Seoul Man

I have not been writing much online lately as I had to finish up my article for the festival in Korea at the end of this month.  here, at least, is its final version:

The National Circus School of Canada and Canada’s Theatrical Cirque Nouveau

The National Circus School of Canada

The National Circus School of Canada (NCSC) is recognized as a global center of circus arts instruction.  Circuses and producers aggressively recruit graduates; over 90% find employment within a few months of leaving the school.  Graduates work at Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Eloize, Cirque Monti, Circus Starlight, Les Sept Doigts de la Main, and win top awards at the Festival de Cirque de Demain, and Cirque d’Hiver, among others.

How does NCSC successfully train its students to enter the competitive international setting of the modern circus?  The answer lies in a dichotomy in the school’s pedagogical approach.  NCSC trains the student as acrobats as well as autonomous creators.  In other words, the school strives to find a balance between performer and artist.

Body

Circus is a physical discipline, and the acrobatic skills and manipulations of its performers test the limits of human potential.  The NCSC puts its students through three years of grueling physical training to maximize their strength, flexibility, dexterity, and balance.

Fundamental classes in strength training and flexibility accompany technical classes in handstands, trampoline, acrobatics, aerial techniques, juggling, and tightrope walking.  Additionally, students specialize in and receive individual training in a discipline of their choice.

A student masters all basic circus disciplines before graduating from NCSC.  A unique aspect of the school’s evaluation is that upon achieving baseline mastery, a student’s evaluation criteria are readjusted to accommodate more exigent goals.  Thus, while a student with natural math ability might have a considerable advantage over her peers in a science classroom, unusually skilled students at NCSC are at as much a risk of failure as their peers.  This highly competitive and stressful environment fosters both an extraordinary will to succeed and strong bonds within the student community.

Spirit

It is the level of artistic expression that distinguishes traditional circus from cirque nouveau, or ‘new circus.’  This does not mean that cirque nouveau has a higher level of artistic expression nor does it mean that traditional circus shows are lacking, but the latter focuses more on technique and spectacle than on artistic expression whereas the former might sacrifice technical bravado in order to communicate artistic ideas.  Exactly where one draws the line on this spectrum is beyond the scope of this article, but it can be said that arbitrarily adjusting the theme, costume, and choreography of a traditional circus act will not transform it into cirque nouveau.  Similarly, dressing a cirque nouveau number in a traditional costume, accompanying it with a live big-top band, and augmenting its technical difficulty will not guarantee success with a traditional circus audience.

NCSC develops the artistic potential of students in two main ways: through its dance and acting curriculum and through various workshop creations.

For the first two years, the acting curriculum is based in the principles of physical theater masters such as Jaques LeCoq and Phillipe Gaulier. Students explore neutrality, rhythm, masks, movement, simplicity, and improvisation with an emphasis on developing stage presence and rapport with the audience.  In the third year, the acting curriculum consists of master classes taught by experts in clowning, physical theater, and mime.  Thus, students sample different schools of thought and styles than can be found at NCSC itself.

Dance classes emphasize both technique and creation.  Students learn ballet and modern technique in traditional dance classes and practice choreographic theory by creating solo, partner, and group works presented before the entire school.  Dance and movement (its companion class in the first year), integrate a well-trained body and a creative mind by developing technique (in the case of dance) and instinct (in the case of movement).

There are numerous workshop creations in the three years at the school.  In the first semester of every year, NCSC divides the first- and second-year classes into two groups each whom create a total of four 20-minute shows.  The groups work on their own over the course of the semester with an artistic counselor and present their work to the entire school and its alumni in December.  In another workshop creation, three directors unaffiliated with the school direct one-third of the students each for a one-week period and present the three works before the entire school.  Later in the year, the creation process is repeated, but this time with the students choosing their own groups and acting as their own directors.

The largest and most public workshop creation is the school’s highly anticipated annual show.  Often, a visiting director or directors will be invited to direct the entire student body in a professional quality nouveau cirque show presented to the public for ten days every June.

