The Human River

I had a Russian circus coach in his sixties, Alex, who could still do standing backflips.  He was able to pluck you out of the air one-handed if you were about to land on your head; it was like being caught by an oak tree.  He looked like a bear, he walked like a zombie, and his secret to maintaining his form was taking good care of his intestines.

People have strange ideas about how their bodies function.

It was a Russian coach fad at my school; fasting one day a week and fasting one week a month.  It was all part of a solemn ceremony which culminating in a glorious herbal enema to keep your colon clean, supple, and rubbery like a nubile squid.

I wasn’t ready to go that far, but he afforded me this advice:  Eat a grapefruit every morning; don’t eat anything cooked, never talk during a meal, always eat meat last, and enjoy a handful of organic peanuts before physical activity (softdrinks are poison, and processed food is good to make your stomach feel full, but it won’t do anything for your body).

He was my teacher, I listened, and it made sense, at least when training 12 hours a day like the good circus school students that we were.

This kind of ascetic eating regimen fit with his personality.  Even his sense of humor:

One day, the denizens of a small village awoke to a loud, rhythmic pounding.  Each pound was punctuated by a man’s screams of pain.  The villagers, shivering in the morning chill and dressed only in their nightclothes, left their huts to find the source of the screaming.  In the middle of the public square, a man was repeatedly striking his phallus [Alex always said phallus when he told this joke or any other joke that featured a penis.  He always lowered his voice and blushed a little when he said it.  Ever seen an embarrassed bear?] with a blacksmith’s hammer.  The patriarch approached the man to ask him why in the world he was punishing his member so.  “Doesn’t it hurt terribly?”  “Of course,” replied the stranger, “but nothing compares to blissful respite that comes between each strike.”

My Lithuanian roommates have explained that this is actually a very Eastern European kind of joke.  They tell another one that I like:

A wife walks out onto her porch where her husband is looking at the sky with a serene smile on his face.  “Why are you so happy?” she asks.  “Our neighbor’s house is burning down.”

I told this joke in Boston to a mixed audience of Canadians, Americans, and Bulgarians, and sure enough, the Bulgarians laughed while the North Americans waited for the punchline.

My point was that people have lots of different theories one how to best care for their body.  The FDA of America has a great one, which happens to be very different from that which is professed by their Japanese counterpart.  But I think that having your own cartoonish view of the human body is helpful, as long as it makes sense to you and it keeps you healthy.

For me, I believe that the key to everything is water.  Lots of water.  If I can keep a steady flow of water through my body, I find I can train harder without being sore the next day, I am more flexible, I have more energy, it is easier to maintain my weight (or lose weight when necessary), and I can drink alcohol with no ill effects in the morning.

For me, I see the body as a riverbed which is constantly polluted by our everyday actions (like every other riverbed you have ever seen).  If you can keep that river flowing at nearly flood levels, all those pollutants (lactic acid, alcohol, excess nutrients, etc) will be washed away.  I also see water as a sort of lubricant for cells, particularly muscle cells, that help them to work more efficiently.

I know that this is all a huge oversimplification and sounds a lot like a placebo (based strongly in sports medicine and common sense, of course), but it does serve as a nice little feather to hold onto when I force my body to do impossible things.

Best Friends

Since preschool, I have rarely stayed in one place longer than three years before moving.  As a result, I have learned to make friends quickly, not to waste time on superficial relationships, and not to expect too much once I have moved away.  Some might find that third lesson a little callous, but for me, it is the most important ones.  Friendships that maintain a degree of relevance do so organically and on their own.

Only one of my closest friends has really seen me through the lowest times in my life for no other reason than because I was there for him through the lowest times in his life.  We are so dissimilar as to be simultaneously in awe of and awed by the other, generous enough to be either a teacher or a student and sensitive enough to know what moment calls for which role.

Despite big plans to go into show business together, circumstance and financial concerns necessitated a slight detour for an indeterminate amount of time.  So, just after New Year’s Day, 2005 in Arnhem, Holland, five hours before my morning flight to Boston, we snapped this picture together.  We haven’t seen each other since, but correspondence every couple of months and a few drunken phone calls fills in the holes.

Despite our egos, our perfectionism, our bluntness, and our ambition, we managed to make it through four years of circus school and the Montreal circus scene – the most cutthroat and competitive environment I have ever encountered in my life – with our friendship intact.  We did it by being able to view each other’s successes as though they were our own.  And the most recent success of my best friend in the world is one that makes me step back in wonder at how far we have really come from those first insecure steps together back in Montreal.  He is on the verge of circus mega-stardom, insomuch as ‘stardom’ is something that exists in the circus world, as the main character in Cirque du Soleil’s new permanent show “Love” (aka ‘The Beatles Show’ in circus circles) at the Mirage in Las Vegas.  All of you in North America better go see it soon, though, because I have a feeling that a talent like his will not stay in one place for very long…

Congratulations, and merde to The Clown!  I’ll meet you in Holland soon, my friend!







Goos is finally in “Love!”

