Catalysts

In college we had a rule: once Hitler and/or Nazi’s are mentioned, a debate is officially ended.

In Europe, Nazis and Hitler are simply not be discussed openly in mixed company.  Jokes about concentration camps or any such light treatment of the holocaust is met with shock and disgust.  Nonetheless, even among my well-educated American friends, ironic references to both were frequently bandied about just like on the television sitcoms we were raised on.

Americans have the luxury of being jaded.  To be cynical.  To criticize their own government is a fair and easy substitute for understanding other places of the world.  We outsource that search for meaning to charitable organizations with clear goals published in glossy pamphlets.

Catalysts

In seventh grade, we learned about catalysts – molecules that facilitate chemical reactions without being consumed by them.  Enzymes are the organic catalysts that make human beings walk and talk and live.  Actually, catalysts, organic or otherwise, don’t strictly make anything happen.  They have no purpose per se.  They just are – they exist – and in so doing, help human beings do the same.

Wax is not a catalyst.  I suspected that it might be, as objects coated with wax, such as candle wicks, burn so much more readily than naked lengths of string.  Furthermore, combustion of candle wicks (and human beings for that matter) is a chemical reaction.  It made sense to me, but my science teacher told me that wax is not a catalyst for anything.  Its apparent helpfulness in the realm of incineration is nothing more than a physical and chemical coincidence, and is not worthy of the moniker “catalyst.”  This answer was enough for me, and I took it to be the truth at the time.

I only think about the catalysts that wax is not just now because I am writing you now by the light of two Japanese tea candles in my three-room Japanese apartment where I live with my two Lithuanian roommates.  I am not allowed to live here; the apartment is rented as a double.  Whenever the doorbell rings and I am home, I have to jump into the closet and slide the door shut behind me in case it’s the landlord checking in.  My name is not on the lease because if someone is going to get kicked out of the house, it should be me.  Like it or not, the situation is such that I have more economic flexibility at the moment than do my friends.

The small inequalities

We have all just finished a six-month contract at the world Exposition in Aichi, Japan, where people could come to see all that the world has to offer.  And what the world has to offer, it seems, is a good deal of inequality, at levels that I had never before imagined.

It is not necessarily the huge injustices that are the most striking.  It is the small ones that make it difficult for me to sleep.  And the small ones are everywhere.  What is even harder for me to accept is how easily those small problems are ignored by anyone unless you actively try to find them or have them clearly and unambiguously pointed out to you.

The small injustices are not the ones that appear in UNICEF brochures, not discussed at international summits, these are micro problems that reflect the mindset that creates these iniquities.  I don’t know the causality, I can’t say which is a catalyst for the other, but I do know that for no reason except for accident of birthplace, some people will walk away from things like World Expos with a hell of a lot more money than they deserve, and that some walk away with a whole lot less.

See, while all of us were paid well by the standards of our home countries, but whereas per diem allowances were a nice bonus for the staff of some pavilions, it made up the majority of the compensation for the staff of others.  For example, the monthly salary for some pavilions was roughly equivalent to three days of per diem.

Nonetheless, we decided to chance it and to live out the remaining two and a half months of our still-unexpired Japanese work visas in Tokyo.  Why not Nagoya, or Kobe, one of the smaller, cheaper Japanese cities?  I think my roommate put it best when she said “if we are going to live in Japan, risking everything we have and more, I think we deserve to risk it all in Tokyo.”

The Tokyo refugee dating scene

We call ourselves “the refugees.”  And like many refugees, their college education, natural charm, and fluency in Lithuanian, Russian, English, and Japanese, make them far more qualified for employment than most American and European expats wandering aimlessly around Tokyo.  It’s not that their gamble isn’t paying off; one has an offer to work at the Lithuanian embassy and her schedule as an English teacher is filling up rapidly.  She has even found a few Japanese students who want to learn Lithuanian.  The other has found work as a server at a high-end restaurant off Aoyama-Dori, the “Champs Elysees” of Tokyo, and just tonight returned from her first (of many, I hope) gig as a runway model.

But there is a darker side to the experience as well.  In skimming the classified ads, both are aware of the opportunities presented by the pervasive and less-than-thinly veiled Japanese fetishism and obsession with the Westerner – want ads for Western hostesses to entertain Japanese men non-sexually in posh-looking nightclubs.

