Circrifice

Life Is (like) a Circus

Nikko (April Vacation, Part 2)

After two days of loafing around at Sammy’s house, Cindy, Bill, and I headed over to Nikko to hang out with our POP Circus friends, Maria (dancer from Cuba) and Dulcito (clown from Peru), and their Cocker-mix, Hoshi, in a place other than a parking lot. This vacation could easily have been the beginning of a joke (“A clown, a dancer, and two trapeze artists walk into a bar…”).

More Amazing Japanese Hospitality

By some stroke of luck, I found a hotel that welcomed people traveling with pets. The name of the hotel is Pension Animare, and it wasn’t until I received an email directly from “Pension Animale” that I realized “animare” was the Japanese spelling of “animal,” the perfect place for circus folk (human and canine) to stay. IMAG2214The hotel owners, Masaki Toshioka (a former engineering consultant) and his wife, turned out to be another shining example of Japanese hospitality. Masaki picked us up at the train station promptly at 4:30 pm. He and his wife cooked us up a delicious four-course dinner of soup, beef, swordfish, and dessert while their four-year-old and one-year-old sons entertained us. Then, after Cindy and I took a trip to the backyard onsen, and we all had a comfortable night of sleep, Masaki served us breakfast with his younger son on his back and then offered to be our taxi for the day.

Getting in Touch with Our Inner Ninjas

First, he dropped us off at Kirifuri Highlands, where we did a short hike to see Kirifuri Waterfall and then a longer hike to see other waterfalls. It was Maria, Dulcito, and Hoshi’s first time hiking, and they loved it! Poor Maria didn’t quite understand what I meant by “hiking” when we first talked about it, and she wore high-heeled sneakers, but, bless her heart, she didn’t ever slip and fall, she never complained, and in fact, she encouraged us to keep going every time we asked if they were ready to turn around. Now THAT is a true Latina…a beautiful woman who can do a two-hour hike in heels! (Of course, the first thing I did after our trip was run to the shoe store and buy myself a pair!). The countryside was beautiful, a mix of cedar forest and bamboo-ish underbrush. I could easily imagine ninjas running through there back in the day, though I hoped we wouldn’t encounter any on this day. Bill was in heaven, as hiking was one of his favorite things to do back in Boulder. We went every day for at least an hour or two, and we had both been missing it. As usual, Bill blazed his own trail, seeking out the highest points where he could be king of the mountain. A few days earlier, Cindy had said she liked the name Alejandro. After mulling it over, I decided I liked the name, too, and that Bill could easily be an “Alejandro.” I told my friends that since Bill doesn’t always listen to me anyway, I was going to start calling him Alejandro. That became the big joke on the hike–both Bill and Hoshi are now known as “Alejandro” during their less-obedient moments.

Parks and Shrines

Following our hike, Masaki and his family picked us up and took us to a giant park for lunch. The park was filled with friendly people and dogs. We were surprised to encounter a golden retriever and a rottweiler there, as Japanese people usually have smaller dogs. After a soba (buckwheat noodle soup) lunch, we hopped back in the car with Masaki and his clan and headed into town to explore Futarasan Shrine and Tosho-gu Shrine. Masaki dropped us off and promised to pick us up at our leisure, whenever we called him. What a guy! The shrines were beautiful, of course. The photos below will do better to describe them than my words:

More Entertainment

After a long day sightseeing, we called Masaki and had him pick us up at the train station again. It was only about 4 pm, but we were spent! Maria, Dulcito, and Hoshi headed to the backyard onsen (yes, Hoshi, too) while Cindy and I drank too much sake in our room (when am I going to learn?). At six, we all met up in the dining room for dinner, but this time we weren’t alone… The hotel had filled up with three other couples and their dogs! IMAG2212-2 The next morning, it was time to leave. The vacation had been so relaxing because of our great hosts, who enabled us to enjoy our pets and their hospitality without the usual stresses we experience when having to sneak our dogs in and out of hotels.

Returning to Reality

After breakfast, Masaki drove us back down to the train station, and we said our farewells. The train ride to our new home in Ota, Gunma, took about three hours. We arrived to find Luis Carlos’ smiling face awaiting our return (thanks, Jefecito!). Unpacking the house was uneventful after the usual confusion of actually locating it (our containers are configured differently every time we move). In this city, Bill really lucked out, as we’re living right next to Maria, Dulcito, and Hoshi! I’m sure he’ll wander over there everyday so he can play with his best bud and enjoy the treats Maria slips him (I’m on to you, girl!).

In Closing

You never know what to expect when you go on a vacation with people you don’t know particularly well, but this one worked out awesome. Traveling with my circus friends was a blast! We had no trouble or conflict, and we definitely made the most out of our days off. I really hope that sometime soon we’ll get the chance to do a little trip like this again. In the meantime, it’s back to work. Wish us luck, as we’re jumping right into a holiday week with a very heavy load of shows. (Our upcoming show schedule is 3-3-2-2-break-3-3-3-3-2-2…crazy, huh?).