For the individual student, however, the most important workshop creation is the development of his own professional circus number over the three-years at the school.  The technical exploration, choreographic, and thematic development all transpire between a student, his personal coach, and an artistic counselor.

Ultimately, what puts a graduate of NCSC in such high demand is the artistic sense from dance and theater classes integrated with superior technical ability and the creative sensibility stemming from involvement in several workshop creations.

Canadian Cirque Nouveau

The most amazing aspect of cirque nouveau in Canada is that it exists at all.  In the early 1980’s the only dominant circus presence in North America, the three-ring Barnum and Bailey Circus seemed comfortable with its image as a nineteenth century holdover from the circuses of the past. No one could have expected that the most revolutionary force in 20th century stage entertainment, Cirque du Soleil, was about to emerge in Canada, a country with no circus tradition whatsoever.

But it was exactly that lack of legacy that enabled this revolutionary troupe to work outside of conservative norms in the traditional circuses of Europe.  It was financial necessity (despite Guy Laliberte’s famous quotation, “I would rather pay five acrobats than feed one elephant for a day.”) that led the group to eschew animal acts.  And, finally, perhaps most importantly, all about them was the excitement that surrounds something unquestionably new, especially when it can somehow be identified as ours – in this case, Canadian, or more specifically, Quebecois.

Canadian cirque nouveau is geographically localized.  Unlike France, where government subsidies have aided in the formation of hundreds of circus companies throughout the country, cirque nouveau remains localized in the areas surrounding Montreal.  The major players Canadian circus companies can be counted on three fingers of the hand: Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Eloize, and Les Sept Doigts de la Main.

The reason for this localization has a lot to do with Montreal itself with its extraordinarily low cost of living and a disproportionately large artistic population.  It is home to at least three of North America’s most well-known summer festivals: Just For Laughs, The Montreal Jazz Festival, and Francofolies.  It is also a liberal college town hosting, among others, the University of Quebec at Montreal, McGill University, the National Theater School, the National Circus School, and the National School of Dance.  As a French-speaking city with a large Anglophone population and a transient international student community, it is a breeding ground for cultural and artistic exchange and innovation.  On a given night in the Montreal one can find a number of artists performing studio presentations and works-in-progress in black-box theaters, cabarets, and bars in addition to the many circus shows that premiere or pass through the city regularly.  Indeed, this is a city that puts a premium on the promotion of artistic expression and creation, and is now reaping the benefits as home to one of the largest live entertainment companies in the world.

Montreal in the post-Cirque world presents a challenge to performing artists.  A New York City performer skilled in singing, dancing, and acting is honorifically termed a ‘triple threat,’ but these talents alone are barely sufficient for the vibrant and multidisciplinary Montreal scene.  A fictional Montreal ‘multi-threat’ artist would need skills in modern dance, jazz dance, hip-hop, pop-and-lock, breakdancing, ballet, Tuvan throat-singing, Quebecois folk singing, opera, rap, acrobatics, juggling, guitar, clarinet, sousaphone, accordion, cello, violin,  (in a variety of musical styles), kung fu, tae kwon do, capoeira (or any other martial arts), multilingualism, swimming, highdiving, etc, etc… and have no fear of heights!

Theatricality of Canadian Cirque Nouveau

So with this vibrant city as a backdrop, how can one characterize the theatricality of Canadian circus?  The answer is found in the sheer variety of shows that are presented in Montreal: ‘Experimental Circus/Theater,’ ‘Dance/Circus Collaborations,’ ‘Industrial Music and Live Acrobats,’ ‘Multimedia, Interactive Acrobatic Event,’ and ‘Cinematic Circus.’  The threads that unify Canadian nouveau cirque are multi-disciplinary collaboration and high entertainment standards.