The myth of course, being that most Japanese men feel powerless to attract the attentions of a Western woman without paying for the service.  But a myth propagated by both sides for so long has a way of becoming the truth.

My roommates tell me that many Japanese men still become so dumbstruck by the sight of a Western woman that they will stop on the street and stare, or peep furtively over newspapers on the train.  I’ve seen it too: Western women reducing perfectly intelligent and articulate, grown, Japanese men reduced to gawking speechlessness and the charm of a fourteen-year-old boy.  It’s no wonder that many Western women leave the country with the impression of Japanese men are sex-blinded little boys.

That said, my experience with the Japanese women my age in the dating pool has not been great either, and I see the behavior that contributes to so many Western men’s perception of the average Japanese woman as a silly, giggly, little girl ready to leap into bed at the first racy compliments tripping off of a Western tongue.

I asked my Japanese women friends if and why they really do prefer Western men.  Evidently, Western men are much kinder, will open a door for you, or will say that you look beautiful – things that Japanese men evidently never do.

Now I don’t know if that’s true, as I have neither courted nor been courted by any man, Japanese or Western, but I can say that I have observed ungentlemanly behavior on both sides.

I will simply mention my own pet theory that the majority of Western men in Japan know that this preconception exists, and do their best to fulfill it to their benefit.

The plight of the half-breed

I may be wrong; I may be too cynical.  At any rate, I don’t seem to fully benefit from this preconception of Western men because of my impure racial status.  As half Japanese, I am not quite western enough to be exotic, nor am I quite Japanese enough to be fully accepted as one.  I do, however, seem to appear Japanese enough for white women to assume that upon meeting them for the first time, I will stop and drool over their Western-ness, a fact which became very clear to me while working in the international environment of Expo 2005.

In fact, most Japanese see me as fully white, whereas in North America and Europe, most white people consider me (even after being corrected) to be Chinese, which is evidently ‘close enough’ for them.  To complete the triangle of racial confusion, I recently discovered that in China, or at least a Republic of China, most people assume that I am Japanese.

The politics of travel for the modern circus acrobat

Last week, I returned from an eight-day contract in Taiwan.  What exactly I was expected to do there is still not clear to me, though what I did do there is now done — I worked with the Taiwanese National Junior College of Performing Arts and the Taiwan Arts International Association as an instructor, collaborative creator, and performer.  What I will remember of the experience is so much more complicated than that.

I am a circus performer.  I would like to believe that there is more to what I am, or rather, I wish that being a circus performer was something that I could believe to be important.  Something that I would not have to justify and qualify to myself with additional clauses like: “but I am really a writer,” or “with college degrees in completely unrelated fields,” or “but I hope to study political science next.”

One of the unique aspects of the classical circus tradition that carried through from medieval times is that a travelling performer is seen as a true “other.”  We are definitely no native to the towns and cities where we play, but we are not seen as simply tourists, either because we spend more time in the various locations and interact more directly with the locals.  It is my goal to be able to fit into the local environment completely – to pick up on enough of the local language, history, customs, and politics – to really feel at home no matter where I am in the world.

So far, it has taken me from the internationally isolated expanses of the United States to schizophrenic and judgmental, if equally uniformed, Canada, to the injured multiculturalism and thumping nightclubs of Holland, to the seedy side of the Ramblas in Barcelona and its denizens as contrasted with the pace of life in the smaller coastal towns of Catalunya.  The marble-paved central square of Torino resonating with the droning and birdcalls of a misplaced digeridoo, the lakeshore, affluent college town of Zurich, the provincial countryside in France as contrasted with the very different remoteness of an tiny town clinging to an impossibly steep mountainside high in the French alps.  Munich, Nyon, Tokyo, Nagoya, New Zealand, and now, most recently, Taipei, Taiwan, ROC.

Everybody has an enemy.  Everybody has his own prejudices.  Everyone finds a way to love himself, even if they hate doing it.

