Water tableau in the National Circus School of Montreal's annual show

Why I Joined The Circus, or Lessons From Year One

i enjoyed the self-discipline of gymnastics and martial arts and thought that the performing arts would provide a platform of expression and communication – but why circus specifically?

i had always admired the mastery and grace associated with my romantic notion of a “circus performer,” but had always considered it to be an unobtainable goal – something one had to be born into, or something bestowed upon world-class athletes trained since childhood in an eastern european country.

in my third year at mit, and second year as a gymnast, i was sidelined by injury and its subsequent surgery and rehabilitation, trying to fight off feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

a year later, now in my senior year, i recovered to the point that i could start training and competing again, but i wasn’t feeling the psychological connection or drive that I once had.

at about this time, i learned that boston was only 5 hours away from one of the premier professional circus arts training centers in the world.  auditions are grueling, competitive, and extremely selective, and less than 4 weeks away.  it was just the motivation i needed.

those four weeks were dedicated to training.  flexibility, strength, airsense, relearning skills, 8 hours a day, each day ending in a bizarre mix of frustration and hope.

at the audition, i was floored by the high skill level of the performers and the sheer difficulty of the tasks and assessments that we needed to perform: strength, flexibility, trampoline, tumbling, handstands, acting, dance, and a presentation in front of all the instructors of our own personal number of 3 minutes.

when it was all said and done, i was satisfied that i had performed my best.  a storm was rolling in between montreal and boston, and on the snowy 5-hour ride home i was certain that i had not made the cut.

but why, then, would i run to the mailbox every day for the next month and a half?  why did it feel so right when the fat envelope from the school arrived, overflowing with congratulations and immigration forms?

lessons from the first year of circus school:

  • learn to live with constant self-doubt and insecurity.
  • you’ll never realize that you are getting any better.
  • every day you are taught to accomplish things that yesterday seemed impossible.
  • you’ll overcome feeling of inadequacy (“i’m too heavy,” or “i’m too weak”) and overcome (not suppress) your fears by developping trust in others.
  • despite all the trash talking in the gym, circus is intrinsically non-competitive
  • circus crosses all borders

Train stop

I’m thinking of a train stop idea that has  lot of potential.  I played with this one day in Montreal while waiting for a train with a friend.  Showing all the different attitudes for waiting for a train.  It would be great if there were aggravating announcements made also.  with “Thank you for your patience” at the end of each one.




You know how you can look at something and mock it as being something that is silly and or a microcosmic version of the real world and then not really worth getting all passionate about?  Well that is actually the truth of our lives as well seen the next step up.  I think that’s important to remember


discipline is an ability to do something that you hate without immediate gain.

it is the deprivation of pleasure to build up an immunity and make decisions as a spiritual person instead of a material one.

what is the down side?  well, if you are not allowing yourself to feel good, you condition yourself to develop bad feelings as a result of good feelings.  is it that screwed up?  well, yes, it is exactly that screwed up.

a painless body feels so wrong and uncomfortable, like a suit that fits too loose.  on the other hand, i could happily sleep 12 hours a day and only train in my peak hours, but see, that’s the thing.  discipline makes you work outside of your peak; when you are not succeeding; against an influx of negative emotions so powerful that all your fragile parts are worn away by the sandblast of self-doubt and failure.

there is no room for your delicate beauty in the supersonic race towards perfection here (despite the constant complaining of the little person who lives in the base of your brain and wants you to crawl up into a little ball and sleep as your muscles shorten and atrophy).

you know when you are on a train or a bus with all the people that are around you, and if nothing else, you all have that in common?  do you ever think that there is a reason you are not the other people; a reason that you are you?  That being there, rubbing elbows and bottoms and stepping on the feet of all the other people who have that one thing in common that you do not – they are not you.

what an exclusive club little they are in.  they will never let you join.

and what an exclusive little club you are in in.  no one can possibly join but you.

so here you are in a one-person club and there they are in a world of people who are not you.

who wins?

when I was coaching at my gym in the usa, the head coach turns to me, points to one of the kids, and says “hard worker.”  i say to her later that the problem with being a hard worker is that you’ll have to keep on working harder and harder because the second you think that you are working hard enough, everyone will assumes that you’ve lost your drive, and now you are just as lazy as the rest of them.  she smiled at that, no less.  can you imagine smiling at that?

never resting. filling every moment with trying harder and harder to try harder and harder.  work hard today and that will make me always expect you to work hard.  you can always work harder, but never work less than that.  this is your curse.

my co-captain of the mit gymnastics team once told me about how he would just smash every gymnastics trophy and medal he won, crying in frustration, knowing that it would never get easier than that, that he had raised the bar permanently for himself, and worse, in his case, he didn’t even feel that he deserved them in the first place.

