Circus artist doing a handstand

My First Circus Speech

I just gave a speech at the National Theatre in Taipei, Taiwan about the creation process for the Angels of the Storm with The Rocker back in Montreal:

At our first rehearsal, The Rocker told us that he wanted to create a different circus show; one with a political message. 

For us as circus artists, creating a show to address a problem in the world, even abstractly, was new. 

Our training at the National Circus School involves three years of training in acrobatics, acting, dancing, movement, and creation. 

Ideally, at the end of the school, we are closer to being able to express anything we want to say though circus. 

And after three years, here is The Rocker, asking us what exactly it is that we want to say. 

Not all of us knew. 

We had several weeks to create the show.

The structure of the show was determined early on. 

Every artist was responsible for two or more scenes, and spent most of the day working independently or in small groups on creating and perfecting those scenes.

The Rocker would often give an inspiration for each scene: a book, an emotion, an image.

It was not uncommon to work all day on a piece only to present it later to The Rocker or to the whole group only to find out that you have been going in the wrong direction.

But that was not a bad thing – it might have gives someone else a new idea for a scene which is used elsewhere in the show.

A couple of weeks before opening, your number might move to another place in the show; or the music might change, or suddenly, a part of the show no longer works and is cut.

This created a lot of stress, but it also forced us as artists to always be present and passionate.

It made us feel that we had really created this show. A month and a half before, the show existed only as a vague idea in The Rocker’s mind, and that original idea had changed form innumerable times.

But in the end, we presented a show that was, for us at least, a new type of circus show.

We had been challenged to look out at the real world, to react to it, and to somehow put those reactions in the context of a show that hopefully, an audience would enjoy.

It gave us one more opportunity to place the emphasis not on the technical skill, but on what feeling and meaning can be expressed by that technique.

Picture from the National Theatre of Taiwan's circus festival

Taipei Part II

Taipei is really very interesting…  I am learning a lot about another Asian culture.  It is weird that the more you travel the more you seem to be affected by these things; you are sort of forced to be more and more open to the experiences facing you. 

Today I got up too late, but that was not so bad really, still had a productive day, and it is only half over. 

Went to a nice museum that was about the history and present of Taipei…  think Expo pavilion for the city.  It was really pretty nice.  Sat in a revolving theater with a bunch of Taiwanese elementary school kids. 

They were amazed to see a Japanese and were all saying nihau…  when i responded, they were even more excited and they all said it one at a time as they got up the courage. 

It is funny.  In japan, I am seen as White, in America I am seen as Chinese, and in China, I am assumed to be Japanese! 

At least the circle has completed itself. 

PICT0024.JPGThen I went to the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101… and it is really tall.  The observation deck is pretty nice, I was asked to take a picture of a dwarf and her boyfriend…  when I did, they then wanted it to be only from the chest up…  felt like I made some weird sort of dwarf faux pas… 

The shopping center around it was interesting too, nice restaurants, the architecture and design was really calming and nice… 

One thing I noticed that is a first for me… 

It seems as though a lot of people throw their used toilet paper in a garbage can next to the toilet instead of in the toilet. 

Makes a man wonder why. 

PICT0056.JPGThere was a really nice bookstore that I browsed in for a while, and then got some Taiwanese McDonalds’ which, like the Playboys, is another tradition I have when I visit new countries. 

These scooters are amazing, and I feel like I am in Taipei on the eve of it becoming really something special… there are so many new construction projects and revamping projects going on… 

Feels a little like Japan did at the end of the bubble period… 

The whole movie at the museum was about the vision of the future Taipei, and the kids were surprisingly enthusiastic about this civil engineering film… that said, I, too, found it really cool. 

And there was a nice movie about performing arts in Taipei, and the dance portion made me shit a live duck right there in the exhibit hall. 

Amazing. 

The comedy portion too was good to see, because it gave me a little context for an acting class I have to teach in a few days. 