I am on the bus, riding in leather-upholstered comfort from the airport to downtown Taipei.  This is the first time since leaving the United States four years ago that I have not been capable in the native language of a country that I am working in.  For me, capable means being able to get a hotel room, order dinner and a drink, meet a new person, and make a woman laugh without ever having to speak a word of English.

I hate to do it, but it is inevitable.  In a new country, I can not help but make comparisons to other places.  It helps me keep everything in order in my mind.  I worry that by drawing comparisons to places I know will keep me from seeing the new place as distinct and unique, but in fact, I think it has the opposite effect.  By comparing one city to another, I bring into focus all of the things which make them different, like overlaying two photos that differ only in the smallest details and holding them up to the light.

Forgive my romanticism, but there is a soul to a city.  It is in its smell, perhaps – no city smells like any other.  I have to be careful always to separate the feel of the wind in a city, Boston, for example, from the memories that I might associate with that city.  The 11pm sunset and 4am dawn of summer in Holland is not the feeling of a woman’s hair gliding through my fingers and a light kiss on her cheek to the wafting perfume of blue roses, though the two are forever intertwined.  One is for everybody, the other is for me.  And her, I hope, always for her.

I used a new trick in Taiwan.  A city fits a person like a new outfit; well, or poorly.  Standing on a corner next to a vacant lot under a highway overpass with the buzz of Vespa-like scooters Dopplering around me as the lights in a distant apartment complex blinked out one at a time, I imagined myself to be in Minneapolis.  Or Boston.  Or Tokyo.  All cities that surely became my home in one of the alternate realities of my life, and one that actually became my home in the current alternate reality – at least for another month.  Separate from the memories that I associate with each city, I was surprised to find that Taipei could feel like home as easily as any other city I could think of.  And so I decided that I would explore it as though I lived there.  Meeting people, making friends, wasting time.

There is a state of openness that I find I can only achieve when I travel.  It makes me handsomer and more interesting, I think.  It makes me risk more.  My best friend tells me cynically that “people always love you when you are leaving.”  I guess it is only fair, because I always love them when I get there.

I found that all of the people I met in Taiwan were amazingly open compared to what I had come to know in Japan.  The political complications and views were just below the surface, and could be exposed with the slightest provocation, expressed with an onslaught of passion that in addition to being a little unnerving, was fully refreshing.

The key issue of course, was that of Taiwan’s independence from mainland China.  Among the people I spoke to about the issue, there was no identifiable consensus, nor was I able to find a clear demographic divide in their views.  No one seemed to subscribe to a majority “party line,” though everyone could list off a buffet of party lines that they were not willing to subscribe to.  According to them, such simplifications do not adequately address the complexities.  This was unlike what I was used to in Canada, for example, where the consensus among my artist peers was that the United States is bad, though people rarely researched any deeper than that.  In the United States, I find that there are those who accept the party lines, and those who calmly step outside of the arena entirely.

For example, there are the American travelers whom I encounter who respond to any criticism of their homeland simply by saying that they “didn’t vote for George Bush,” as if that absolves them from responsibility.  Or even worse, those Americans who sew Canadian flags on their backpacks to hide from scrutiny instead of informing themselves enough to engage with criticism of American foreign policy and intelligently discuss current politics of the foreign country than the average local.

In preparing to visit Taiwan, I read as much as I could about the history and current politics of the island.  I felt like I had a pretty good overview of the issue, but after only eight days there, I understood how each person’s unique family history and world view will forge, over lifetimes and generations, a spectrum of possible opinions on the matter.  The articles and books I read could not do justice to the intricacies of any single individual’s story.  Even the people who didn’t give a shit had detailed, well thought-out arguments to support that viewpoint!

The Taiwanese certainly seemed unified by their disagreements.

Teaching new circus in Taiwan

I was in Taiwan to teach Western-style physical theater and modern clown to the state-supported National Chinese Opera and National Circus Troupe as well as performers from an established Chinese Opera company.  I was also supposed to help create and perform in a “modernized” acrobatic/circus/clown show.  I wouldn’t have felt qualified to volunteered for such a job, even before discovering that it was infinitely more difficult than I first supposed.

In Taiwan, budgets are rarely high enough to invite a Cirque du Soleil-style show and this is the company that defines modern circus for most of the world.  Very few western dance companies, theater companies, and musicians, let alone large circuses, regularly make Taiwan a must-visit top on tours, even tours that take them through Asia.  Those artists that do perform in Taiwan rarely stay to participate in any sort of exchange with local artists.

