Whirlwind Tour Part 5 – Boston Again

Now I am on the road.  It is strange driving across the continent.  Knowing that you have at least 20 hours of driving to do, and yet still, you have to be there before a certain time.  I need to figure out when I need to be at what place in order to make it to Boston on time.  I have no places to stay, just a lot of people I know.  At worst, I know I can make friends with someone at one of the places I am going and stay at their place.

It is pretty uneventful on the road.  I want to get into New York before I fall asleep for five hours, but I only make it to within 70 miles of the Ohio-Pensylvania border before I can not continue safely.  I curl up in my car in the parking lot of a gas station and sleep from 11:30 to 4:30.  Waking up, it’s time to go!  I make it to Pennsylvania and need to sleep for another hour.  now I am really worried I won’t make it to Boston on time, so it is 80 miles an hour for the rest of the trip.

Back to MIT, at the NASA lab, now.  I wanted to have a drink with my former boss and my former co-worker (once a grad student, now a doctor himself) but my co-worker is at Boston University for the day, and instead I see their secretary.  We talk all about life and art, etc, etc, science and travel.  Again, they seem to be really positive about the way I live my life.  Does no one understand that I have no money and no security and worry every day if I am going to live the next couple of months?

They say that whether I go into science or political science, I should be able to turn the last five years away from school into an asset.

My former boss is like 70 now, and he has retired, officially, like my dad will in a day or two, but he keeps coming into the lab to research the mysteries of the universe.  I guess when you look at it that way, you really don’t have a very difficult choice to make, do you?  his daughter is studying somethinhg called “public art” at Boston University.  I tell him she should contact me to see if there is something fun we can do together professionally.

They pay for my beer and it is time for them to go home.  They have shown me around the campus, the things that have changed.  It is nice to see.  The world has changed, and students have changed, and it is the teachers who need to keep up with them, not the other way around, as I had always thought.  Interesting to see it all from that perspective.

This walk down MIT’s infinite corridor last month was bittersweet in a way.  I was touched by how it has really remained relatively unchanged from the vision in my memory.  Even the students seem timeless, in a way.  as much 1976 as 1996 as 2006.  It is like that small core of a person that remains unaltered from infancy to adulthood – that charming part of a person.

I have to run to the dance studio for my former dance company’s gala event for investors and the like.  I have been sneaking into this studio for quite some time to take showers right after arriving in town when I have no place to stay.  When I show up, the dancers are all warming up, and I say my hellos to all the people I am supposed to before grabbing some wine to power up my shmoozing muscles.  Then I just sort of target the richest and most gullible looking people around the room to go and talk about how great a dance company this is and how supporting them really reflects on how great a person they must be as well…  ah to travel around the world, vicariously through a dance company.  You must be a real saint!

I sit through my dance company’s presentation.  They are working interactively with video.  Later, when its just us around, I tell them later that I thought 40 percent of it is really good and that the rest has really good potential.

After the persentation I talk to the video artist about the people I met in Montreal who are doing the same kind of things… he is a real MIT guy, so I soon get back to flirting with rich gay guys and old rich women; the best way I can help this dance company get money.  As the audience slowly files out, I keep on enjoying my wine and the cheese, and reminice with the people whom I actually danced with back in the day…

They ask if I can do a handstand now, drunk as I am.  I tell them the same old story; I have never been so drunk as to be unable to do a handstand or a backflip.  I prove it, and we turn the whole dance studio into the site of a drunken, impromptu acrobatics rehearsal.

Things are great, we talk and laugh and share the newest gossip.  I encourage them, try to get them to like me, I tell them that I’d like to be back in September to work with them, and try to make them excited about it…  if a person does make people like him, how does he know if they would have liked him without his help?  Does it matter?

Getting money at these events is telling people what they want to hear in a way they never expected to hear it.

I show up late at my Bulgarian friend’s house with a stolen wine bottle and a bagful of lifted cheese.  Americans don’t care about cheese, so they didn’t mind me taking it away.  It is some nice stuff… French brie….  soft cheddars…  smells nice.