Tonight, i am making the rounds of all the night markets… the one for kids, the seedy one, the electronics one… etc etc etc. I am guessing it will be like a Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Akihabara, Taiwan style…

IMGA0928.JPG

Taipei 101

Things To Do On A First Night In Town: Taipei

It is easy to be blown away with how different everything seems, but the trick is simply this: 

get rid of the apprehension and the adrenaline that comes from being in this new place. 

Imagine you have lived here for years and years and that you are only in a part of that town that you have never been in. 

It works surprisingly well; and the result is that instead of saying clichéd things like “Taipei is a modern city like any other with its own special hidden charms,” you actually see that no modern city is in any way like any other. 

The smell and the frame and the tones and the colors all seem to be just a little bit off… 

and every city is a world unto itself. 

Some first impressions… 

the city from the air looks like a spider web with many fireflies stuck in it.

From the highway, it looks like it could be any sub-tropical developed area…

from the streets, it looks like nothing else.  very spacious, modern, not as decaying as it looks from the raised highways.

The places i have seen so far seem like a college area, young couples.

2005.10.17-2005.11.04 Taiwan 464.JPGLots of motor scooters, often with couples riding them together.

The women dress nicely, conservative without being boring, I would say “classy,” as opposed to the overdone, flashy, cheap look that I see a lot in japan.

The same can not be said for the interior design – superficially, everything looks nice, marble and deep colors, and leather and dim lighting with blinking Christmas lights behind frosted glass… but it all looks cheaply made and hastily put together.

Yet the budget hotel room is relatively beautiful… not quite minimalist, but almost.  Think dressed minimalist with a post-modernist flair…

The prices are so different… taxis cost nothing, I have found, as do busses, but a beautiful leather jacket = 240,000 yen!  wild.  Food is about the same, but I had an all you can eat hotpot for 1200 yen.

The convenience stores pop up on the side of the road just a little bit more often than you’d want them to…

2005.10.17-2005.11.04 Taiwan 447.JPGThere are wild dogs and cats wandering the streets with the clear sense of ownership that I tried to feign…

There are betel nut stains on the sidewalks, and the city proper does not smell nice… those stinky spots in the middle of the sidewalk that you walk through occasionally in Tokyo are more common here.

I feel safe walking around, and I can get the idea of the kanji, but there is no hiragana or katakana to cheat with…  nor can I ask for a sutoppu wachi if I can’t think of the right work for stopwatch in Mandarin…

My Mandarin tapes tell me I am saying the right things, but people do not understand me…

The intonation is just too subtle to my virgin ears.

But as always, knowing yes, no, excuse me, thank you, pardon, and bye will always always, always get you through the first night.  So: things checked off the list so far:

  • 1L of fancy chinese liquor (58%)
  • make a friend who does not speak any languages in common with me.
  • visit a sex shop.
  • try to make friends with a wild urban dog.
  • visit a love hotel
  • find the red light district
  • jaywalk
  • learn some new mandarin words from the locals visit a convenience store.

(Interlude: Convenience stores that are spreading across the world, I am starting to think of them as their own world, or at least country, in and of themselves.  it is strange to be in one and to be able to feel absolutely at home no matter what country you are in.  It is interesting to see the design of the signs as well… Family Mart, Seven Eleven… which ones translate into Chinese characters and which ones are iconic enough in their own right to stay the same)  

Now I go to my room and get stinking drunk watching Chinese television and writing like mad. 

2005.10.17-2005.11.04 Taiwan 446.JPGThere are Buddhist pamphlets by the pay phones.  I felt guilty because I thought that they would be Roppoingi-style prostitute books and was somewhat disappointed when they were not. 

You don’t tip here. 

I also made sure to try Taiwanese beverages and candy that I had never seen before… 

It is like there are no curtains in this town. 

2005.10.17-2005.11.04 Taiwan 456.JPGThe architecture and city planning is unique.  It makes me wonder if the government’s approach to city planning can set the tone of a city’s development and that it just takes over from there. 

Some buildings here may as well have been built on another planet, or a movie set. 

There is no pornography in the convenience stores.  I was disappointed as I wanted a Taiwanese Playboy for my international playboy collection – hence the trip to the sex shop. Lots of other things, but no Playboy. 