For arts in general, but particularly for the specialized fields of clowning and physical acting, this means that a Taiwanese artist in Taiwan interested in an area of art that develops off-island, they have little choice but to research on the internet.

I met a Taiwanese Flamenco dancer at a dinner party who explained that five years before, it was impossible to learn Flamenco in Taiwan.  Only five years ago some foreign Flamenco teachers first came to visit, and had been received with much enthusiasm.  As a result, their students voraciously consumed what the teachers had to offer, but at the same time, as the Taiwanese were unhindered by the years of history and tradition that the instructors were, some interesting and novel hybridization took place.

Modern dance has a longer and more home-grown history in Taiwan.  Some internationally known dance companies developed, but as the time came to replace founding members with new local talent, it was evident that the pool of trained dancers was not as deep as in North America or Europe.  Taiwan lacks a long tradition of Western classical dance, and therefore, fewer young dancers.  What Taiwan does have, however, is a long tradition of the traditional Chinese Opera, with its athletic blend of martial arts, acrobatics, and object manipulation.  New dancers were often recruited from those Chinese Opera, performers who, for one reason or another, had retired from the Opera, which brought a vocabulary to the Taiwanese modern dance repertoire that is not seen anywhere else in the world.

But without real person-to-person exchange, research alone cannot put flesh on the skeleton of pure research.  It is even worse when you consider that the internet is more a reflection of popular opinion than actual fact.  For proof, simply enter “clowns” into a google search to see what my Taiwanese students were expecting me to teach them.

This is a valid style of clowning with a long history in the United States.  But such clowning is far from the European tradition and the experience of traditional audiences in Asia or anywhere else in the world.  But without a pre-existing circus clown tradition in Taiwan, there was little resistance to the importation this out-of-context image of a “Western clown.”  But it is superficial importation taken out of context has resulted in a funny sort of game of cultural “telephone.”

So my lesson plan that focused largely on using honesty and vulnerability to express your true self on stage with subtle simplicity and to fight impulses to “perform” was pretty alien to my Taiwanese students’ preconception of clowning.  My first clue should have been when I was given as possible themes of my workshops “the facial expressions of clowns,” and “acrobatic falls of clowns.”  Their notion of clowning has been formed from an outside-in perspective and follows the wushu, Chinese Opera, and circus training pedagogy of repetition and imitation.  Chinese opera roles are learned by physical rote repetition, and circus numbers are taken move-for-move from numbers that were performed 10, 20, or even hundreds of years ago.

But in some ways, these artists, my students, were also fed up with aspects of this tradition.  They saw that what is happening in international modern circus is lacking in what they practice in Taiwan, but they couldn’t identify just exactly what it was.  But one thing seemed to click.  They were obsessed with one principle I mentioned in the first class: “feeling.”  I talked about only doing what we really feel on stage, not doing anything artificially, and this seemed to be a novel idea that resonated with them.  They asked me countless questions about feeling: What do I feel when I am doing my circus number?  How can performers learn how to feel more when they’re on stage?  When I am onstage, are my feelings my feelings or are they acted feelings, etc.?  Unfortunately, these are the same questions that I ask myself, and therefore I had no clear answers for them.

Teaching the class in a country and to students with vastly different performing arts traditions opened my eyes.  Exercises that I considered my “throw away” exercises, ones that are done to death in every acting class I had ever taken or taught, suddenly took on entirely different meaning.  Old explanations of certain exercises were no longer adequate, and I saw students discovering whole new truths and applications that I had never even considered before.

The culmination of the whole experience was an on-stage appearance with four other Western clowns and half of my students in a performance that showed just a little bit of what can come of young artists searching for new meaning in a country’s traditional arts.

By the way, it turns out that what is actually burning in a candle is the wax itself, and that the wick acts more like a catalyst than the rest of the candle.  The way the wick is manufactured and woven influences many aspects of a candle’s performance such as longevity and amount of smoke produced.  All this and much more information for people who care about such things can be found on the internet here.

I pray that we are all people who care about such things.

