Jumping Off

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I may have been a bit premature in my previous post on flying trapeze.  It would seem that in fact I’m just more of a “late bloomer” than I thought I was.

Day one, scary as hell.  Day two, no longer frightening.  Day three, kind of fun.  Day four, hey look I’m really good at this whole swinging back and forth thing.  That’s pretty much how it went down.

I can now say that I am actually enjoying flying trapeze now.  Now that I’ve gotten over my fear I’ve come to realize that it’s something everyone should do if they ever get the chance. 

This has also makes me realize that my bucket list is gonna have a lot more checks on it than most.

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On Ego

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Recently I enrolled at Circus Warehouse, a circus school based in New York City.  More on that later.

The other day during one of my conditioning classes an interesting dialogue occurred.  One of my friends whom I had duped into joining me was commenting on how she had previously taken a similar class where the teacher kept talking about how she had just given birth, was older than all the students, and that they should be ashamed of themselves if they were not able to keep up with her.  My teacher proceeded to provide an interesting thought on the subject.

He said, “Don’t train with those people.”

He went on to explain that people like that are all about their own egos and that you shouldn’t train with them and should instead just let them train with themselves since clearly that’s all they care about.

I’ve spent the last several days processing this and I think I agree with it.  My teacher might be over twice my age and capable of incredible feats of strength, but that’s never what he makes the class about.  Instead it’s always about us, the students, and what we need to improve.

I will note though that however comforting this last statement sounds, one hour of this class is about equal to a day’s worth of fighting.

Fear

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Intense fear is not an emotion I often experience any more.  I know I did when I was younger and was afraid of the dark.  Then, when I was a little bit older, the same happened with asking girls out.

I do not have an intense fear of airplanes, fire, swords, objects being hurled through the air, being in the water, getting lost, or even the vast majority of people.  At this point in my life I thought that I had conquered pretty much everything there was to be afraid of.  Now, this does not mean to say that I do not have respect for things that are dangerous.  With both power tools and fire, it is important never to get cocky.  Always have respect for what you are wielding, because otherwise it will rear up like a horse and hit you where it hurts.  I have come to understand this, albeit largely the easy way, and I acknowledge the risks that I take when I use either one.

Last week I took a flying trapeze class.  I had thought that I had conquered my fear of heights, which had occasionally crippled me as a child.  I’m a pretty decent climber, I walk on stilts, I do tricks in the air, I even hang lights of the edge of catwalks.  None of that had prepared me for this though.

The shaky ladder going up was bad, but nothing that worried me too much. I’ve dealt with worse.  One of the people who went before me had said that the ladder was the worst part and that everything would be fine after that.  They were wrong.  Grabbing onto the bars of the platform was terrifying, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was visibly shaking.  Then I had to reach out for the trapeze as one of the instructors held onto the harness I was strapped in to.

I knew I was safe.  I saw the net, I new that I was attached to a rope being held by a world renowned trapeze artist.  Yet none of that made jumping off the platform any easier.  I think I tried to jump three times before I actually got off the ground.  Then, all of a sudden, I was swinging rapidly through the air.  My already tired shoulders were having to support me as I rushed through the air until the man on the ground said it was okay and I dropped to the net.

You likely expect me now to say how everything was fine once I started swinging, or that the second time was exponentially easier.  This may have been the case for some people, but unfortunately I am not among them.  I went another three or four times, and although the jump got a bit easier, not much else did.

I have decided that I will at least give flying trapeze one more go to see if anything improves.  Every time it was my turn I went up that ladder and jumped off that platform, so I know I can push through it.  We’ll see though how much I really want to.

Hours, Not Years

Whenever possible I don’t measure the time I’ve put in in years, I measure it in hours.

I understand why we group things together, it makes it easier.  However, we need to be careful about how we describe our actions.  Lots of people have been doing something for umpteen more years than I have.  Miraculously though, I am better than many of them.  Clearly it has to do with my spryness and agility.  That or I’ve actually put in more time and sought out better teachers than they had.

At this point I’ve only been able to do a three-ball cascade (the basic juggling pattern) for a little over a year.  I know tons of jugglers who have been juggling for eons for whom this is all they know.  The instant I learned cascade though, I was already on to the next trick.  I have practiced some sort of circus (whether it be juggling, spinning poi, balancing things on my head, etc.) for at least half an hour on average every day since then.  Recently I’ve been upping that to one to two hours a day.

I may not be the greatest of jugglers.  Heck, I’m probably no where close to the best out of everyone who has been able to juggle for only a year.  However, in that year I have put in more hours than many other jugglers have in their lifetimes.

Aspiration vs. Ambition

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To be successful at most things you have to have ambition.  If you don’t want it, then you’re never going to get it.

