Messy Room

My room is a mess… I think I have cleaned it every day of my depressive little funk, but to no avail.  Today, I trapped a cheeky mosquito that had been plaguing me all evening under a glass with beads of wine still clinging to its edges.  It was drinking the wine earlier, and its awkward, sanguine limb movements convinced me that it was getting drunk. 

You need to excuse me for a minute, I want to see what the little bug(ger) is up to now…

There was a moment before capturing him when he landed on my sleeve and really looked at me, person to person, or at least being to being, and it reminded me of how terrible I felt when I smashed an unsuspecting mosquito into oblivion in my hotel room in Taiwan.  I mean, given, it was most likely the mosquito that had eaten me alive the night before, but she was probably asleep (and strictly speaking, all bloodsucking mosquitoes are female) up until the end, when the slipper flattened her into a distorted two-dimensional shadow of her former self, like the shadow of a Hiroshima bombing victim on steps of a government building.

But tonight’s little mosquito is happily sitting drunk on the floor of the little cell that I have created for her.  A floor which consists essentially of a sheet of notebook paper, and walls and ceiling that is made up of a plastic tumbler decorated with green dots of uniform size but varying opacity and… fuck that, they are not even of uniform size.

She is looking at me though the transparent plastic, and I can imagine that the forelimb that is moving slightly is a plea for pity.  But I do not think I will release her.  I am even so cruel as to entertain the idea of releasing her directly into the web of a spider that lives by the stairs outside; to free this bloodsucker only to have my blood sucked out of her by another bloodsucker higher up on the insect food chain.

Fuck this mosquito for what she does and the way she sits so pathetically on the floor of her cell.  She’ll earn no pity from me (well, a little) but I am going to move the glass farther away from my bed so that I do not accidentally free her during the night with an accidental kick of my foot.

Titan

The Heartbeat of Worlds

It was a usual day in almost every aspect except for what was missing.  There was an absence of a crashing roar that I had come to take for granted after a lifetime of living next to the sea.

“How long has it been like this?” the man asked me.

As well as I could remember the ocean had been functioning as normal the night before.  Wave after wave came crashing in, spraying a salty mist which coated everything in front of the churning gray organic stew with a sound that, above everything else, I what I had come to know as the sound of the earth itself.  Its breathing, its pulsing…  if the earth was a living object, then surely, the ocean is one of its vital signs.  Falling asleep, waves breaking at the base of sheer cliffs far below; whispered secrets of a forgotten past.

The assholes who had culled in the power of the ocean and that had choked it with an onslaught of silty poison…  the fish that smothered and suffered under the weight of countless belching smokestacks.

I am the horizon, I am unreachable.  Take four footsteps forwards and I will always be there, four steps further away from you.

We are on a journey that will take us to places that we cannot even imagine.  The journey can never end until we are told that it is over.  What are we walking towards?  What are we expected to do?

I think of a woman; I dream of her – obsess, even.  Men sense their own baseness, and we idealize and idolize “woman” as a vision of unobtainable heaven, one that can deliver us from all pain.  It is a curse.

It is a woman that I am dreaming about when the idea of the trip first enters my mind.

…so we cut ourselves free from this life.  We, the students of science, of philosophy, history, dying, impotent disciplines, in this poisoned environment.  Academia stifles itself.

The present never pleases me until years later when today’s present is cruelly revealed as the finest time of my life: never had I been more handsome, more charming; never were my friends so exciting and so stimulating as they were in yesteryear’s “today.”  Sometimes the only way to get through today is to see how it will seem a few years from now.

The trip took from what we feared and cast us into utter freedom.  We had no support, everything was thrown to chance.

I was not happy with my studies, I was not happy with my life, I was not happy with my parents’ relationship, the only yardstick for my own which had just fallen apart.  It was like the ground opened up behind me and I knew that it was time to leave.

I despised drama, always had, and never meant for my life to become one.  I had never meant to do anything important, I simply needed to be free do what I was doing, finding meaning could come later.

I went to my last class not long thereafter, the image of the woman still fresh in my mind, but at the same time absent, like a memory stained by a perfume or a poison.

I am lost when I try to see the world poetically. All the “things” get in the way, and the best I can do is to try to juxtapose those objects in pretty ways.  My first step was to go to a place that I had never meant to go.  I wanted to see a desert, I wanted to see an ocean, I wanted to learn how to pump gas, I wanted to know which fork to use, I wanted to graduate, I wanted to have a good job, I wanted to be able to support myself, I wanted to stop wanting so much.

It is a way to get around, to go faster and faster through the routine until acceleration lifts you out of your orbit.  Nothing is predetermined, I know that now, though I could have never convinced myself of it before my parents left each other.