All In The Name Of International Understanding

The other day, one of my Jewish friends was telling me how she thinks people would be much happier these days if Hitler had won.  She says that a Nazi world is a simple world.  I asked her if she thought the world was simple in Dachau, where her grandmother died.  She told me I make things too complicated.  She said that I would have made a lousy Nazi.

I think she was being a little harsh.

Often, just walking down the street I find myself hating people for no good reason.  I think that I am right most of the time, and that people who disagree with me are wrong.  I believe these things because I feel as though I think more deeply about the world than everyone else.

It took me just under three years to get to the point where I am able to say the things that I need to without fear of repercussions….

It takes less than a half a century to forget the scars of a million innocent deaths.  It takes less than a man being willing and able to make a change in the world that keeps him down.

Down, down, down, so softly speaking to no one in particular.  It is a free world that is holding me from telling you all the things that you wish that I could say, but at the same time, I am locked in a vault of lost ideas, of unspoken beliefs, of forgotten vendettas…

I am on an island in the China sea right now and I am walking freely, feeling no compassion for the bands of emaciated and wild dogs that roam the streets looking for handouts or perhaps just each other’s company.

It is a free world, and that is what we often forget.  That others are not doomed to share our own beliefs.

This freedom can make the world an ideological prison for the small-souled.  What is it that can either feeds a soul or cuts it off to atrophy, to wither and die?  To fall off in a gangrenous heap and dissolve into its surroundings?

If we were all large-souled, if we were all free enough, then would there be space for emptiness?  The emptiness upon which we can project our freedom?  The emptiness that serves as a stage for the human spirit in a world slowly filling up with millions of people?

We need to change the way that we think about numbers of people about population.  We need to think in terms of volume, not numbers, to see the world around us as a whole unpunctuated with that unpleasant otherness that keeps ‘them’ away from ‘us.’ 

The shit begins so early in life – just as we start to put up the walls that tell us what is knowable and what is easy versus what is unknowable and difficult.

Why are we so able and willing to accept things that will make it more difficult for us to achieve more in the future?  We, the little human flowers, are pollenated by these same vices that we are told to avoid.

We need to kill our own assumptions and certainties about how the world works in recognition that everyone’s interpretation of the facts is pre-tailored to their own vision of the world – not the other way around.  And as it is, we are all right.  It is all valid.  Even the insane.   It is an insurmountable task to unify a world with such diametrically opposed views.  But breaking apart our own views, assumptions, and certainties – is that a cure for diametric opposition itself?

For example.

She is an educated American.  College graduate.  She can program a computer and she works in a lab.  She feels as though she has seen the world because she has been to Europe.  While she was there she spent two weeks in Paris, which is where Americans who want to go to Europe go to say that they have been to Europe.  She spent some time at the Louvre with the friends that he was travelling with and they took pictures of each other playing in the sculpture gardens.  They partied with other travelers in their youth hostel located just beneath the cathedral of the sacred heart.  They saw the Eiffel tower and celebrated bastille day.

They danced in clubs that are frequented by North American tourists and Parisians who want to pick up North American tourists.  They speak no French.  When people meet them on the street and ask if they might be American, they say, “No, Canadian.”  Easier than a political discussion around imagined political views.  Were Europeans to challenge their political views, they would simply say that it was not their fault as they had not vote for President Bush.

They see evidence of a political climate that is different from that back home in the homeless and the varied racial makeup of the denizens of this old European capital.  They make jokes at night about the frogs, snails, and funny accents.  They miss the food back home, and see the local cuisine as a necessary price to pay for their exciting experiences.  They meet a group of local guys (charming with cute accents) and they kiss on the dance floor of the club.  Their furtive attempts to explore the sweaty terrain covered by Abercrombie and Fitch halter-tops are giggly swiped away, but after closing time, in a back alley, a full expedition is encouraged by rhythmic swaying of American hips in the humid Parisian summer night.

They all have boyfriends back home who can’t understand why they would waste their short summer break from graduate school to frolic around in a country that has no relevance to or common history with America.  They explain themselves and the trip, saying simply that it is all in the interest of international understanding.  How can the world change, they wonder, if there are no brave souls willing to make that first tentative leap across the Atlantic to extend a hand of friendship to our European brothers who are so misled as to the true nature of the American soul.