And, yappari, though I don’t know why, there are significantly more Asian models in advertisements here than in Tokyo… 

Maybe 75-25 instead of 10-90 like in japan.

Tequila Guinea Pig

Something about travel makes a person introspective.  Maybe I am more open, maybe more closed.  Either way, I am able to more easily step outside of myself.  Perhaps it is the anonymity – no one knows who I am here.  This is true of most places on earth, of course, out here, I can create a new identity.  Everything is reinventable.  Maybe I always wished I wrote more.  Now I can.  Maybe I had too much attachment to physical things.  Here I can let it all go.  Maybe life moved too fast.  Here I can slow it down.  I must first and foremost, however, reinvent myself as a local by mastering silence.  At worse is a person stays silent, people will assume that he wasn’t paying attention.  Or deaf.  Or stupid.  Actually, I guess you can do a lot better than stay silent, but you can definitely do a hell of a lot worse.

There is a Taiwanese baseball team on the TV called “Sinon.”  A man can’t help but think of it as the French “sinon,” “otherwise.”  A man who speaks French, that is.  But this makes a man think of all the languages he doesn’t speak.  To think of all the baseball teams named “desolation,” “until,” or “should.”  If only we spoke more languages, my friend.

But what would that really do for us other than to provide a moral high ground in being able to speak to people in their mother tongue?  “Multilingual.”

I read a book about translation by Umberto Eco.  It dealt with the idiosyncrasies of different languages and the impossibility of a one-to-one mapping between them.

But there is a flip side.  The way that discovering these idiosyncrasies yourself can open your mind and your life.  It’s like when you live your whole life in Tokyo, riding the subways, and just by chance you take a ride in your friend’s car and you discover that two places that take 30 minutes to travel between by train would maybe take you 5 minutes by bike, 10 walking.  In learning a new language, this happens intellectually and emotionally.  A language is a system that defines our passage through life.  Another language is like walking into a whole new universe.

I have committed myself to 3 shots of tequila after a rum and coke and a dead cow’s worth of grease in the form of fried American-style bar vittles.  What do I need this courage for?

It’s less courage and more a commitment to the time that it will take to drink these three shots.  I am trying to write deliberately.  Seeing each word before writing it down.

The tequila is room temperature.

I am sitting in a bar called “Roxy” in Taiwan.  Taipei.

Lately I have been the victim of digital robbery.  Memories and writing stolen away from me by failure of media and hardware respectively.  In the past it would take a fire or a flood to destroy this shit.  Now it takes a scratch or a power source failure.

Where has my voice gone?

I have been trying to let go for so long now and succeeded in general. What is holding me back now?

I found a nice tailor in Taipei.

After only one drink I am at that stage of drunkenness where you feel like your energy is seeping through the whole room, infecting the ladies like a madness.  But I know it is not true.

The Taiwanese are loud compared to Japanese and quiet compared to Americans.

Dutch beers here.

I like a country where you can’t drink the water.

But I love the feeling of tequila flowing from your stomach to the rest of your body.

The pen on paper is fingers on skin.  Little hairs on your arms rise.  Lips part.  A sharp inhalation.

And now my handwriting resembles so closely that of my father and it makes me wonder if he had these thoughts ever in his life.  It makes me wonder about how handwriting is not about how you write an “a” or a “b,” but how you write “love” or “fuck!” or “death” or “loneliness” or “failure.”

I pulled on a stick today; got a fortune out.  Time for Shot #2.

Lately I have been feeling like I disappear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like that.  Did you see me?  In these moments I feel like I can observe without being observed.

In Japan I was seen as white.  In America and Europe I am seen as Chinese, and in Taiwan (China) I am seen as being Japanese.  Full circle.  Full circle.

Is this just another one of my experiments?  Just a way to determine after how many drinks my writing changes to what?  Marijuana, LSD, THC, what more can I want?

Here is a list of the last 3 years: USA, Canada, Holland, Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and, effectively, Lithuania.  Where the fuck is my home?

Here is my life.  This is what I do: one-armed handstands.

2 more tequilas.  This is fun and alarmingly so.

