Acupuncture

I have had stiffness and pain in my neck for the last week or so, which is very unusual for me.  One of my good friends in Japan, The Journalist, knows an acupuncturist whose office/apartment is not far from my house, so after my training on Monday, we meet up and head over there.

The office is not unlike the acupuncturist ‘office’ I knew in Boston.  Basically, it is a thinly disguised house, with massage tables and an electrical stimulation machine in the corner.

The Journalist, the wife half of the acupuncturist couple and I sit in the kitchen, and I listen as the two banter a little about life.  She strikes me as an unusual Japanese woman.  Very outspoken, and rips into The Journalist a little with biting sarcasm.

I am the first to get acupuncture treatment that night, preceded by a nice bit of shiatsu massage.  She sticks five needles into my neck and then hooks me up to a machine that delivers low-level electrical impulses through the needles causing deep muscle contractions in my neck. It doesn’t really hurt, but it does feel strange.

I hear the husband return and exchange some barbs with The Journalist before sticking him with pins and making him scream.

By this time, my acupuncture electrocution is over, and he comes over to me to massage my tendons and ligaments with needles.  This hurts a little more, and I could really feel it when the needles hit nerves and blood vessels.  Again, not really painful, but very strange, like electrical shocks that come from inside my own body.

After the treatment, I really do notice that most of the stiffness in my neck has dissipated, but there is a residual pain from the needles, so it is hard to say what the net effect is.  The acupuncturists advise me to take it easy on my training for two day, and after The Journalist and I pay a nominal fee for their services, they take us out for dinner at an izakaya (traditional Japanese pub) near the station.

There, as the alcohol flows, we speak freely about all kinds of things.  Acupuncture, life in Japan, my job, and The Journalist’s foolishness.  Most of the food was delicious except for some of the more exotic parts of the chicken (the skin, gizzard, tail, ovaries, and heart) that I neither The Journalist or I have been able to get used to.  I learn the Japanese euphemism for ‘this tastes terrible’: ‘natsukashii aji,’ literally ‘nostalgic flavor.’ Think, ‘wow, that taste really takes me back…’  I guess the idea is that you get so lost in reminiscence that you forget to eat the rest.

But my God, go out for an hour of acupuncture and end up spending the evening with two new friends.  A whole new world for free.  I love my job.

Roppongi Headbutt

Ah, a perfect night out with friends: a restaurant, a bar, karaoke, and a club.  Oh, and a short, brutal, and bizzare altercation on the steets of Roppongi.

Around 5am, we stumble out of the club and onto the streets of Roppongi.  Everyone has that post-dancing glow about them; that euphoria.  Eriko and Paul are planning to go to a karaoke together, the rest of us are going to share a taxi to the Yamanote-sen, when Paul and Gordon are accosted by two gents who seem friendly enough.  WARNING SIGN: one of them has a raised welt on the top of his forehead.  Typical drunken banter ensues:

‘Who are you guys meant to be?’

‘We can be whomever you want us to be!’

‘Can you be wrestlers?’

‘Please be wrestlers’

‘Where are you from?’

‘Scandinavia.  Norway.’

‘Norway’s got it going on!  Norway’s got it going on!’

Then: SMACK.

A quiet smack, a wet smack.  Concussive.   The shaved headed Scandinavian who now has two bruises on his forehead looks strangely puzzled and is restrained by the Norwegian.  I turn to my left, where Paul is standing with a stream of blood emanating from above his right eyebrow.  He is smiling; dazed.  Filipina hookers and Nigerian night club callers are surrounding him with concerned looks.  Some run off to get towels, ice.  Gordon is screaming at the Scandinavian:

“What the FUCK was that, man?  What the FUCK was that?  Walk away, asshole, just walk the fuck away.”

Gordon attacks the skinhead; he is restrained by, well, everyone.

Then: “He need a hospital.”

I think this Filipina is right. She is looking at me; concerned.  She would have told gordon, the more vocal member of our party, but he’s already running down the street.

It’s not just a cut, it’s a slice.  Deep, and the edges beginning to swell.  Paul wants to keep walking.  He is in shock.  He laughs at the idea.  To him it was just a little head-butt.  How can you go into shock from a little head-butt?  But then the spike of adrenaline fades, and he loses his legs.  We get him to a barrier.  He is shaking and pale.  I am worried about the combined effects of alchohol and shock.  I want him to lie down.  he says he is comfortable where he is.  Yuuko is gone.  I want him to go to a koban at least; he is going to need stitches, but he is refusing.  Where’s Gordon?  “Paul, can I get you to lie down?”  “I’m OK here.”  He is worried about his suit.  It is covered with blood.  Gordon comes back.   “I got him, man,” he is repeating over and over.  “You got him,” asks Paul?  “Yeah, man.  Two times.  Once here, and once over there.  Where’s yuuko?”  Yuuko comes back from the conbini with some bandages…  he needs more than that.  Someone suggests a hospital again.  Gordon refuses.  I say he needs a koban, at least; Gordon agrees, I go to look for one.

When I get back, the Guardian Angels are on the scene.  They manage some quick first aid, but they do not have any butterfly bands that will hold the cut closed.  The Angel that is bandaging Paul has shaking hands.  He touches the edges of the cut and hesitates, uneasy.

“Tabun, byoin ni itta hoo ga iin desu…” he mutters.

Paul has no insurance.  The Angels bandage him as best they can, a Turkish guy is explaining what he saw in Japanese to the leader of the Angels.  Just as they start bandaging paul, the Norwegian comes back.