These ambassadors of good will, who, through sloppy, drunken blowjobs, have drained their Parisian suitors dry, are now stumbling home with their arms around each others’ shoulders, singing the American anthem at the top of their lungs.  They’ll go back home to America tomorrow, but they have made some fantastic friends here in Paris, and the memories, the memories will last a lifetime.

All in the name of international understanding.

Back at school, their graduate programs are bursting with foreign students.  And now, they will be joined by these newly-minted, open minded, worldly Americans.

Circus acrobat in the National Circus School of Montreal's atelier de creation.

Angels Of The Storm

As part of the creation process for the National Circus School of Montreal’s “atelier de creation,” we all had to write down ideas for a circus school about the experience of children in war.  The following was my submission.

childhood in war.

a war that kills innocence, shatters dreams…

is “loss of childhood” a euphemism for greater horrors?

or is losing innocence early actually the natural state of affairs?

today, we hide ourselves from death and sickness…we feel entitled to prolong childhood here in the West while robbing other regions of that privilege.

interlude: my childhood as i remember it.

innocence to the point of stupidity.  education the priority.  discipline.  apprenticeship from my father.  a sense of “needing to fulfill.”  dreams of fame, of success, of science and history.

meanwhile: elsewhere, does violence and tragedy prematurely interrupt such childhoods?

do our prolonged childhoods in North America permit  us to act so inhumanely?

ways that cnn tells me you can lose your childhood:

  • hide under the corpses of your family.
  • start college at age 9.
  • live in chronic hunger from birth.
  • become a hollywood child actor.
  • be a 13 year old soldier
  • train in a chinese sports academy at age 4.
  • live stricken with severe childhood illness.
  • endure abuse by your family.

is childhood with soccer moms and playstations and dance classes and circus schools and sneaking into bars and making out when mom’s not home so desirable?  will we end up better suited to this world than are survivors of robbed childhoods?

I ask because we seem to admire the grown-up children who had their innocence stripped from them.  we call them brave, we want to hear their story, we take valuable life lessons from their experiences

childhood can be killed by privilege and complacency.

i had a privileged life as a child.  i lived all over the world.  i grew up mostly among displaced western expats in japan.  my friends were children of soldiers, diplomats, senior-management, and ceo’s.  i went to the most expensive preparatory english speaking high school in japan.  my biggest problem was a self-defeating desire to fail, artistic pretentions, and chronic beatings from my peers.

my life was a slef-contained plastic bubble of privilege punctuated with moments of public servitude.  fund raisers for filipino refugees, riceballs for the homeless, boy scout hunger marathons to raise money for ethiopians, food collections for victims of natural disasters.

history classes were taught with a humanistic perspective.  my understanding of the berlin wall is through the eyes of the children who chased the candy-dropping bombers during the cold-war.

but why the fuck didn’t i care?

because in multi-denominational church group slideshows about the street children of  india, the shocking photos of poverty and disease got the gasps of the audience.  gasps of horror, of pity…  yet i remember assisting at a school for the mentally handicapped with the award-winning service club of my high school.  i remember seeing my classmates recoil in disgust from the students that we were there to meet.

i judge these reactions harshly because i have seen the way that my mother cares for her patients.  i have seen the way that she always treats them with dignity and shies away from recognition for her work.  She tells me she goes to at least one funeral a month for her children, and suffers silently, knowing also that their parents will live an unburdened life.  i am not saying that she is immune to the notion of what childhood is supposed to be, but she did also go to guatemala to care for these children directly, not as part of her job, either, but because she believed she needed to do it for the children.  she treated them with dignity and respect and without pity. 

i want to be empathetic, but i do not know how to be. My privilege gets in the way.  i went to college, i went to circus school.  i want to learn about the needs of the underprivileged, but to name them as such is to be so prejudiced as to prevent me from ever really understanding anything.

this is damned frustrating. i can complain a lot about everyone, but i am everyone. so i can produce no solutions.

twin towers erupting into flames, tons of airline fuel sucking oxygen out of the air, people choosing between immolation and freefall as an exit from this life.