We drink together, her a couple glasses, me just one or so because I am already almost on the floor.  Her roommate is asleep on the couch I am supposed to sleep on, so she invites me into her room.  She is Orthodox Christian, and is obviously uncomfortable doing this, but her instinct to be a good hostess takes over.  I lie on the floor, and she lies on the floor far away from me.  I am tired, jet lagged, as always, and she is telling me about her life and her boyfriend.  How she is unhappy with both…

I feel concious and I am replying the way I want to, but at a certain moment, I lost conciousness…  I am dreaming about what she is saying, but I sleep there, on the floor, under my jacket, for the whole night.  the roommate who had taken the place on the couch stole into her room and dropped a blanket on me.  It was nice of her.

In the morning, my friend wakes up to go to church, and I read for a while…  when she gets up, we conclude the discussion from the night before.  She doesn’t seem to mind that I fell asleep when she was talking to me.  If anything it put to rest her persistant fears (hopes?) that I was an evil player trying to take advantage of her kindness…

It was a real pleasure seeing my former acrobatics partner again.  Hearing her talk about her fatigue regarding romantic challenges against the backdrop of a lifestyle of constant travel was painful.  On the romantic end of things, I am sure that she’ll be able to work things out, and quickly, too, because I do not believe she are the kind of woman who is able to live in an unhappy situation for long.

The infinite travel side of things is a much more delicate one.

Personally, I think that once she finishes your work at MIT, she’ll have a drastically different view of everything.  For example, I can imagine that the quasi-stable situation of being a graduate student is what makes het travels so unpalateable to her now.  It is hard to see the liberating side of a wandering lifestyle until you are finally able to pull up all anchors and truly float where you mind and fortunes can take you.

Of course, I feel how deeply she is affected by living her life so geographically distant from her parents, and this is something that might never change, at least not for the immediate future.

So she continues her handstands and her research.  If a researcher’s life is destined to mirror her research, it was either a cosmic joke or a great blessing that she chose complexity itself as her personal field of expertise.

We go for coffee, and I invite her to the lunch that I called for all of my former college friends, citing the fact that I doubt anyone will actually show up…

She declines, saying she needs to work, and I show up at the restaurant; my favorite restaurant in Boston.  Chinese food.  It is very crowded, to my dismay, but I soon discover that it is crowded with old friends whom I have not seen in a million years!  We take several tables and I try to talk with everyone, but it is impossible to do!  After two hours or so, people need to go, and to my dismay there are still people I have barely even said hello to yet!  Catching up on everyones lives, who is married, who has kids…  I am Uncle Acrobat to them.  strange, and wonderful all at the same time.  I ate too little, spoke too much, and now my stomach hurts…

We leave such a wake of friends behind us in life, and it is so rare that we can manage a full loop and see them all again in an organic way; and unofficial way.  There are a million other people I would like to see, a million other things I would like to do, but I get invited to my friend’s house to play an old strategy game with a bunch of other friends.  We used to play all the time in the years after college, and it feels like old times.

What can I say?  The dynamic was special, and transported me to my early twenties.  I had a beer and sometimes just sat and smiled.  It felt nice.

I had to run to get sushi with my Bulgarian friend and her brother.  They are very smart, and the conversation was interesting.  About Bulgaria and Japan and America.  He had never had sushi before, but seemed to enjoy it ok.  I am getting tired, and have had a lot of sake; I say my farewells and head back to my friend’s house to see him and some other good friends for my last night on mainland USA.

We talk until 1am, I need to leave for Hawaii at 5 the next morning.  We talked about the gossip, about memories, funny pictures and events that I have missed.  About my friend’s death and his service, about what we are doing and want to do.  Everything just feels nice.  we aknowledge the fact that there is not nearly enough time to say and do all we want to, but that it has been great to see each other.  And it really has.  Sharing a drink with the two of them for our lost friend was a very important experience for me.  Being exactly one continent and one ocean away from the people who knew him best made it very difficult for me to share any immediacy in the mourning process and kept me from getting even the small amount of closure I needed after losing a friend I never really knew as well as I should have. One shot of whisky with my two best friends from college washed all that regret away.  They get me a lot of blankets and I sleep on a couch, happy, again.  I feel loved and missed; two things I never expected to feel.

At 8am the next morning, I am alone again, flying towards the tropical islands that are my familial home…

One week on the continent that felt like one strange day to me; a convention of ghosts from my pasts telling me all about who I was and have become.  It was strangely liberating; like giving voices to memories who have become mute and static in my mind…  to just open myself up completely to what all these people around me had to say and had never, for one reason or another, managed to tell me before.  Perhaps I had not been listening.