One could go mad trying to count the number of influences present in a Canadian nouveau cirque show – from the most expensive Cirque du Soleil production to the lyrical romanticism of Cirque Eloize to the intimate urban spectacle of Les Sept Doigts de la Main.  In Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Ka,’ for example, the French underground urban performance art/dance ‘parcour’ is prominently featured, as well as a number of martial arts styles.  Inline skating, BMX biking, and other extreme sports take the stage in Soleil’s new show ‘Love,’ based on the music of the Beatles.  In Cirque Eloize, we see Italian film, African music, tango dance, gypsy celebrations, and Vaudeville influences.  Les Sept Doigts have a live DJ, an old-school Broadway-style production number, and tip their collective hats to traditional circus, all in the framework of a show that also happens to seamlessly integrate multimedia and live-camera feeds.

This chaos is held together by Canadian circus’ high entertainment standards and production values.  The work ethic of the unbearably demanding NCSC and other arts conservatories in Montreal and the discerning tastes of their graduates have resulted in disciplined collaborations.  In Montreal, a performer’s job is first and foremost to entertain the audience. Thus, artists have set aside grand notions of politics or personal importance which can result in navel-gazing self-indulgent work and focus instead on the performance aspect of their art.  Paradoxically, this approach does not seem to dilute the subversive potential or political nature of the performance in the least.  On the contrary, an artist’s generous humanity and honesty can amplify and illuminate themes that might have been smothered by a more heavy-handed approach.  Critics are as likely to praise a show for its entertainment value as for its political content, as was the case in “Les Anges de l’Orage,” a multidisciplinary 2004 collaboration with NCSC and TOHU.

Cirque nouveau is in a perpetual state of flux.  In the course of a year, innovations become discarded clichés that are rediscovered, reinvented, embraced briefly, and then discarded again.  Artists in Canadian circus push existing boundaries, explore new artistic territory, and strive to continually reinvent the face of their unique art form.

The Future

What of the future?  New graduates of the NCSC and the international popularity of the Cirque du Soleil brand guarantee that Canadian cirque nouveau will continue to thrive, but cirque nouveau with its protean nature will change in unpredictable ways and an evolution into a sort of post-modern circus could take root anywhere.  The main lesson of the birth of cirque nouveau its subsequent growth in Canada is that just like living beings, a new form of art needs a fertile place to grow.  Montreal provided a fertile environment for cirque nouveau with a diverse international culture and a willingness to foster artistic experimentation, but unlike living creatures, new art forms have spontaneously generated in the most unlikely environments.  The voices rising from the newest generation of Asian performing artists are of great interest to me since it is my belief that Montreal-like conditions for artistic innovation exist right here in Asia.

A Continually Developing Film Starring Us

Things did not go as smoothly with The Contortionist being in Hawaii as I had hoped, but at least it gave us a chance to say goodbye face-to-face instead of over email.  I miss her, but it is hard for me to think about how I can write to her feeing this strange push and pull; understanding that I am choosing not to be with her despite this being a choice that I make as much for her as for me.

We are in a continually developing film starring us.

She wrote me today telling me that she finds it difficult to move on.  I know she can no more forget me as I can forget her, but I told her that she should not let our past paralyze her.  She wanted to come visit in a few weeks, but I said that it makes more sense to wait for the Taiwan project.  My reasoning is that my schedule is even more hectic here now that it was when our relationship trouble started, and I might be leaving for Taiwan even sooner than expected as I am now co-director.  Even if she is free in the next couple of weeks, there is no guarantee that I will be, and I will not necessarily be in the calmest of moods the next 6 weeks or so.  I may have looked like a bastard, but I would have looked like more of one if I invited her here and could not spend time with her.

The Contortionist tells me that she is feeling stressed about the next step in her life after her tour with Cirque Theatrical finishes.  She must feel a bit like how I’ve been feeling since last August when the end of expo was just around the corner.  It’s a crazy time.

She’s planning to start studying to finish her academic education that was interrupted when she came to Montreal for circus school and asked me how she should think about choosing subjects; if she should do as few as possible or as many as possible, what subjects to choose, etc.

My advice to her was to try to do as much as possible for as long as she can.  She might be surprised at how well she learns under pressure or that she naturally does better at some subjects than others, and just go with that.  Having a variety of subjects to work on at one time is also important because often, if she’s sick of one subject, like math, studying French might be a great way to relax from it.  If she’s only studying French, she might not get that sense of “ah, finally, something I enjoy…”

It’s just like how flexibility training can be such a nice change from strength training that it almost feels like you aren’t really working, even though you are getting the benefit of working hard at two things.