does it take a monster to say there is beauty in that image?  tv documentaries, political ads, people crowding storefront tv displays to see the images over and over again. what drew us to these images? there was a humanity there, an insight into the human condition.  fanaticism, murder, fear of death, the welcoming of death, trapped, liberty, buildings, mortality, fatalism, fire…

in a way, the american public fell in love with those images.  a folklore and a culture sprang up instantaneously around the event… and people fall in love with suffering children.

i love the image of an artist. and that is why i am wracked with feelings of inadequacy.  i want to change the world, but am limited to changing only that world that i know from my immediate experience.  the best i can do is be a part of a creation that makes other people  think of those children and their suffering in a new way, one free of pity, shock, horror, or vapid compassion.

so i want to throw around some stage images in order to finish on a productive note instead of just abstract intellectual masturbation.

  • a child in a scene of destruction who does absolutely nothing to interpret that horror: skiprope in sarajevo.
  • children playing hide and seek, one is killed.  the other does not find him.
  • singing nursery rhymes in all the different languages we know over air raid sirens.  the nursery rhymes stop abruptly.
  • children fighting with a voice-over of an audio book about disciplining your child.
  • Voice-overs about our childhood dreams over photos of children in less privileged situations.
  • some circus guy who wants to do his circus number but can’t because we keep projecting pictures of starving kids behind him.  how is he going to get applause that way?
  • fun with gas masks… taking images of war and interpreting them in a way that a child might if he had absolutely no idea what it was actually meant for.
  • a starving kid talking about how much she hates canned corn.
  • flying.  lots and lots of flying.
  • soldiers fighting wwi trenches style, kids keep running across no mans land and playing: “kids, go play somewhere else.”
  • playstation playing kids suddenly caughtup in a real combat or conflict.
  • kids playing war.
  • kids playing nazi concentration camp.
  • kids playing influenza outbreak.
  • kids playing 9-11.
  • running images.
  • beautiful images, folk dance style, broken by a huge event.  lights and sound and smoke.  intermittent running, panic.  blooming image out of the center from one of the people who was implicated in the dance earlier.

when i say ‘child,’ i don’t mean that we should play act that we are kids, i think that would suck.  after all, none of us are really more than kids, anyways.

Manure Spreader

Politac Scientoast

Is it better to be a politician or a political scientist?  You can still be a successful political scientist while actively criticizing the status quo and the powers that be.  I think you are less able to do this if you are a politician.  Just look at the justice minister in Germany or the attaché to the Canadian Prime Minister both of whom were sacked for criticizing our own monkey dressed like a cowboy president.  Wacky shit.  If I were a politac scientoast, I’d have a good old time spreading shit all over.

Four circus school students

The Cliché Of The Depressed Art Student

after living three days in total motivational paralysis, I’m writing in hopes of ejecting myself out of this self-involved downward spiral or at least understanding why i keep ending up in them and why they keep getting worse and worse. 

for a person who thinks about suicide as much as i do, i found it interesting that in all of my journaling and in all of my description of my creative processes i provide nothing more than passing references to what my friends see as symptoms of severe depression. 

but it’s all too cliched.  the suicidal, depressed, angry, violent, sensitive, misunderstood, lonely, artist.  and cliche, i think, suggests social redundancy, i.e. being a cartoon instead of what we all want to be — the individual. 

so there you go: depression leads to cliche leads to the loss of individualism leads to depression.  unstable equilibrium.  slippery slope.  downward spiral. 

but this is my zone.  depression plants creative seeds.   

an idea for a show i might write over the course of this year.  called “shit that doesn’t make sense,” is an examination of the world’s largest fully self-propagating social hologram, a first-world dictatorship of ignorance, the united states of america.  my country tis of thee i sing. 

and in writing of my number i see now how it can all come together, how i feel right now, sitting in my room not 20 minutes walk away from where i should be training to be superhuman, put on stage in sequins and smoke effects and what?   

there i go again: cliched, self-involved artist.   

why question the depression? why not enjoy it and the situation that permits me to study at one of the premier performing arts institutions in the world?

i never anticipated the psychological impact of focusing wholly on one aspect of your life. focusing as hard as i am on circus arts, atrophies other passions: science, philosophy, music, subtlety in the performing arts, friends, the ability to make meaningful connections with people, caring about things other than those which directly affected me. 

