Circus acrobat in the National Circus School of Montreal's atelier de creation.

Angels Of The Storm

As part of the creation process for the National Circus School of Montreal’s “atelier de creation,” we all had to write down ideas for a circus school about the experience of children in war.  The following was my submission.

childhood in war.

a war that kills innocence, shatters dreams…

is “loss of childhood” a euphemism for greater horrors?

or is losing innocence early actually the natural state of affairs?

today, we hide ourselves from death and sickness…we feel entitled to prolong childhood here in the West while robbing other regions of that privilege.

interlude: my childhood as i remember it.

innocence to the point of stupidity.  education the priority.  discipline.  apprenticeship from my father.  a sense of “needing to fulfill.”  dreams of fame, of success, of science and history.

meanwhile: elsewhere, does violence and tragedy prematurely interrupt such childhoods?

do our prolonged childhoods in North America permit  us to act so inhumanely?

ways that cnn tells me you can lose your childhood:

  • hide under the corpses of your family.
  • start college at age 9.
  • live in chronic hunger from birth.
  • become a hollywood child actor.
  • be a 13 year old soldier
  • train in a chinese sports academy at age 4.
  • live stricken with severe childhood illness.
  • endure abuse by your family.

is childhood with soccer moms and playstations and dance classes and circus schools and sneaking into bars and making out when mom’s not home so desirable?  will we end up better suited to this world than are survivors of robbed childhoods?

I ask because we seem to admire the grown-up children who had their innocence stripped from them.  we call them brave, we want to hear their story, we take valuable life lessons from their experiences

childhood can be killed by privilege and complacency.

i had a privileged life as a child.  i lived all over the world.  i grew up mostly among displaced western expats in japan.  my friends were children of soldiers, diplomats, senior-management, and ceo’s.  i went to the most expensive preparatory english speaking high school in japan.  my biggest problem was a self-defeating desire to fail, artistic pretentions, and chronic beatings from my peers.

my life was a slef-contained plastic bubble of privilege punctuated with moments of public servitude.  fund raisers for filipino refugees, riceballs for the homeless, boy scout hunger marathons to raise money for ethiopians, food collections for victims of natural disasters.

history classes were taught with a humanistic perspective.  my understanding of the berlin wall is through the eyes of the children who chased the candy-dropping bombers during the cold-war.

but why the fuck didn’t i care?

because in multi-denominational church group slideshows about the street children of  india, the shocking photos of poverty and disease got the gasps of the audience.  gasps of horror, of pity…  yet i remember assisting at a school for the mentally handicapped with the award-winning service club of my high school.  i remember seeing my classmates recoil in disgust from the students that we were there to meet.

i judge these reactions harshly because i have seen the way that my mother cares for her patients.  i have seen the way that she always treats them with dignity and shies away from recognition for her work.  She tells me she goes to at least one funeral a month for her children, and suffers silently, knowing also that their parents will live an unburdened life.  i am not saying that she is immune to the notion of what childhood is supposed to be, but she did also go to guatemala to care for these children directly, not as part of her job, either, but because she believed she needed to do it for the children.  she treated them with dignity and respect and without pity. 

i want to be empathetic, but i do not know how to be. My privilege gets in the way.  i went to college, i went to circus school.  i want to learn about the needs of the underprivileged, but to name them as such is to be so prejudiced as to prevent me from ever really understanding anything.

this is damned frustrating. i can complain a lot about everyone, but i am everyone. so i can produce no solutions.

twin towers erupting into flames, tons of airline fuel sucking oxygen out of the air, people choosing between immolation and freefall as an exit from this life.

does it take a monster to say there is beauty in that image?  tv documentaries, political ads, people crowding storefront tv displays to see the images over and over again. what drew us to these images? there was a humanity there, an insight into the human condition.  fanaticism, murder, fear of death, the welcoming of death, trapped, liberty, buildings, mortality, fatalism, fire…

in a way, the american public fell in love with those images.  a folklore and a culture sprang up instantaneously around the event… and people fall in love with suffering children.

i love the image of an artist. and that is why i am wracked with feelings of inadequacy.  i want to change the world, but am limited to changing only that world that i know from my immediate experience.  the best i can do is be a part of a creation that makes other people  think of those children and their suffering in a new way, one free of pity, shock, horror, or vapid compassion.

so i want to throw around some stage images in order to finish on a productive note instead of just abstract intellectual masturbation.

  • a child in a scene of destruction who does absolutely nothing to interpret that horror: skiprope in sarajevo.
  • children playing hide and seek, one is killed.  the other does not find him.
  • singing nursery rhymes in all the different languages we know over air raid sirens.  the nursery rhymes stop abruptly.
  • children fighting with a voice-over of an audio book about disciplining your child.
  • Voice-overs about our childhood dreams over photos of children in less privileged situations.
  • some circus guy who wants to do his circus number but can’t because we keep projecting pictures of starving kids behind him.  how is he going to get applause that way?
  • fun with gas masks… taking images of war and interpreting them in a way that a child might if he had absolutely no idea what it was actually meant for.
  • a starving kid talking about how much she hates canned corn.
  • flying.  lots and lots of flying.
  • soldiers fighting wwi trenches style, kids keep running across no mans land and playing: “kids, go play somewhere else.”
  • playstation playing kids suddenly caughtup in a real combat or conflict.
  • kids playing war.
  • kids playing nazi concentration camp.
  • kids playing influenza outbreak.
  • kids playing 9-11.
  • running images.
  • beautiful images, folk dance style, broken by a huge event.  lights and sound and smoke.  intermittent running, panic.  blooming image out of the center from one of the people who was implicated in the dance earlier.

when i say ‘child,’ i don’t mean that we should play act that we are kids, i think that would suck.  after all, none of us are really more than kids, anyways.