But everyone is different.  I know that if I just do one thing I get bored; I need to always have a choice and have to feel like there is more to do than I can ever accomplish.  For her, it might be easier to do just one or two subjects at a time.  I would say at least two, though, or she may get bored quickly!

It’s important for her to keep drop deadlines in mind so that she won’t get stuck with a class you are struggling in.  Maybe some of the classes she thinks will be hard will not be so tough after all and she will surprise herself.

She tells me that she hopes I will find someone extraordinary to be “my girl” but that she is having a hard time moving forward; that she is sorry about what happened.  I think we should maybe talk about us again after her tour is finished.  Maybe she’s right – maybe we could put this ugliness behind us and start over.

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!

Letter Home From Japan

I am still in Tokyo.  It has been more than a year since setting foot back on this volcanic archipelago of my childhood.  In many ways, the Japan that I remeber has crumbled into the sea.  That Japan stays forever in my memory, but what remains – presently – before me, is a land of opportunity.  It is like my ‘wild west’ has shot far past California and the Polynesian islands to come full circle and rest here in the ever-renewing, ever-crumbling Land of the Rising Sun.

Here, I can be what I want to be.  I can be White or Asian, American or European.  I can be an Artist or a Businessman or a Scientist.  I can be young or old, exotic or commonplace…  whatever I say is what I am.

I am trying to produce this show.  Starting in June, I go to Taiwan to make a new circus show.  I am working with a director friend of mine as new project coordinator and assistant director.  I am trying to produce the Japanese leg of the tour.  We are also directing the first major modern circus festival in Asia.  We get to work with former classmates, cirque du soleil artists, and some of the biggest names in circus today.  I will finally be a “producer” with a company starting to making a name for itself.  I am brokering deals larger than any I ever imagined while living in a one-room apartment with two Lithuanian roommates and no shower.

I’m reading voraciously.  At least two books a week.  Science journals.  Social criticism.  Philosophy.  Novels.  I read in French, in English, in Japanese, anything to stay mentally active.

Most people aren’t as interesting as these opportunities are so I don’t lose to much time to social things.  The friends I do have are as close to me as they are different from each other.  Journalists, politicians, teachers, public relations experts.  They keep me moving in different circles from each other so the water around me cstays clean and swiftly-flowing.

I have my vices…  I like to drink, I drink a lot every couple of weeks, and I like flirting with women.  I’m liking it a lot more than I was liking having a girlfriend.  Every month, I find I need to spend money on a nice dinner and show to feel like (despite my less than luxurious living conditions) can still appreciate finer things from time to time.

I get job offers frequently for nice, stable jobs that I will not like.  Interviewing for such jobs helps me practice negotiation and learn for myself that business is all about convincing people that they need you, and then proving it.  It is about finding out what you are worth, knowing what you are worth, getting more, and then living up to it.

I am enjoying myself, but whenever I give myself a break, I get depressed.  A fifteen-minute break from the computer writing business emails or running from meeting to meeting makes me feel like I am building everything on a lie; that everything is escaping me.  I wake up in the middle of the night to edit publicity videos, to write web pages, to contact investors.  I am never alone from my thoughts.

This is why I love meeting people.  They provide the best way to escape my own head.  I simply enter theirs, care about what they care about, and learn about a world that is as alien as any extraterrestrial planet:  my world as seen by someone else.

I am forcing myself to take a break.  I will go to Hawaii and Minnesota at the end of March, and will only allow myself 3 business stops a week of no more than 4 hours each.  I will think of nothing, and write all the time.  I will climb mountains and hike rainforests and drive in lazy loops and piercing treks across the plains.  I will excersise outside and breathe clean air and smoke a cigar on the beach.

All this will come to an end.  If I accomplish what I truly hope to accomplish in the next two years, it is time for another change.  It is time for university; it is degree time.