Next on the agenda:  Hawaii adventures!

Circus school graduates shooting promotional images

Writing A Circus Act Part 2

it is so warm out today.  i try to keep my room in shadow so that i can keep working, but it is oppressive.  but what can i do.  i need to work.  listened to over 10 hours of music today just trying to get an idea of what i’m looking for in my act.  

thought a little bit more about my costume.  i think that for at least a little while i am going to talk about all the equilibre numbers i saw this week and what my impression of them has been.   

pretty much as soon as they get on the canes, they are in preparation to get into the trick, and the trick itself is all there is to look at. 

there is a real sense of solidity and rigidness in all of the tricks. what can i do to preserve fluidity even in the held positions? 

flexibility is a major problem for me, and i need to force myself to increase it all the time, wherever and whenever.  active flexibility in particular so that i can move that more freely and controlled in the extreme positions.  i think that it is extreme, impossible looking positions that really work.

i have been playing with the idea of using live music in my act, either solo or in accompaniment with the music that i choose.  but I don’t see how to make it work yet. 

i need to make all transitions between dance and acro and handstands to be absolutely seamless.  a lot of conditioning is involved in that. 

let’s see.  there are three weeks in september, and 10 after that, i think, to work.  so i’m looking at maybe 12 for now.  the most important part for me to concentrate on in the next six week is strictly the non-handstand part of the act.  in the meantime, i will be working with byamba on the handstand technique, so i want to have music selection done as soon as possible.  i think that by the end of next weekend i need to have two minutes of music selected for the evaluation concept presentation.   

the school cabaret is coming up soon as well. 

first of all, it is a good exercise because I cannot rely too heavily on circus arts.  everyone at the school already knows what we can all do.  what can i bring to a circus audience from outside of my circus experience?  how can i involve music and theater, in other words.  the theme is “communication.”  maybe i want to have text interspersed with music?  a character that is me?  who knows.  there is a lot to think about.  ultimately, i want to express myself in a more honest way than i ever have on stage.  that will be the real task, i think.  to not be the performer, the musician, but to really be me, travelling acrobat, on stage, full of vulnerability and honest.  if i can achieve that, well, that’s something that i’ll want to preserve in my act as well.  i think that i am most interested in seeing performers who are not acting honestly, but who really are there, present and full-on there.

4 circus school graduates shooting promotional images

Writing A Circus Act Part 1

i am writing my circus act.  the way i like to do things like this is to sit down for half an hour and force myself to write nonstop for the whole time.  no matter what comes out.  i used to do it with pen and paper, but my hands would cramp up and my head would get so much farther than my hands would that i felt like i was slipping away from myself and losing information and not getting as far as i could.  now i use the computer because i type much faster than i write.  when i’m done, i read what i’ve written a few times and choose about 5 concepts, maybe more, maybe less, that still stand out for me.  those little phrases or thoughts or ideas, i then transfer into a notebook reserved for that, and after a year or two, i have an act or a play or what have you. 

i like is the idea of a character living outside of time, living as if frozen as if caught in a yellowing photograph from the beginning of the 1900’s.  i have the image of a figure in a bowler or derby style hat in a tailcoat covered in dust.  with every step a cloud billows up from the antique, straight lines of his silhouette.  there could be acrobatic moves, each one of which, however, might end up in a stylized very formal sort of pose.  a suitcoat with tails that someone might have been buried in fifty years ago. 

maybe this first incarnation of the number is going to be a dark one.  a tragic one. no sense of redemption.  a death.  a dysfunction.  a descent.  a decadence.  a destruction and a loss.  there will be pain in my character, and a promise of redemption, but one that is never achieved, never realized.   

something fitted and formal in the setting of a circus ring.  could be powerful, useful.  fixed motions, like a rotating one-armed handstand.

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
Two circus acrobats at a special event for Cirque du Soleil

Third Eye Burned

First Thursday after final exams.  I just got back from Boston at 5:30 this morning because I missed my bus and had to go through Albany to get here.  I was exhausted for a makeup workshop but I got my handstand canes and am sporting a third eye (rugburn on my forehead) from Boston from doing a gainer for distance and not getting enough height. 

