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!

Whirlwind Tour Part 2 (continued) – Boston

And today, another crazy one.  I had a terrible haircut, was unable to take a nap despite being very, very tired, and talked with one presenter from here in Boston.  It was in general very positive, but of course, they need to see the real show before they can say anything for real.  He really liked the show, though.  Of course, it is much easier for me to deal with the business side of things in English…

Even better since I had to hone it all in Japanese first!  It is like learning how to run underwater, I guess.  When you emerge, running itself is so easy!

Then it was off to meet my best friend from college and another friend who I have gotten to know better since college.  We met at a local bar/pub, and ate, talked for about an hour.  About real stuff, you know, and it was quite pleasant.  We talked about our friend…  caught up on everyone’s life, felt like we were 8 years younger.  Women, drinks, movies, literature…  very nice.

Then I went to another bar where I saw my gymnastics coach from MIT and my best friend from gymnastics…  Outside of work, my friend does this thing called ‘acrobatic dunking’ for the pro basketball team here.  His team should really go to Lithuania some day to do it.  We talked about women and life… very nice.

My coach told me that I can do an artist-in-residence at MIT any time and that he will make sure that it works.  I am very excited about the idea of lecturing at my old university for a semester when I have time.  I had a real Guinness, talked all about my life, heard all about theirs…  it is interesting how three friends can change over time, but still stay the same, you know!  Talking about performance, women, gymnastics… why we do it all, how young we were back then, how the world has changed, our world has changed.

In the end, my friend gave me a ride home in this custom-built car that he has had since we were freshmen… he build it from zero, it has been stolen and gutted three times, and he build it up again each time.  I appreciated it for the first time.  as a labor of love, as a piece of brilliant engineering, as the product of someone’s will to perfect something, as an automobile, and as a work of art.  Why was I never able to see things like that before?  What will I see in five years that I could never see now?

Then it was back to my other friends’ house for drinking and playing video games (American style catching up on things) and talking about women, women from college, what everyone is up to, about art, about plans.

I started thinking about the mental, emotional and physical, and how I am not amazing in any one of them, but what I can do that is maybe worth a little something, is to see how they all are interrelated and the role that they can play in a performance piece.  And how a performance can tickle those three parts of things… we criticized arts at MIT as being a little too mental, a demonstration, say, and I realized that when I come as an artist in residence, this is what I want to change.  To make art more human instead of less so…

All in all, a hell of a day, business, many friends, business and friends, and then friends.

I remembered songs I played with my best friend when we were in college and played them in the background as my other friend talked to my best friend’s sex interest on the phone…  just like college days.

Cleared some shit up about the girl in the hallway who is dating my other friend… in short, everything I thought was a little bit right and a little bit wrong.

I learn so much about life when I travel.. so far, things have been good except for some frictions about my last minute-request to stay with family on oahu two days ago that resulted in me getting a last-minute hotel room instead, but what can one do?

Tomorrow at 5am, on to Montreal!!!

Whirlwind Tour Part 2: Boston

So I managed to get through yesterday, which entitled waking up in Honolulu at 10AM, flying to Chicago (arrive 5:30AM local time the next day), and then continuing on to Boston (arriving 9:40AM local time) going to my dance company’s rehearsal and exploring the possibility of a month’s work with them if Taiwan is truly screwing me out of that fourth month of work; I’d be in there as acrobatic/circus consultant, co-director for a new piece.  Plus, they gave me the personal contact info on all the promoters for the Boston area.  ‘All’ of them amounts to a grand total of three, but it is a hell of a lot more managable than the millions in Tokyo.

Business in the arts is a very strange thing.  When I sit at home, depressed and alone, when I train in a corner of the gym, I feel like a failure; like I am skillless and useless in the world.  but as soon as I have a project; a CREATION project, I feel like I am really doing something that few people can do.  I can look at a piece, at a theme, at an artist, and just know what has to be done to make that piece, theme, or artist effectively move an audience…  but there is that important ingredient of the other people there.  All alone, I am like a waterwheel in the desert.

Then it was off to MIT to meet with my former acrobatics partner from Bulgaria.  Strange, strange, strange.  It is like looking into a mirror in which your image from six years ago is reflected and superimposed over what you now are.  It was very interesting talking about her studies (system complexity), a Balkan’s view of the United States, and Americans and MIT in general, culture, cultural norms… and all in the context of sitting there in America with Americans all around us…   we were able to switch back and forth from English to French to Spanish as the spirit moved us, and as the sentiment required.

In the end, we realized that six years ago, we really had nothing in common.  I was an ignorant American, and she was a culture-shocked Balkan in a new environment.  Oddly enough, six years later, we have travelled to the same countries, both learned French, both started drinking, and are both looking at our “successful” lives and realizing that we feel like we have nothing in our hands…  that our choices have not been choices so much, but improvisations from moment to moment, and we only see ahead to the next junction.

Something that my friends at the Tabata refugee camp can surely relate to.

I can’t stop thinking about The Model and her visa problems, and The Political Scientist and her visa silence…  my biggest fear is returning to an empty or emptier house…

I hope for the best every day, and think of them often!