Gordon takes a swing at him, and the Norwegian falls to the ground.  The Angels restrain them both, the Norwegian is in an arm lock on the ground.  head bent.

Gordon is screaming again:  “Where’s your friend, tough guy? Where’s you fucking friend?  I’ll kill you!”

The Norwegian is silent, restrained, pinned to the ground.  “I just came to apologize,” he says, palms up… eyes wide.  The Angels escort him a few meters away.  Gordon is hugging Paul.  Yuuko is crying.  Eriko has her head on paul’s shoulder…  the Norwegian is scared and held up against a wall by the Angels.  He does not understand their English or their Japanese.  I decide that I need to help the guy out.

If he had any malicious intent, there is no way he would have come up to Paul amidst a red-jacketed swarm of volunteer crowd control specialists.  The police are coming soon, I know, and I have not been impressed with the way Japanese police deal with foreigners, particularly foreigners that do not speak Japanese.  One misstep; one incorrect answer to a misunderstood question, and I know that the Norwegian’s holiday can take a litigatious turn.

I talk with him about what happened, and certain things become clear.  He did not know the attacker.  He was just walking him out of a bar to help him find a taxi as he had clearly been drinking too much.  They had met at the bar when they discovered that they were both Scandinavian.  Our Norwegian friend, now bearing the brunt of the responsibility, is of all things, a fucking pacifist.

His friends showed up, asking what had happened.  Their well-meaning, gentle friend is pinned to a brick wall by Japanese police and Guardian Angels and they are not allowed to approach him.  They get angry.  The Japanese police get tense.  I eye their batons nervously, and am worried things are going to get out of hand.  His friends to not seem to share his pacifistic tendencies, and they are getting irate.

I go to them to explain.  I tell them that it will take a bit of time, but that I don’t think their friend is going to be taken in.  They calm down a bit.  Say they will wait.  They wait.

The Angels and the cops are talking and I go back to the Norwegian.

“Maybe I should have let that guy keep hitting him,” he says, talking about Gordon’s revenge “but I didn’t want to see the violence.”

“You may have caused more trouble for yourself by coming back, my friend,” I say.

“I know.  but I wanted to apologise.  You can’t just head-butt a person cause you don’t like the way they look.  What is that about?”

The police are done.  The Angels are done.  I exchange emails with the Norwegian in case Paul or anyone need to get in touch with him later.  His friends are mad.  They didn’t trust the attacker at all because he was a Swede.

I offer to help them get a taxi, but they are OK.  His big friend is telling me how the Norwegians hate the Swedes because in 1939 they let Hitler march through their country into Scandinavia.  I have heard stories like this all my life.  The Chinese hate the Japanese because of blah blah blah.  The Dutch hate the Germans, the Lithuanians hate the Russians, the Quebecois hate the Anglos.  The Canadians hate the Americans, the Arabs hate the Jews…  same old song with infinite verses.

I used to think it was ridiculous.  A hold-over from a more violent time, but I have come to realize that it all stems from a basic element of human nature.  If an attack on a friend of couple months can incite violent anger in a borderline anarchist philosophy major, imagine what a blinding maelstrom of rage an attack on your family, culture and comrades can engender.

As members of varied cultures we are all more different than the current political model in the West suggests.  I think that the answer to the last generation’s question “Why can’t we all just get along” lies somewhere in that phenomenon.  The question is a false one, spurred by the notion that such a “we” exists.  It is a myth born out of the various social movements that swept the globe in the sixties and seventies and it is a legacy that we need to sweep from our eyes like so many other utopian dreams that have repeatedly poisoned our politics and history through the ages.

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

Distance, Dodgeball, Lichen

i owe it to myself, and to whoever i might possibly end up with, to be myself now, without them, and to continue to be myself even after i meet them. 

the people around you are like a fluid that you continuously move through and past.  it’s lonely to think of people and their minds and their souls as things that you pass by.  

if there was no time, there would be no such thing as distance, because all that makes two things physically separate is the time it takes to travel from the one object to the other.  we would be surrounded by everything and everyone that ever made us happy.  

the passage of time is important, indispensable, to the people who want to achieve something. it’s a race that never ends, all the training and all the failure, all that is part of the race.  there is no finish line, there is only running and running and running.  

i remember in junior high or elementary school and we had to run in gym and i hated running.  i just did the running.  like, i wasn’t the kid who would throw up and i wasn’t the kid through whom the teacher could relive his youth vicariously, but my point is that a lot of people sit down in the race like the girls in my second grade class who would sit down in the middle of the best dodgeball game ever because it was stupid. 

and the thing is that yeah, dodgeball is stupid and a race metaphor that combines notions of life and achievement and time, that’s just as stupid, but i loved dodgeball and i love this stupid race too and i’m going to keep running it until one of my ribs literally breaks through my chest and sprays blood all over the asphalt ahead of me and my leg bone pierces through my ankle and grates on the ground and  splinters and shreds like a green stick just pulled off the tree and until everyone i know can look at me only pityingly and an xray shows no injury, but rather just age, and that the age was only brought on by the race itself.  

what is it about the body that makes people who pursue these things want to break it down and destroy it?  is there some promise of liberation?  to see the destruction and decay of everything physical and to know that something inside you is still soaring?

a lichen on a rock that has decided that 0 mph is maybe the right speed for me if you please thanks very much, though, and send me a postcard from infinity when you never get there.  enjoy the ride and the hatred of yourself when your sweat hides in your eyebrows such that the slightest wince might send a stream of stinging salt into eyes forever fixed on the horizon that may as well be your only place worth getting to. 

my name and address:  travelling acrobat, the horizon, earth.  never send me anything.  thanks.

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.