Finding meaning in life is a trap; nothing means anything – I’m certain of that – but I still don’t know what it means.

Muscles and veins and nerves and bones make a man, and this one has a desire for a woman that is so strong that I can taste it.

On the road and free again, I’ll never know what is actually happening and what is just remembered.

I feel like I am in a hospital.  The room is taller than it is wide or long.  I feel like I am in a hospital because of the way the sheets feel starched under my naked ass.  I feel a dull aching, like I had had too much to drink, and my throat feels raw, like I’ve swallowed a pinecone.

Since when did explanations have to be good, I wondered.  Explanations just tie observable actions to motivations, and no one motivation can be any better than the other.

I am not sure how I got here, of why I need to be here.

I know that I am injured, my joints seem so stiff… my mind is too cloudy.  I feel as though I might be missing fingers.

I know that I can fight, that I will not stop defending myself.  I get angry and when I do, I don’t back down.  It’s been that way since I was a kid.  Today, I want to look civilized and demure with the veneer of a gentleman able to pass through an airport without enduring random security checks.  I like having the illusion that accomplishments are somehow a suitable mask for the weak and ugly person that hides beneath.

Schooling is perhaps a way to mask our inability to deal with the real weaknesses lurking directly beneath the surface.

Now I admit that there is no science in art and that there is no art in science.  A person cannot live always inside of themselves.

When the Japanese first started to import foreign literature, Western translators discovered that no Japanese word mapped well to the western concept of love.

Imagine a whole island full of people living for thousands of years with no spoken way to describe an abstract feeling that in the meantime had become a central aspect of European culture.

I want to be in the crux of a y, I want to be there the moment that the ocean stops beating.

Ocean waves are the earth’s heartbeat.  On the day that it stops beating I want to be on the beach looking out over the glassy expanse with a flat stone in my hand.

I want to be there on the day that the earth dies, sending out a shuddering sigh that shakes all of our cities to the ground.

I want to understand all the things that I never have.

There are always two rivers flowing through the minds of men.  One is flows in the direction that they are meant to go in and the other is flows in its own direction.  There is no place for insanity in a disordered world.

Who knows what I am meant to do in my life?

Not me; otherwise I would have done something about it by now.

I want everything but can do nothing.

I am living a world of the mind an don’t even know what I want to say.

I do know however, that I was sitting in a basement bar in Taipei drinking myself into oblivion one shot of tequila at a time.  I was writing by hand, page after page.  I knew that I was going to finish my whole notebook and that I would read it the day after as my body voided itself of the poison I was feeding it.  I would drink until the words flowed freely, and then I would keep drinking until my mind was empty; until I was unable to put pen to paper to form a letter, a word, or a sentence, a story, or a message.  Then I was going to write an email to a woman.

When we get to the point that we can say nothing more, that I when we will truly find out what it is that we have to say.

This was the idea at least, the rhythmic nature of the ritual of drinking hypnotizing myself into a state of suggestibility and then I would tell myself what this as all about.

I am in a car I am on a street.  What do I want to say?  What the fuck is wrong with me?  When I write I can make the pen move and dance on the page and actually see how I feel without being able to understand the language that I am writing it; when I type the whole game changes and I am somehow separated from the story that I am telling by a screen that burns my eyes.  What is the story here, who are the people? Where is the death?  Where is the sex?  Where is the passion and how am I ever going to get to it if I am not able to even show my emotions on the page?

Before writing for me was such an intellectual thing, now I am flooded, soaked with emotions and I am finding that my old vocabulary is sadly and sorely insufficient to describe new things that I suspect are central to what it is that I want to write about.

Indecision, passion, flowing and loving, feeling and opening and connecting and getting past the things that get in your way just by keeping you what you always were.  It has to be a search, it has to be about lost opportunities and forgotten pasts.

There is a world of worlds out there, each one with a different heartbeat.  Our earth has a heartbeat of liquid water, whereas Titan has a heartbeat of liquefied methane.  It is a flutter of a heartbeat, it is light, it sounds like it might faint at any moment, an intricate dance between figures in a book, a beautiful dance between numbers in a calculation.

The sound of a dead planet, the sound the ice on Pluto.  Its heart has stopped.  We know it as Pluto, as Pluton, but there is no way to describe what it really is.  It is a “small planetoid,” sure, but there is still nothing on earth that we can compare it too… were Pluto to come and lie on earth somewhere, what would it look like?  A giant marble on a plane? What would it feel like?  Cold.  Smooth?  Would it be a round beautiful marble like jade spheres for sale in snake alley in Taipei?