Acrobat entering from the ceiling of the Toyota Pavilion at the Aichi Expo in 2005

Hello From The Toyota Pavilion

Since starting this contract, things have been very stressful and very busy.  Two fellow artists (of an original 5!) were fired the day before the premiere, and a technician who we suspected of sabotaging the other artists’ reputations was supposed to come on as a substitute.  However, at the last minute she did not take the job leaving us to cover the show load at three, which nearly killed us. We’re trying to get the other two artists rehired, though one of them might not be available any longer. 

The show itself is very fun, however, and being back in japan is something I have been dreaming of for the last 12 years!  I feel very much at home here, and very peaceful.  As if I am in my own skin.  I still do miss the more European style of life that I have grown accustomed to over the last four years, but the staff is European, so when i need a good fix of coffee, crepes, or a night of chatting about life, I can always find a way. 

It is weird, having lived in the US, European, and Japanese lifestyles so long, I really feel like I am missing something no matter which I am living in currently.  The positive side is that I feel at home with people from all over the world and that I almost always have something in common with anyone I meet, and in this business, you meet a lot of people.  In this project alone, I think I have met 50 people over the last months. 

One of the best things I have been able to do in Japan has been to meet up with the Senseis, family friends from my childhood.  They showed The Contortionist and myself around Tokyo over the course of a week, and reminded me of how wonderful they were to me and my family as a child.  I hope to make it back up to Tokyo to see them again, and also to invite them to Nagoya to enjoy the Expo.

Lietuva Tatemae

One of my Lithuanian expo friends, The Political Scientist, got upset with me at a party last night because I was acting differently at the party than I do with her alone.

I know that I act differently at parties than with closer friends.  I will be up-front and honest about the reasons (flattering to me or not):

  1. When I am with a lot of people who I don’t know, I want to talk to everyone and all at once.
  2. When I am talking to people I like to find out a lot about them, and to do this, I often change the way I interact with each person.  I find that people are most comfortable with new people who reflect a similar energy to themselves, so I try to match the energies of new people, particularly those whom I don’t know very well.
  3. I admit that I like it when people like me and are happy to be with me.  Some say this is narcissistic and borderline unhealthy, but I haven’t decided if this is actually a bad thing or not.
  4. The Political Scientist and I clicked quickly compared to most of the other people I know here so I am much more comfortable opening up, looking stupid and silly, and showing off when we are alone.  I am much more guarded and ‘other person’ focused when I am in large groups.
  5. Another result of this is that I might spend more time with new people than people I am closer to – this can be seen as taking the closer friend for granted instead of as evidence of how close the two people are.  on the flip side, it becomes necessary to find a common “clin d’oeil” so that both people know that the connection between them is still shared.

Kezboards in Europe

So I guess I have entered the part of the trip where I have very little internet access.  We spent a couple of days in Torino after the time in Barcelona.  It was boring from a performance perspective, but I saw an Egyptian museum with dried up people (dead) and the Shroud of Turin.  Then we went for three days to a mini town in Italy where we performed in alleys and on the seaside for an appreciative public.  We had to change the show into a two person show and also adjust to a different country’s public.

The Italians are weird as an audience, but fun to play for.  In alleys and squares, the people who lived in the apartments high up watched the show and afterwards threw money.  It was nice when it was paper, but when it was coins you had to look out if they didn’t warn zou that it was coming.

We spent a daz at the Paleo Festival in Nyon, Swiss, and we got in for free because our friends were performing there in a special circus space they had set up.  I saw Jimmy Cliff and REM, for free.  Good show, made me nostalgic.  Never saw REM live.  Now in Geneva, and the rest of the summer is clear, now.

We go to a small festival for theater tomorrow to perform zet another new show with a new cast of four.  After that, I go to Zurich for a day, Germanz for three dazs, and then end up in Holland for the last week of vacation.  Still searching performance space in Boston and Amsterdam and Arnhem.  Anyway, summer’s well and I’m well and I have no internet access ever and the kezboards here are all different from countrz to countrz.  makes typing a pain.  See zou soon!

Circus school student getting stretched for his center splits

Psychoactive Tuna

My computer died so I had to reinstall everything.  These two weeks of silence have stemmed from me feeling as though nothing I accomplish in life is going to make me that I’ve finished anything.  Weird to look ahead at a whole lifetime of feeling that way.  But what is, is. 

I’ve been feeling very misanthropic.  It’s just been frustration with people who seem to be at the school just to have fun and play around and pretend to be circus artists.  It makes it difficult to really train seriously.  I’ve been concentrating so much on the problems I have on form in handstands or that various tricks aren’t coming. 

We have a new huge coach for hand to hand, Ivan, who is taking over for Sylvain.  We call him “Ivan the Terrible” (behind his back of course), but we all really like him.  He worked in Australia for 9 years.  Sylvain is working with him now because he doesn’t speak any French, just English and Russian and it is obvious that there is a big difference in their styles.  I get to be a flyer and a porter which is all good.  