I ran into an ex-girlfriend completely by chance in the hallway while looking for a bathroom.  Her first words to me: ‘You asshole!  I knew you’d do this!’

I guess she thought I was trying to be cute by not telling her I would be in town and then showing up unannounced at her lab.  later on, I’d realize the absurdity of this presumption, as though I would research the work address of a former lover just to hang outside and stalk her…  but then when I told her that it was just chance, a happy chance, she said that it was even worse.

But come on, we are not best friends, I have only so much free time this trip, and my main reason for coming was to talk about my friend’s death with my two closest friends in Boston and to meet a woman whom I never really got to know when I had the chance…  realistically, I could not contact every friend I ever had in boston and schedule 15 minute coffee-breaks with all of them…

Then it was to the gym where I trained with my former acro partner…  the last time we had trained, she was helping me get into circus school.  Needless to say, I had improved a bit, but we still had a good time.  She had not done acro since our last practice together six years ago, so I was helping her relearn a lot of her moves.

Then it was wine and Indian with her and her roommates.  I had a million things to talk about with her roommate from Hawaii, very introspective, talking about racial identity of the hopelessly mixed like us, the social structure and climate, good and bad, of the islands, old-time Hawaiian pop culture…  history, it was a good conversation.  the other roommate was a little overbearing in the American sense, talking about how her greek friend should stop worrying about her relationships and just change herself to fit with the guy she is with, that love is worth changing yourself for, and that the Eastern European marrying-for-the-right-reasons is too mental, akin to arranged marriages, and that her Greek friend should be able to adapt to the Hollywood romantic ideal of pushing yourself into the mold of a reltaionship.  I got tired quickly of this and smiled.  Finally, at 4am I went to sleep on the couch (9 pm hawaii time… 36 sleepless hours) only to wake up five hours later to drive my friend to class.

Two bottles of wine between the two of us, but consumed over 5 hours of good conversation with roommates, and I had my first allergic reaction to American Indian food a la what happens every time The Political Scientist takes me to an Indian restaurant in Tokyo!

I try to find a place to nap now, maybe get a haircut, something to eat.  It is strange being in America, my friends.  It is like walking around Disneyland after working backstage for years.  There is no magic left, or what magic that is present is too easily understood.

Business is good, company is good, and I feel busy… just the way I like it on vacation!

Urgent job searches and Boston travel

My best friend from MIT wrote me today – I’ve never heard him sound so down.  It makes me feel like passing through Boston soon would be a good idea.  It has been almost a year since seeing him in person, and that has been too long.

Obviously, he’s as shaken as we all were by the passing of our mutual friend and cornerstone of our MIT community, but he’s talking about abandoning musical projects that he’s been developing for years now.

I’d like to start thinking about a tentative structure to travel around the holidays but I also need to be on standby for the Taiwan project right now.

I guess if everything goes perfectly, I would be in Boston around Christmas to see MIT friends, do a quick drive to the Midwest to see my family and back, to Montreal to see circus friends and back, then hit Holland to see The Clown, Germany (or Croatia?) to see The Contortionist, and then to Lithuania, before coming back to Boston for a final stay after the New Year and then back to Japan via Hawaii to see my dad if I have time.

That’s if everything works out.  If nothing works out, well, I’ll have two hands full of shit, and that is about it, and will sit in Boston and play with that from the 21st of December to whenever I get over the disappointment of losing everything I am hoping for right now.

 

Triple Strawberrysweetshit to Numb the Pain

They have this great thing here in Tokyo: at a restaurant that is inexplicably named ‘BLDY’ (bloody? baldy? bliady (a lithuanian/russian swear word)?, there is an all-you can drink fruity cocktail bar for about $4.50.  Though I did not imbibe excessively, it was the site of my public breakdown over the recent drug overdose and death of a good friend from MIT, and The Political Scientist was kind enough to pour me a triple strawberrysweetshit and soda to numb the pain.  His loss is a real shock.  It is strange, he was far from someone that i thought of on a daily basis, but to think that he was out there somewhere doing the sorts of things that he did was a source of stability…  grounding in a way.  He was the kind of guy I was proud to tell stories about… one of the mad geniuses of my MIT past that I would dredge up every once and a while to dazzle the so non-technical artist types around me.

He was a brilliant man, and on top of that, the only other person I know who went from science and engineering wholeheartedly into the arts.  The things he made, you could hardly believe them when you saw them. His medium was light and technology, and his was the realm of bright and moving and huge and sublime…and it’s all gone now, he has been put into the ground, and for some reason, I have not been able to write for myself since hearing the news; haven’t written a word for the sake of writing since hearing about his death.  I have, however, started regularly emailing old friends and my family to get back in touch with them all.

Trying to get back to the writing is still a priority for me – I’m trying to continue exploring a method that uses stream-of-consciousness flow from one word to another to build forward momentum.

This is basically an application of a movement theater and choreography techniques to writing, that and the concepts of full stops, extension, and so forth.  I’m realizing that writing and theater and dance and acrobatics is all part of the same thing; different vantage points to look at the same infinite obsidian column extending up out of the salt flats of Utah.  Let’s say.