Distance, Dodgeball, Lichen

i owe it to myself, and to whoever i might possibly end up with, to be myself now, without them, and to continue to be myself even after i meet them. 

the people around you are like a fluid that you continuously move through and past.  it’s lonely to think of people and their minds and their souls as things that you pass by.  

if there was no time, there would be no such thing as distance, because all that makes two things physically separate is the time it takes to travel from the one object to the other.  we would be surrounded by everything and everyone that ever made us happy.  

the passage of time is important, indispensable, to the people who want to achieve something. it’s a race that never ends, all the training and all the failure, all that is part of the race.  there is no finish line, there is only running and running and running.  

i remember in junior high or elementary school and we had to run in gym and i hated running.  i just did the running.  like, i wasn’t the kid who would throw up and i wasn’t the kid through whom the teacher could relive his youth vicariously, but my point is that a lot of people sit down in the race like the girls in my second grade class who would sit down in the middle of the best dodgeball game ever because it was stupid. 

and the thing is that yeah, dodgeball is stupid and a race metaphor that combines notions of life and achievement and time, that’s just as stupid, but i loved dodgeball and i love this stupid race too and i’m going to keep running it until one of my ribs literally breaks through my chest and sprays blood all over the asphalt ahead of me and my leg bone pierces through my ankle and grates on the ground and  splinters and shreds like a green stick just pulled off the tree and until everyone i know can look at me only pityingly and an xray shows no injury, but rather just age, and that the age was only brought on by the race itself.  

what is it about the body that makes people who pursue these things want to break it down and destroy it?  is there some promise of liberation?  to see the destruction and decay of everything physical and to know that something inside you is still soaring?

a lichen on a rock that has decided that 0 mph is maybe the right speed for me if you please thanks very much, though, and send me a postcard from infinity when you never get there.  enjoy the ride and the hatred of yourself when your sweat hides in your eyebrows such that the slightest wince might send a stream of stinging salt into eyes forever fixed on the horizon that may as well be your only place worth getting to. 

my name and address:  travelling acrobat, the horizon, earth.  never send me anything.  thanks.

Vibrations In The Ether

it is so much easier to look at our lives and say ok, i have my babyhood, my childhood, my schoolhood, my collegehood, my jobhood, my marriagehood, my divorcehood, my grandparenthood, and it is so much nicer to sit back and be happy and enjoy this natural progression of roles.  to sit back and be happy and have friends and go places and sing songs and worry about things like what food to bring to the church brunch.   

if you see time as being a being of infinite size and breadth, it’s like the joke of the three blind men and the elephant.  what if there is another blind man there and he just says “there are an infinite number of elephants here if you can just get past seeing this one as a big grey sack of flesh.” 

i want to be able to talk with people i knew a million years ago and introduce them to people i have yet to meet.   

i would love to run fast enough that the sun rises in the west and sets in the east.  but no matter how fast you run east, you can’t make time turn backwards. 

lives lived parallel to each other separated by all things but the passage of time.  people on the outside thinking to themselves “my god they would be perfect for each other.”  

we just live our lives in little isolated spheres, and the mistake, maybe is to think “i sure am lonely in my isolated sphere, would you please come and join me in my isolated sphere?” maybe it is better to just ask yourself if you are doing everything that you ought to and if there is any other person out there doing the same thing, their vibrations pass through the ether so that when you are sleeping you will feel their existence in your dreams and know that while you may be lonely and alone, something out there knows that the two of you are there in the world and maybe someday you will meet.  maybe you are neighbors. 

our loneliness is what makes us search for things. 

i live by the ocean and the waves stop and everything is still and silent and glassy and i decide to fashion a boat out of a tree and it takes me a million years but what the hell, i have the time and i head out across the ocean. “what the hell,” right?  i have the time.   

if we lived for a million years, would anything excite us anymore?  

is it the things that we have not done, the things that we wish we could do that make life worth living?  and if so?  what is the real difference between wanting to do it and actually doing it?  what the hell, we have the time.  we have an ocean here that we wake up to every morning. 

so go ahead, you know?  build a boat.  you have the time.  there is a whole glassy unexplored ocean out there to discover.  and once you’ve gone far enough and memorized what the horizon looks like and you start to go a little bit crazy… you’ll see. 

i want to be able to drown myself in a kiddie pool on stage.  i like seeing people get wet on stage.  in water i mean.  ha ha haha.  it is funny to get wet on stage especially if you fall in water.  i am falling in water to kill myself, though, so you better stop thinking that everything is so darned funny, ok?  maybe the guy is killing himself because he wants to be able to finish life now before he gets to the next bend in the river.  right now he has done everything that he wants to do and he doesn’t want to hear anything more about it.  he doesn’t want to know about what might be coming around the bend because he doesn’t want to want it.  he definitely doesn’t want to know about all the things that he has done less than perfectly in his life because he might then want to go back and redo it.  “oh, but you got to meet me!”  she says so perkily.  and he flops back over into the pool, completely convinced that he should have died about one minute ago.