Today The Clown and I went on a “porter strike” in ITA because the Quebecois in our ITA class had been complaining that we never do trapeze or high bar.  So today,  we just did that and left the flyers to port each other which I’m not sure they enjoyed.  I think they got our point and we got to relax from porting for a day! 

We’ve had two Quebecois guests come to talk to us about substance abuse and balance and life.  We all had to bring in a can to make the case that you need to put big stones in your can first and then put the little stones in because if you put the little things in first there won’t be any room for the big things.  It was in French so I didn’t get any of that and ended up asking why we had to bring the cans in just after they had gone through that whole explanation in French.  Oops. 

We had a presentation about psychoactive drugs and The Clown and I had to do a sketch about stimulants, depressants, and psychoactive drugs.  W e imitated the nervous system before and after alcohol and then acted out what our classmates were reading in a monotone about stimulants which culminating in us running out of the room and stripping to our underwear in the hallway and then running back in.  Then, I read about hallucinogens as The Clown acted it out with me eventually joining in doing contact improvisation in our underwear.  The class next door told us we had to be quiet a few times. 

I’ll be playing Aladdin for our acting class’ final presentation and it’s hard getting people to have realistic characters – they always want to play cartoonish images like old people with bent-over backs and canes and things like that.  Its also a challenge getting them to be more perfectionistic.  Their point of view is that “everyone knows the story so why do we need to show everything?” 

Yesterday we had a good time doing our first workshop for the end of the year show and things went pretty well but it really comes down to who you work with.  If you work with the right people you know you’re ok.  I ended up working with a great group.  We’re working on things that we’re going to do in the outside part of the show.  We were in the car wash group, another group worked on VIP scenario, and another worked on a picnic animation that we’re doing with the public. 

The night before at a duo birthday party for The Tumbler/complaining session, The Gang were all worried that we were going to end up working with people we didn’t get along with. 

I think part of reason I’ve been feeling low energy the last couple of weeks or months believe it or not has been a lack of tuna.  I say that because after not much protein for a really long while I had a can of tuna today and found I had a lot of energy for the rest of the day, so I think there’s something about the protein in the tuna or something that really helps.

Acrobat on stage on tour in Spain

Injuries Abound

Started out like crap, but this day really ended up being a great one.  I got a ton of sleep, from 11:30 until around 10:20, but that didn’t keep me from being about 5 minutes late for physical conditioning.  I have to make a choice here, and I think it will start next week.  I need to be at the school by 8:30 in the morning every day if I really want to live the full training experience.  This involves independent strength, flexibility, and handstand work, as well as supplemental tumbling. 

Physical conditioning was cool in that I still try do more than asked, but also, today, I moved up into two new categories of training.  Instead of pushups (which I still need to do) I do hollow body to handstand, and instead of assisted pullups, I do them unassisted on the trapeze.  Yeah!  I think Esteban doesn’t care that I was late. 

The Trampo, I did my first forward somersault with Carol, so that was cool.  I also learned a back drop with a full twist, but it is really hard to do with the right technique. 

I did finally bring my food with me back to the school, and I think that my body thanks me a great deal! 

ITA was nothing special, but I got to fly again on cradle!  Richard was out again today for some reason.  I did a swing to pike hold to back somersault.  It was great.  I mean, not my technique, but the way it felt. 

Learned new juggling tricks in juggling, including throwing all three balls high in the air, and throwing two up and passing one behind my back.  Then I worked passing balls with three people.  Unicycle hurts the penis! 

Hand to hand was okay, I am liking getting the opportunity to bench press all of these girls three times each.  I think I am coming into the realization of how to use my strength, and I think it is actually helping me be stronger.

I did a bit of handbalancing near Byamba, who gave me my set of handbalancing blocks today!  I am so flattered.  I tried them out a bit, and it works great.  They are so cool.  He saw me working planche and I also have decided that working press handstands is something that I should not stop doing at all, so I did ten today. 

Health and nutrition was good in that we analyzed the food we ate, and I found that I ate more than a marathon runner would!  She said that that is okay, though, because of the level of energy we are putting out as long as we do not go over our ideal weight for ourselves. 

Then was pizza night.  There were so many injuries today, though.  First was The Clown who just noticed big time instability in his knee and went to the doctor who said he had to come back next week.  He is out for at least four days. 

The Aerialist in hand to hand fell right on her knee and says she heard a snap.  I felt bad for her just seeing her being so downhearted. 

Pizza night was fun, anyways.  There was The Tumbler, The Contortionist, The Trapezist, The Artist, The Clown, and me.  I was told I was being a bit “American” a bit in the context of being logical and rational about The Trapezist’s boyfriend situation.  She thinks I’m hard about things like that, and she is definitely right about that. 


We were talking about an upperclass girl that all of the guys there find attractive but the three girls there all jumped on her saying that she is all high on herself.  That’s partly what’s attractive about her, though!  If the gossip is to believed, there are also swingers at the school. 

Anyway, it was a good night, and I felt like I was in America with a bunch of worldly friends.  Can’t get used to that, though if I want to learn French.