What would we think of it if we could see it and smell it?  Everything has a smell.  We could bring samples of the moon back to the earth, but would they ever let me pop a piece into my mouth just to see what moondust tastes like?

Kinetic energy.

Where is it.

It is time to get focused.  Do I have something to say?  Yes, but that is exactly what I should never say.  People who say what they want to say are annoying – you can see right through them.  The story that someone wanted to tell is so transparent compared to the story that found itself, that asked itself all the right questions and was able to tear itself out of the terrible state of non-existence!

There is a lot that I hate about training myself to be, to quote my MIT friends, “a goddamn miracle of modern science,” but then there is a lot that I love about it too.

Am I a hard drinker?

“Fuck no,” says the brute, smacking the little shit on the crown of the head and sending him downwards in a pile.   The world can blink out of existence for just a while as I sit there in silence.  Why does a man meditate?  What is it that goes through his mind?

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 artist doing a handstand

My First Circus Speech

I just gave a speech at the National Theatre in Taipei, Taiwan about the creation process for the Angels of the Storm with The Rocker back in Montreal:

At our first rehearsal, The Rocker told us that he wanted to create a different circus show; one with a political message. 

For us as circus artists, creating a show to address a problem in the world, even abstractly, was new. 

Our training at the National Circus School involves three years of training in acrobatics, acting, dancing, movement, and creation. 

Ideally, at the end of the school, we are closer to being able to express anything we want to say though circus. 

And after three years, here is The Rocker, asking us what exactly it is that we want to say. 

Not all of us knew. 

We had several weeks to create the show.

The structure of the show was determined early on. 

Every artist was responsible for two or more scenes, and spent most of the day working independently or in small groups on creating and perfecting those scenes.

The Rocker would often give an inspiration for each scene: a book, an emotion, an image.

It was not uncommon to work all day on a piece only to present it later to The Rocker or to the whole group only to find out that you have been going in the wrong direction.

But that was not a bad thing – it might have gives someone else a new idea for a scene which is used elsewhere in the show.

A couple of weeks before opening, your number might move to another place in the show; or the music might change, or suddenly, a part of the show no longer works and is cut.

This created a lot of stress, but it also forced us as artists to always be present and passionate.

It made us feel that we had really created this show. A month and a half before, the show existed only as a vague idea in The Rocker’s mind, and that original idea had changed form innumerable times.

But in the end, we presented a show that was, for us at least, a new type of circus show.

We had been challenged to look out at the real world, to react to it, and to somehow put those reactions in the context of a show that hopefully, an audience would enjoy.

It gave us one more opportunity to place the emphasis not on the technical skill, but on what feeling and meaning can be expressed by that technique.

Picture from the National Theatre of Taiwan's circus festival

Taipei Part II

Taipei is really very interesting…  I am learning a lot about another Asian culture.  It is weird that the more you travel the more you seem to be affected by these things; you are sort of forced to be more and more open to the experiences facing you. 

Today I got up too late, but that was not so bad really, still had a productive day, and it is only half over. 

Went to a nice museum that was about the history and present of Taipei…  think Expo pavilion for the city.  It was really pretty nice.  Sat in a revolving theater with a bunch of Taiwanese elementary school kids. 

They were amazed to see a Japanese and were all saying nihau…  when i responded, they were even more excited and they all said it one at a time as they got up the courage. 

It is funny.  In japan, I am seen as White, in America I am seen as Chinese, and in China, I am assumed to be Japanese! 

At least the circle has completed itself. 

PICT0024.JPGThen I went to the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101… and it is really tall.  The observation deck is pretty nice, I was asked to take a picture of a dwarf and her boyfriend…  when I did, they then wanted it to be only from the chest up…  felt like I made some weird sort of dwarf faux pas… 

The shopping center around it was interesting too, nice restaurants, the architecture and design was really calming and nice… 

One thing I noticed that is a first for me… 

It seems as though a lot of people throw their used toilet paper in a garbage can next to the toilet instead of in the toilet. 

Makes a man wonder why. 

PICT0056.JPGThere was a really nice bookstore that I browsed in for a while, and then got some Taiwanese McDonalds’ which, like the Playboys, is another tradition I have when I visit new countries. 

These scooters are amazing, and I feel like I am in Taipei on the eve of it becoming really something special… there are so many new construction projects and revamping projects going on… 

Feels a little like Japan did at the end of the bubble period… 

The whole movie at the museum was about the vision of the future Taipei, and the kids were surprisingly enthusiastic about this civil engineering film… that said, I, too, found it really cool. 