I am sure that someday in my life I will grow up and settle down.  I am sure that someday I will find a way to keep my mind on one path, but for now, at age 28, there are so many mountains to climb and so many paths to take.

Science, art, business, politics, writing… who know what it all means and where it all leads.

At least I have moments, every couple of weeks or so; in the neon underbrush of Shibuya or the quiet, European streets lining the inside of the Yamanote loop… in Japanese lessons with the woman who has taught my father, sister, and me for almost 22 years…  biking through the rain, or drinking a fragrant, inky wine with a beautiful woman over a savory meal and spicy political discourse a quarter mile above the quiet chaos below…  when I can step outside of myself, my life, into the realm where I exist close to the people I love – my family – a place far removed from the four dimensions of everyday life.

Where your presence warms my spirit and moves my soul and makes me understand that wherever I go, whatever I do, I am not alone in the world.

I hope to make you all proud someday,

Your loving son and brother,

The Travelling Acrobat

Lithuanian Christmas and Grad School

For Christmas Eve, my roommates are hosting a traditional Lithuanian feast in our terrible little cell of an apartment for some of my closest Japanese friends.  It’s an intricate affair with twelve courses of traditional dishes that are prepared the same every year.  Twelve because of the twelve pagan months in the old tradition, and because of the twelve apostles in the newer Christian tradition.  It’s pretty solemn, with no music, just calm conversation, no alcohol (though I think that the new Lithuanian custom is to bend that little rule a bit).  You need eggs to signify beginnings, apples because of Adam and Eve, fish because of Jesus… some other things, but I can’t remember them all just now.

On Christmas day, I hope to do something fun outside to enjoy the crisp air.

Science

Lately I’ve been reflecting on continuing with performing arts versus returning to science.  I am at a crossroads and if I decide to continue along the path I am on, I will hopefully end up as a producer and director of shows, arranging international tours and residencies and things like that.  This is a long-time dream in many ways, but on the other hand, I have been missing science for the last year or so, and I worry that if I do not do something to maintain some sort of science knowledge, I will never be “let back into the club,” so to speak.  I am feeling like if I do not steer myself back towards science soon, I will miss the boat completely, and a return to science has always been an option for me – timing is always such a tricky issue, though.

It is frustrating because I love both worlds, but I cannot pursue both at the level that I really want to which means that trying both will actually hurt my chances at either.

So I guess 2006 will be a real test for me.  I will be directing two shows and hopefully managing their tours from Taiwan to Hong Kong, Japan, and Canada with The Rocker, and hopefully producing and performing in a new one-man one-act show to shop around for my own tours in Europe and the USA.  But at the same time, I’m starting to apply to jobs in science, specifically biological, astronomical, and geological/planetary science-related research positions.  The plan is to apply for an astronomical data specialist at the Gemini Observatory at Mauna Kea.  It involves almost exclusively acting as a local consultant for visiting astronomers in dealing with the Gemini database and aiding with processing and handling of image files in IRAF… reading the job description brought me right back to my undergraduate years.  I’m also applying for a job that involves nothing but observing Near Earth Asteroids night after night after night…  once again, thesis work memories come flooding back.

As I go along, I’m going to need to evaluate what I am getting in terms of experience, happiness, and money from my two possible paths, and eventually I need to make a decision.

Politics

Politics is coming into the picture because I have realized that the two things I like about this life I have right now is the travel, the flexibility (well, both kinds, I guess), and the person-to-person contact…  I like trying to make people sign up to do things they never thought of doing before to make the world a better place…  or, if nothing else, help me eat better in the short-short-short term.

The education imperative

I DO know that I need to be well on my way to a higher education degree by the time I am 35… this is a very important life goal for me, as I feel that I owe it to my family and to myself to put some closure to my academic life.  So as I see it, the next 3-5 years, no matter what I am doing, must be with an eye on that goal.  A degree in biology, physics, planetary science, business, political science…  I really don’t know.  I am interested in all these fields equally.  I still have a lot of thinking and living and deciding to do.