It’s like a magnificent hip hop/spoken word piece that I just listened to by none other than Blackalicious’ Gift of Gab.  The piece was called ‘Release,’ which starts out talking about being positive or some bullshit like that, but about halfway through it turns into this haunting and impeccably written object poem about life in a most balanced and subtle tone.  Brilliant.

It makes me think of parkour, which the French also call yamakasi (from the Congolese Lingala words ya makasi, or “strong in one’s person”).  All the videos I have seen (given, about two years ago) showed an art in the process of maturing.  I respect this idea of moving through space with a rhythm and a flow and an open mind – a free-form physical jazz reverberating in ‘found’ urban landscapes, but for me personally, I find that the actual technique needs development.

Jazz dance and ballet and even classical martial arts could bring so much to breakdance and parkour.  While the latter two are all about unlimited free expression, and their hardest-core proponents seem to see such suggestions as attempts to curb that freedom.  But there is a liberty in pushing yourself to master technique; as long as your goal is to transcend it.  In writing, acrobatics, dance, and love – life? Bloody, baldy, bliady?

Technique gives us the opportunity to convey a freely-conceived message that much more clearly, that much louder, to bounce off the uneven concrete walls in a flanging reverb of our own artistic impulses.

Clarity.

For me, anyways

 

The United Colors of Fauxmogeneity

In the academic climate of MIT everything was outcome based, and no one really looked at who was having difficulty and why – you were admitted because you were supposed to be smart, so prove it – deliver, deliver, deliver!

Well, we’re not smart.  No one is.  We’re all stupid from birth, and absorb a filtered mix of what is presented to us and what we choose to  absorb.

These days, I am amazed on a day-to-day basis at how stupid some of my long-held beliefs are, how little I actually know about things that I thought I knew, for example:

  • Soviet culture during the Cold War
  • Meso-American and South American history
  • the best way to cook a turkey

Social learning and academic learning are two completely different things, and too often people think that school should be the main source of both.

Classrooms are much better organized to focus on academic learning, but social learning takes place everywhere in a school: in hallways, during after-school activities, and in the classrooms themselves.

So will boys and girls will learn more efficiently in same-sex classrooms?

Well, if the focus within the classroom is on academics then the social learning argument falls away – some people (like me five years ago) who claim that same-sex classrooms don’t prepare students for the real world, but now I see that the classroom itself is not necessarily designed to prepare students for the real world.

The real world is meant to prepare students for the real world, but if the classroom can be more efficient than the real world at making our students more interested, educated, and comfortable in their gender roles, the real world will be that much richer for it.

In “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” Jared Diamond talks about how people learned in tribal societies and how tribal societies evolve as the population grows.

It seems possible that small societies with clearly defined gender roles might leave the men to educate the boys, and the women to educate the girls.  Outside of that informal educational structure, young men and young women randomly bump into each other in the social thermodynamics of human interaction.

Of course, the way that our Western society has developed, the idea that men are better suited to teach boys and that women are better suited to teach girls seems a bit archaic (although I may change my mind in five yers, who know), but that is because knowledge base is much less linked to gender role than it might be in the hypothetical hunter-gatherer society above.

However, I don’t think that it changes the fact that boys might be better classmates for other boys and that girls might be better classmates than other girls, primarily because I believe that we still do have biologically (and sure, maybe culturally) determined gender roles that cannot be left at the door of any classroom.

But this is fine!

  • Women and men are different.
  • Christians and Muslims are different.
  • Japanese and French are different.

Blindly believing that people the world over are fundamentally the same may feel right to people who aren’t at the interface of these differences, but in fact it actually interferes with international communication and policy setting from the UN right down to the US to its school system.

We are all different, and we need to affirm and own our differences before we can learn to accept them and love them in each other.

Never in my time in school, not in elementary, not in middle school, not in high school, not in college, not in art school, not in Japan, not in America, not in Canada, did we ever discuss in a classroom setting what it means to be White or Black or Latino or Asian; how these groups are perceived by the others, how various factions withing a given group interact, etc, etc, etc.

Sure, we saw it all ‘in theory;’ we learned abstractly about hate crimes through ‘Roots,’ and the Holocaust, and through after-school style educational videos.

But we never had the opportunity to say ‘All right, all cards on the table, this is what I think about Black people, Asian people, White people, and this is what I think they feel about me.’

But I do remember that there was a clear image in the minds of everyone – silent, but deafening in its pervasiveness and implicit acceptance, of how Black students were supposed to act, how the punks were supposed to act, how the Asian honors students were supposed to act…

I wonder if there would have been more openness to discuss this issue and to examine it carefully were I in a classroom full of other half-Japanese.

Where did these images come from?  Media, friends, history, parents?  How can we really sort the whole issue out without communicating in a raw way, and without getting emotional about the whole thing?  Without feeling threatened.

We are far from being able to divide everyone into classrooms with their clones; we do not have the racial and cultural homogeneity of tribal societies; so how far can we subdivide our educational experiences?

I feel like I can really argue it from both sides, so it is hard for me to find out what I actually believe.