And there was a nice movie about performing arts in Taipei, and the dance portion made me shit a live duck right there in the exhibit hall. 

Amazing. 

The comedy portion too was good to see, because it gave me a little context for an acting class I have to teach in a few days. 

Tonight, i am making the rounds of all the night markets… the one for kids, the seedy one, the electronics one… etc etc etc. I am guessing it will be like a Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Akihabara, Taiwan style…

IMGA0928.JPG

Taipei 101

Things To Do On A First Night In Town: Taipei

It is easy to be blown away with how different everything seems, but the trick is simply this: 

get rid of the apprehension and the adrenaline that comes from being in this new place. 

Imagine you have lived here for years and years and that you are only in a part of that town that you have never been in. 

It works surprisingly well; and the result is that instead of saying clichéd things like “Taipei is a modern city like any other with its own special hidden charms,” you actually see that no modern city is in any way like any other. 

The smell and the frame and the tones and the colors all seem to be just a little bit off… 

and every city is a world unto itself. 

Some first impressions… 

the city from the air looks like a spider web with many fireflies stuck in it.

From the highway, it looks like it could be any sub-tropical developed area…

from the streets, it looks like nothing else.  very spacious, modern, not as decaying as it looks from the raised highways.

The places i have seen so far seem like a college area, young couples.

2005.10.17-2005.11.04 Taiwan 464.JPGLots of motor scooters, often with couples riding them together.

The women dress nicely, conservative without being boring, I would say “classy,” as opposed to the overdone, flashy, cheap look that I see a lot in japan.

The same can not be said for the interior design – superficially, everything looks nice, marble and deep colors, and leather and dim lighting with blinking Christmas lights behind frosted glass… but it all looks cheaply made and hastily put together.

Yet the budget hotel room is relatively beautiful… not quite minimalist, but almost.  Think dressed minimalist with a post-modernist flair…

The prices are so different… taxis cost nothing, I have found, as do busses, but a beautiful leather jacket = 240,000 yen!  wild.  Food is about the same, but I had an all you can eat hotpot for 1200 yen.

The convenience stores pop up on the side of the road just a little bit more often than you’d want them to…

2005.10.17-2005.11.04 Taiwan 447.JPGThere are wild dogs and cats wandering the streets with the clear sense of ownership that I tried to feign…

There are betel nut stains on the sidewalks, and the city proper does not smell nice… those stinky spots in the middle of the sidewalk that you walk through occasionally in Tokyo are more common here.

I feel safe walking around, and I can get the idea of the kanji, but there is no hiragana or katakana to cheat with…  nor can I ask for a sutoppu wachi if I can’t think of the right work for stopwatch in Mandarin…

My Mandarin tapes tell me I am saying the right things, but people do not understand me…

The intonation is just too subtle to my virgin ears.

But as always, knowing yes, no, excuse me, thank you, pardon, and bye will always always, always get you through the first night.  So: things checked off the list so far:

  • 1L of fancy chinese liquor (58%)
  • make a friend who does not speak any languages in common with me.
  • visit a sex shop.
  • try to make friends with a wild urban dog.
  • visit a love hotel
  • find the red light district
  • jaywalk
  • learn some new mandarin words from the locals visit a convenience store.

(Interlude: Convenience stores that are spreading across the world, I am starting to think of them as their own world, or at least country, in and of themselves.  it is strange to be in one and to be able to feel absolutely at home no matter what country you are in.  It is interesting to see the design of the signs as well… Family Mart, Seven Eleven… which ones translate into Chinese characters and which ones are iconic enough in their own right to stay the same)  

Now I go to my room and get stinking drunk watching Chinese television and writing like mad. 

2005.10.17-2005.11.04 Taiwan 446.JPGThere are Buddhist pamphlets by the pay phones.  I felt guilty because I thought that they would be Roppoingi-style prostitute books and was somewhat disappointed when they were not. 

You don’t tip here. 

I also made sure to try Taiwanese beverages and candy that I had never seen before… 

It is like there are no curtains in this town. 

2005.10.17-2005.11.04 Taiwan 456.JPGThe architecture and city planning is unique.  It makes me wonder if the government’s approach to city planning can set the tone of a city’s development and that it just takes over from there. 

Some buildings here may as well have been built on another planet, or a movie set. 

There is no pornography in the convenience stores.  I was disappointed as I wanted a Taiwanese Playboy for my international playboy collection – hence the trip to the sex shop. Lots of other things, but no Playboy. 

And, yappari, though I don’t know why, there are significantly more Asian models in advertisements here than in Tokyo… 

Maybe 75-25 instead of 10-90 like in japan.