In rehearsal today we got our costumes – I’m pretty happy with my tough-guy costume for the animation and my normal costume for the old people scene.  We had to separate into groups and there was a lot of discussion around if we should be in groups of mixed skill levels or similar skill levels. 

I’ll be joining a group with The Clown and The Trapezist.   

In Boston I got to work out with an old friend of mine who was learning some acro for tae kwon do and see my best friend one last time before he moves to the Southwest. 

I’m exhausted and am heading to bed now even though it’s only 9 – good night! 

Acrobats setting up for a circus street show in France

Many Problems Abound

Today was the first day of final exam presentations which were a lot more fun than I expected them to be.  It’s not too high-stress.  I managed by best side summies and hit the standing full.  Mario mentioned to the jury that I kept working in spite of my wrist injury which was nice of him. 

Aladdin went, and that’s the most important thing: it’s just done. 

Trampo was fine, I had fun but I mistakenly thought it was two warm-ups and one real one but it was actually one warm up and two real ones and I screwed up on one of the real ones but I still had fun and the teacher didn’t fail me.  I’m really tired because I got in at 1am this morning from Boston where I spent a day or two to see friends. 

Friday night I went out to The Clown’s house which was fun.  I was able to actually shoot the breeze and make people laugh and be interesting in French which is an improvement. 

The Clown and I worked on our juggling number for about 90 minutes today because we present tomorrow.

Circus acrobats doing a tumbling trick at the National Circus School exterior show

Setting Records

The Gang has decided that the seven guys are going to start working on circus projects outside of class next year.   

Estaban had to leave the country due to visa problems and is replaced by his boyfriend Mario but he should be back by September.  Some people think that Mario is too tough, but thanks to him I have fixed my side summie, my standing back full, and I’ve been working rudi dismounts into the pit and backtucks off the wall from trampoline.  I trained at the place where Mario and Esteban’s work during the summer. 

Went to Boston and had a lot of fun seeing friends and doing karaoke.  My best friend from MIT is moving to the Southwest which was a bit of a surprise. 

My wrist is hurting a lot right now and I can’t do any handstands.  I did 31 pullups which is the new school record and I’m aiming to up that to 40 for next year.  I managed 60 pushups in a minute which I think is also pretty good.  The Clown and my juggling piece is getting pretty nice and locked in.  We’re going to hopefully perform it at a juggling convention that is coming up.  

Dance evaluation went surprisingly well, I hope, and we have the atelier presentation the week after this week.  This is the last week of classes and evaluations and then we have big evaluations coming the week after.

My roommate is back and now we have a new pregnant cat that hangs around.  Summer is here with 75, 80 degree weather.  It’s been really nice. 

The Clown and I are getting to be good friends and all of the guys in our class just got matching German submarine sailor haircuts which looks pretty funny.

It really sucks having my wrists not work, but I was able to do my splits without even warming up which was pretty exciting.  But I have my split, pike, center split evaluation tomorrow so hopefully my luck will hold out.

We had a second big working day for the outside show for the annual show and I think The Clown and I saw some of the same patterns as the evaluation concept – no real discipline or order until the camera was set up and then everyone just does all the tricks they know.  This was last Friday which was the first day I did a standing full, but I didn’t get it on camera.

Again it was just the guys who were doing things full-out while the girls were always spotting each other.  I’m getting to be better friends with The Aerialist.  I’m writing a show this summer with Tori and she’s asked me for some notes on how to get in shape for some acrobatic stuff since its so much harder to lift people if they don’t have strong cores.

I went to go see a dance show.  The first one was very physical and quirky with very good balance on the stage which was interesting because it was done in this big open warehouse with windows that weren’t covered up and you could see an apartment across the street where this woman was getting ready for bed with her boyfriend.  Funny seeing someone stripping outside while you’re watching a dance show.  The second one didn’t work so well – it was based on shocking violence and rape with a live DJ and heavy metal music, but the dance just wasn’t that good which was my main problem with it.  

After the show, the guys from school were messing around playing their quirky comic characters at the reception in this art and dance world event clowning around having problems in the men’s room, in the foyer, doing art dance numbers in the street and tripping all over themselves enjoying how when you trip and try to recover people just think that’s funny.  Two high columns, etc – fun to play with people who know how all this fits together.