing through 2014, though we’re open to requests.
I know you also run mermaid camps (and other fantasy-based camps) and have mermaid-themed cruises in the works. Can you tell me about all that?
Siren School grew out of my desire to stop swimming just to train for a triathlon, and to get back to doing “water ballet” as I had in my youth… only this time, with a tail! I searched the net for a “mermaid camp”—not knowing if there actually was such a thing—and found the grandmama of them all, wonderful Weeki Wachee. But I lived in California and they are across the country. Additionally, I wanted to delve into the lore and mythology of the legends in something of a roleplay environment. Next thing I knew, I was creating my own camp experience, which is not surprising given that I’ve been involved in theatrical interactive event creation since I was a tyke.
Once I got started with the idea for mermaid events, my inner genie, flapper, geisha, naiad, Venetian courtesan, Parisian showgirl and so on began complaining that they were being neglected. That is when I realized that I wanted to offer a variety of ‘siren’ archetype activities and experiences.
I sat down and created a slew of events all based in coastal Long Beach, CA, and thought I was done. But immediately, I started receiving messages saying, “I love your events but they’re too far away. Let me know if you ever do one in my area.” What to do, what to do… That is when the idea for a tour first germinated and the result is l’Experience Sirene, i.e. Siren School’s 2013 tour with events in cities all over America—each city chosen specifically to best fit the theme. Our Vampire Hunt will be in New Orleans, Pirates Caribbean Cruise & Treasure Hunt in Cozumel, Dryad (wood nymph) event at a Treehouse resort in Oregon, the 1920’s Speakeasy Die Hard gangster melee in Chicago, etc.
The aquatic events include two mermaid cruises with optional dolphin swims in the Bahamas, a Pacific Paradise mermaid getaway with dolphin encounter in San Diego, CA, and our naiad retreat which includes a manatee swim in Florida’s fresh water springs.
Do you yourself slip on a mermaid tail and/or identify as a mermaid at all?
I was over the moon when I got my first tail!!!! Being a major introvert and not liking to attract attention, I do most of my mermaid swimming and water dancing in secret, far from ogling eyes. I am in the throes of designing my first custom tail, which is fortuitous since I gave my original tail away to someone who was unable to get one for herself.
Joy’s alter ego: “mermaid’s perch” by dashinvaine on deviantart
Why do you think so many people are so drawn to mermaids?
Oh gosh, I could write about that for pages and ages. I think this topic is best left to experts like.. well… you! But I will say, that to me mermaids represent confidence, freedom, grace… a lack of hangups and inhibitions… all qualities that are incredibly attractive in a woman. If the movie Splash imprinted you as it did me, then you may equate being a mermaid to being genuine, beautiful, sweet, loyal, loving, bright… so many qualities I would love to foster in myself!
And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
I feel it is absolutely vital to be one’s self without in any way comparing to other mers, their accomplishments, or their tails! Like any budding subculture, mer-dom has its own set of growing pains to contend with, and will find its balance, I have no doubt. While it does so, I feel it is imperative that mers act in a cooperative effort to embrace and promote this unique activity and lifestyle they adore. Like the Little Mermaid’s sisters, we too must twine our arms around each other and rise up out of the water, singing our siren song, not to induce others to wreck on the rocks, but to praise and share our gratitude and love for the mermaids we are—and more important, for one another.