Why is my dead grandfather in my thoughts so often?  I was a damned pall bearer for my grandfather and I had forgotten about that until I was watching an Ally McBeal episode of all things that talked about pall bearing.

Did I mention “phony” as one of those words before?

But there is a buzzing in my head that gives a slight feeling of urgency to what I am trying to express.  Want to see a straight line?  Here:

“____________________________________________”

“____________________________________________”

And a back flip?  There.  See?  I am not that drunk.

And the Red Hot Chili Peppers are telling me that what they got I gotta get it put it in me so here we go with Drink #3.

The American in front of me has finally let it all hang out and is now revealing his Americanism to this song.  The two beautiful Taiwanese girls accompanying him have left the table.  Gone home.  But as far as I can tell he speaks perfect 普通話.  AS DO I, OBVIOUSLY!

“Otherwise” has won the baseball game.

I am going to go to the bathroom and then walk around the bar.

“The Killers” are playing.

I almost walked out of the bathroom without washing my hands.  I think they have a 32-channel mixer.  Has that ever helped anyone?

The baseball game has finished.  A movie is playing on cinemax.  The bar is nothing special.  Sinon… Sinon…

A big group has moved from their side of the bar to mine.  A Nirvana poster on the wall.  Take a good look at the gouges on a table the next time you are at a bar.

| || || || | ||| <- A killer riff.

1999. Remember that time? The Gymnast? The Old Money? The Half-Breed? The Communist? The Quebeqoise?  All the others?  There was a 1999, a 2000, all over the world.  But I only knew mine.  I keep having flashes to go back and talk to people but I promise myself that I will not.

Remember?

To be an American in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, to be Japanese in Taiwan?  German in Europe?  What about English in America?

Building for building there are more Taiwanese flags flying in public in Taiwan than American flags flying in the USA as far as I can tell.  Maybe I have not been back in too long a time.  No, probably not.

“Otherwise” is still celebrating their win.

Me, my girlfriend is coming tomorrow and I’m not sure I’m still the only one in her life.  And that is OK.  We lead lives without comparison; it is a small price to pay.

My father has not written me since I wrote him a loooong time ago.  That is a first.  His girlfriend has moved in.  It is time to move to fiction, to writing slowly, but first: Shot #4! And it was good.

The DJess does not know who sings “Dirty Water” and neither do I.  I was drunk enough to think I could just email Boston real quick.  Nor “Kids in America.”

Did you know that God is helping me on this trip?  He told me to go to Terminal 1, he told me to oversleep and miss Narita Airport, he made me skip the beautician and go to the funky beautician, he made me choose the wrong bus line that got me closer to my hotel, he made me walk longer through the nightmarket to find the place with a straight razor, to find the tailor, and he helped the DJess find the “Kids in America.”  Now I need to listen to it.

Thank you.

Congratulations, you are an alcoholic.

I start from 2nd grade and count a continuous string of 12 girlfriends to age 15 (Shot #5).  Another 13 take me to age 28.  Slowing down a bit.  Best guy friends in my life only number 16.  Hm.

That is some strangeness. And that’s not counting my family.

Two more shots.

His name is Kieth, the American, that is.

Earthquake aftermath

Earthquake Story

Her bed shoots across the room like it was on rails, careening through folding doors and smashing an oak table into splinters before spilling me through a glass door and onto her balcony.  The apartment building shudders and shrieks with the sound of steel plates tearing apart until suddenly all is silent. 

Out of the silence looms her raspy, gasping cry from what used to be her kitchen.  Pinioned and helpless, she wails weakly – the gas stove has overturned; can I come help her? 

Outside in a chorus of the obvious, people on the streets two floors below call out to each other,

“Earthquake.”

“Yes, earthquake.”

Yes, earthquake.  And it is not over.  We are hit again, harder.

Now, nothing makes sense to me visually, and I am lost.

The building slips ever further off kilter with a dusty exhale that engulfs me.  Her cries behind me crescendo until they are extinguished by the ceiling hitting the floor.

Five minutes earlier, this classically coarse-haired, big-eyed, and unusually leggy Japanese woman whose name I will never know, made love to me in an unremarkable way and then slipped shyly away to heat up some instant noodles for a post-coital snack.