Let’s say you’re starting off and taking ballet (something you all should do, especially if your goals are remotely physical in nature).  You come to class, do the plies and the rond jambes.  You stretch, follow everything the instructor says, eat well, etc.  If you do all of that you can still end up good.  As long as you have a good instructor and put in the hours, you will likely end up as a good dancer.  But to be more than that, to be great, requires something else.

That something else is ambition.  Ambition is that fire in your heart, the tiger yearning to be unleashed.  It is primal, yet methodical, passionate, yet thoughtful.  You have to know you want to be the star of the Joffrey Ballet and put your all into it.  Everyday when you show up to class you have to be alert, always working to improve yourself.  For you ballet should not be something to relax the mind, it should be instead a gauntlet for your mental faculties.

None of this will likely come as a surprise to you, dear reader.  I’m sure you could suggest quite a few books on the subject written by people much more successful in their respective fields than I in mine.  What I aim to do here is not to write out a step by step plan on how to achieve success or how to establish a personal training regiment.  Instead I merely aim to clear up a misconception.

I would bet that most people, if you pressed them hard enough, will tell you that they have an ambition, a dream.  This is especially the case for those just starting out in their fields.  They will tell you that one day they want to be on stage with Cirque du Soliel, to write for The New Yorker, or to run a mile in under four minutes.  For me though, these are not ambitions, they are aspirations.  You can copy the moves of the best jugglers or go through the motions of the best dance instructors, but to succeed you will need something else.  You will need drive and you will need insight.

Drive is the straightforward one.  You will need to practice on your own outside of class.  You will need to adopt Churchill’s philosophy and only “be satisfied with the very best.”  As a result you will constantly be needing to seek out new ideas, never stagnating.

What is less straightforward is insight.  To be an artist, whether with a brush or with a sword, you must do more than imitate.  Although you can still allude and reference, you must begin to make something uniquely yours.  This doesn’t mean that you should forget those who came before you.  Instead it means that your must internalize their ideas and play with them until something new emerges.  This is what it means to be an artist.

Having high aspirations and setting goals are good for you.  But to be truly great, you must be ambitious.

Everyday Adventure

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Today I went on an adventure.  Out of all the adventures I have been on, especially this past year, this one would hardly be considered one of the more exciting ones by most.

My adventure started as a search for a lost treasure.  And by lost treasure I mean olive oil.  This was not even for the last vial of oil in the temple to keep the menorah burning that would miraculously last for eight days instead of the one it was expected to.  No, this was to find some olive oil to cook up some quesadillas (I made these ones http://tinyurl.com/goatcheesequesadilla which are truly wonderful).  We were out of olive oil upstairs so I had to go downstairs to the pantry to look for some more.  Unfortunately I was unable to find any.  So instead I used canola.

While I was down there though, I found a hidden treasure.  Deep in the dusty shelves, hidden behind the vinegar, was a small black box with a brass colored top.  On the front the label read “Twinings Russian Caravan Tea”.  Lower down it read, “A fragrant blend of Keemun teas much prized by the old Russian Aristocracy”.  I had mentioned Russian tea and its history to one of my relatives just the day before and decided to give it a try.  I could not remember trying it before, but I knew that one of my good friends was a fan and I figured I should indulge.

I pried open the container with the handle of my teaspoon and then measured out just the right amount of black leaves with a smell that seemed oddly reminiscent of kombucha.  I poured the loose leaves into a strainer which I gently placed inside of and off white mug from my local library which read “Winter Reading 2007”.  I sat there with the taste of goat cheese fresh in my mouth, waiting for the water to absorb the flavors that lay in wait for my tongue, ever so tempting with their new aromas.  As the water got darker I was tempted not to delay gratification, but I was able to hold myself steady knowing the full flavor was yet to come and that I would not only have drank the tea before its prime, but that my tongue would be left with a scorching reminder of the importance of patience.

I removed the tea, still in its strainer, and placed it in a small cup made to fit the strainer perfectly so as not to stain anything on the table in front of me.  As soon as the liquid touched my lips I knew it to be too hot and waited until it had cooled down before I took my first sip.  Then I took another, and another, and another.  Soon there was hardly anything left.  I was in love.Now that I look back I continue to revel in the marvel contained within that small black box.  A plant grown China, originally transported across Russia, blended in England, and now drank in America.  Every mile so very worth the trek, every moment so very worth the wait.

Teaching Passion

Persistence

I consider myself to be a good teacher.  I constantly find myself teaching others the skills I have picked up over the years.  I may not be the best at any of those skills. but I have learned from my teachers before me what will and will not get across to a student.  Over the years I have tried different methods of teaching particular skills in order to meet the needs of different students.

Throughout all of this, there has been one thing I have not been able to find a way to teach.  I do not know how to teach passion, how to make a student fall in love with an art.  I can show them the sword, the juggling ball, or the dance; but I cannot make them fall in love with it.  There have been a few thus far who have found that they love what I have shown them and proceed to get me to teach them everything I can.  Unfortunately though, these students are few and far between.  Perhaps some of you might have some advice this time.