so what are my options then?  do i quit circus school?  it would be the first thing in my life that i ever quit.  a new cliché: the guy who couldn’t cut it in circus school, and went back to a conventional life with a comfortable salary and office flirtations that go nowhere.  i will let people down, the people who donated so that i could be a selfish starving artist in quebec. 

but i can’t forget that circus provides all of the things that i feel are important in a life.  travel, a sense of asceticism, camaraderie, discipline, self-destination. 

but at what expense?  i’m asked to abandon my theatrical instincts.  to ignore the goings-on in the world around me.  i’m asked to accept that my development as an artist and as a professional is in some way more important than actually saying something meaningful about the world around me that won’t be forgotten as soon as the show is over.

i will be 26 or 27 when i leave circus school.  if i tour for a few years at least, i will be 30 by the time i really need to make another decision in my life.  grad school?  another 3-5 years?  what of my desire to have kids one of these days?  how will i afford to offer my children a lifestyle even close to the level that i grew up in?

and more than that, the notion of not having made a real statement in my life by age 35 is a terrifying one.

some people are happy to live working 6 hours a week.  their days are filled with cooking, doing dishes, bathing, listening to music, going to bars, and having sex.

and so what?  Is that better or worse than buying useless crap, going to an office or a lab, making money, eating out, and reading what to believe in the newspapers and on high-speed internet connections?

is that better or worse than being a self-involved whiny artist who has the luxury to study handstands 24 hours a week, cook, and sleep, while fooling himself into believing that there is some sort of ascetic nobility in this lifestyle that makes it all worthwhile?

but if all these lives are worth nothing in the scheme of things what better justification for recurring paralyzing depression?

well there you go.

is anything solved?

 

Circus acrobats backstage at Paleo Festival in Switzerland

Back At It

Called in sick until after dance, which meant that I started my day with equilibe.  Not too bad.  I like how Larissa drills us on the starting up into handstands and the way she gives us cool criticisms.  Also how we learn Russian at the same time.  When we did crocodiles, The Clown said he could see my “pee pee.”  Bymba has been gone all week too.  I am worried that it is related to that job he was offered in Australia.  Tumbling I continued work on my side summies which are coming along.  Martine, the dance instructor was watching, though, and I felt bad that I had missed her class.  The Trampolinist and I scheduled a time to work on our piece, though.  Trampo was typical, the combos she’s giving me are hard, like ½ front to ½ back ½ repeated 5 times.  Then, The Trapezist and I did some of the strength stuff I had been working on.  I think it will be pretty cool if we stay on it, particularly for my flexi!  Then I hung out with The American, but we just talked about the NYC thing.  Boring.  Anyway.

The World Trade Center Collapsed

 Woke up to the world trade center collapsing, and the rest of the day was very surreal.  Nothing interesting happened in circus training, and I was pretty cold in general, so there isn’t much to say there except that it looks like tissu-tramp is a no-go. 

As for the towers, there is a lot of cynicism there.  American policy is definitely to blame if it is in fact due to terrorists, so that leaves blame on the American policy makers.  Could these towers have collapsed just from the plane impacts?  Bush’s address felt awkward, like he was uncertain of what his role as president is here. 

There are amateur videos coming out documenting this event from every perspective.  People can’t admit to themselves how fascinated they are with this stuff.  Ebay will be auctioning pieces of the world trade center soon.  George Bush looks like he can use it to get the nation riled up to back any offensive move he can make.  Movie directors will be combing through the footage to make better disaster scenes.  TLC and Discover channel will be running “Terror Weeks” talking about terrorist attacks through history.  In five years the first conspiracy documentaries will come out. 

The drama is brought to the forefront – we get details about people falling out of elevators with no skin, terrorists armed over with knives, people jumping out of buildings looking like they had ‘melted into the sidewalk’ after they hit.  

Blah.  I need to sleep.  Didn’t get to bed when I wanted to and slept too late. 

At school things kept moving forward.  Movement was fun, and the teacher said I enjoy it because I like to play.  Caroline said I am good at a lot of different things and that this is my problem – finding focus.