But now on this clear Saturday evening, for her and almost a million other Tokyoites, the world had ended.

Where was I and where can I begin?  The world has ended, not only for me, but for everyone unfortunate enough to be above neck-breaking height on the night that the earth shuddered and shook enough to topple the forest of concrete monuments that made up the city.

All of us were dazed, searching through rubble in a range of energies ranging from resigned curiosity to panicked bloodied-finger clawing.

Some of us knew what we were searching for, others were just going through the motions.

I don’t know how many time I thought I heard something that night; a whimper, a muffled cry.

I wish I could say that I made a difference, that I save someone, but the truth is that I was paralyzed and impotent before the fires and the giant ant-hills of debris.

I think a million people were crushed to death or burned or drowned that night.  It was as if the world ended.

 

Writing in Tabata Japan while trying to catch wifi from the neighbors

Starting To Write Again

I am trying to write again, just for myself, to see if I can possibly put something together that might resemble a narrative; a book.

I have been thinking of some ideas, that might work or that might not.

  • One was a girl walking along a street in a small town; she gets hit by a bus and dies.
  • Another one was of a black student who suspects that she is being lied to about how well black students are being integrated into white America.

Another one is just a discussion; an essay, about how Americans are not in tune with the rest of the world.  Just as you can’t expect a Japanese person to understand the civil rights movement as it was experienced in America, so how can an American expect to understand certain aspects of Japanese culture?  What would be the best vehicle for this?  I think of travelogues, but I am really not sure if there is a way that I can pull a travelogue off with the limited amount of travelling that I have done.

I wonder if there is some way to tie it into circus.

I like luridness, can I somehow make it a lurid tale of travelling through cities; trying to fit in as locals?

Can it be a love story?

Can it be a lust story?

A sexually-charged multi-cultural road trip across the world?

Encountering a million people along the way – roadtripping, performing – vignettes.  First person, like a diary, or a journal, but even more so as a confession or a discussion with a best friend.

Learning about life, meeting fucked-up people…

Everyone he meets shares a truth, so everyone he meets affects the way that he deals with everyone else, but this is a curse; people cannot understand the shit he is saying because they have not had the life that he has had; that is to say, that they simply cannot put everything into the same context.

She is unshaven down below, rubbing up against me in the dark.  My hands move as if in a panic as I try to touch every curve of her body at once as we whisper rudely, moving together.

“I will agree with you.  Not because I think you are right, but because you are certain that you are.  With my implicit complicity, you will lay your cards out on the table like a proud fortune-teller and predict the fate of our world.  And you might let me fuck you.”

The dark-haired, slender Polish woman I am agreeing with right now is not beautiful – she is smart.  A post-doctorate fellow in Molecular Biology, she is taking a week of from research at her university in Nyon.  In one hour, as the party sighs its last alcoholic breaths, we will leave together to wander down the famous Ramblas of Barcelona looking for an all-night coffee shop, and not find one.

We will pass unconscious junkies and overweight hookers spilling out of their white spandex.  A man dressed as a sailor will lose a fight with a parked car and tumble off a curve, break his teeth on the pavement and curse drunkenly in French.

Used needles will litter the urine-drenched back alleys that hide from the mercury-lighted marble flagstones that lead to the towering statue of Christopher Columbus, who will be forever pointing proudly westwards towards the new world while pigeons shit on his head.

I agree with Columbus.

I also agree with the pigeons.

But just now, the rum is making me smile and this is making her smile.  She is prettier when she smiles; she has nice teeth and full lips.  She is telling me about life in Poland when she was still a child.  She is telling me about how her mother died.  She is telling me about how her father doesn’t speak much.  She is telling me about her grandmother.

She is not smiling anymore.

Neither am I.

We have run out of things to talk about, so I touch her hand just as the overhead fluorescent lights flicker on and the music fades out abruptly.

“We should get coffee somewhere,” I say.

“We should,” she agrees.

And we step out into the salty Mediterranean air as the eastern sky blooms pink with sun.