**The better-looking pictures are courtesy of Cindy Sweeney!

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Nasu (April Vacation, Part 1)

In my travels around Japan, I am continuously reminded that nothing beats Japanese hospitality. The kindness and friendship my friend Sammy has extended to me is a perfect example. Sammy and I met on one of my first dogs walks in Utsunomiya when the circus started playing there in September. Her sweet little Italian Greyhound, Marie, and Bill hit it off right away.

Bill and Marie in Nasu

Since then, we have cultivated a lasting friendship. Most recently, I took my teammate Cindy to Utsunomiya to join Sammy and me on a relaxing vacation to her second home in Nasu, a rural area in the Tochigi Prefecture. It’s a perfect time of year for the hour-and-a-half drive to Sammy’s house, as the cherry blossoms that far north are still in bloom. During the drive, the countryside offered broad green brushstrokes of farmland and cedar forest punctuated by the bright pink dots of cherry blossoms.

For two whole days, we “worked hard” on doing absolutely nothing at Sammy’s. We couldn’t keep ourselves from the occasional hike up an abandoned road in a nature preserve area to the Highlands Golf Course and a few trips to nearby onsens, but other than that, we thoroughly succeeded in our mission to relax.

Besides hanging out on the porch with the dogs and reading, my favorite thing to do at Sammy’s house is to cook (luckily, having me–or anyone, for that matter–cook is also Sammy’s favorite thing). She has an incredible kitchen, complete with convection stove top. Before Sammy’s house, I had never used one of these before, and I now I want one. You just touch the stove to turn it on, and there’s a power booster button that cooks things fast. We made marinated chicken for salads, french toast, hamburgers, and sweet potato fries. Sammy made smoothies and surprised us with a delicious chocolate banana cake to celebrate Cindy’s birthday.

I don’t know how I lucked out with such awesome friends, but as we took turns sitting under the little waterfall in the Nasushiobara onsen and laughing as the water splashed off our backs and sprayed each other in the face, I realized how fortunate I am to have such wonderful people in my life. Sammy and I have spent weeks together, and Cindy and I just got done traveling together for five days. These adventures have been filled with laughs, smiles, and joy. Sammy is always an incredible host and a great friend. In the short time we’ve known each other, we’ve been through some crazy stuff, and even during the times I’ve acted like a complete idiot, she’s known exactly what to do with me (laugh at me and get me out for some exercise). I don’t know what I’d do without her!

Next up I’ll tell you about the second part of our vacation in Nikko, where we joined our POP Circus friends, Maria and Dulcito (and their dog, Hoshi), for some hiking and temple-viewing. But first, here are some photos from the Nasu part of our trip:

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Communicating on the Fly

A trick across to Daniel (or any catcher) and back to the pedestal takes about 13 seconds. For the flyer, it feels like a jog around the block.

A trick across to Daniel, up to Jeremy, back down to Daniel, and then back to the pedestal takes about 20 seconds. For the flyer, it feels like a marathon.

The way time slows down and the amount of communication that goes on during that short time is truly incredible. Let me tell you about my climbing “marathon” tricks yesterday to give you an idea of what goes on each action-packed second.

Here’s a video of a climb I did in rehearsal back in Chiba (December). It was my first time climbing in about eight months, so it’s scrappy–very scrappy–but nobody died, and at least you can get the idea of what the trick looks like:

 

In the first show…

Before the countdown started, I called “Lista!” (Ready!) to signal to Daniel that I was ready to do my trick. I also shared a look with Jeremy to communicate that I was on my way up to him. In that sparkly, smily instant, the thoughts passing between us were something like

Me: “Jeremy, I’m coming across. You know I don’t get this right every time, and I’m feeling kind of sore today. It’s the first show of the week…Yikes. Whatever I throw at you, you’re gonna catch it, right?”

Jeremy: “Shut up. I got you, dork! Just don’t grab me. Aim for my elbow-pits.”

As Daniel slid down to his knees, Jeremy saluted, as did my fellow flyers. Even though the temperature was sweltering and the tension was high, everyone was ready to move. When he was just at the top of his swing, Daniel called, “Hep!” to signal my takeoff and the start of my first 20 seconds of the day in the limelight. (To give you some perspective, by the end of the day, I had acquired about two full minutes to myself in the spotlight out of the 20 minutes we were on stage.)

As soon as I took off, Kosta pulled away the rise I was standing on. Cindy and Harmony prepared to salute again as I was swinging backward and setting up for my trick, and then the pair got into position to ensure they catch my bar, so they could prepare to throw it to me when I was on my return trip.

While all this was going on on the board, I was positioning my body to give myself as much height as possible and then preparing to complete the kickback that generates the upward force for my full-twisting back flip. My shoulders hurt a lot when I kicked back, so I didn’t get the maximum extension. This meant that my forward drive was short, causing me to move the trick into Daniel. Because he had to catch me with seriously bent arms and then push me out as we swung through bottom, our radius was limited, and we didn’t have a lot of height for him to easily push me up to Jeremy. Daniel talked me through the whole thing to be sure I stayed on track, and I made it up to Jeremy, but we had to work for it.

Jeremy was surely preparing himself for mayhem when he saw my bad trick. Though I stuck with the swing, I was panicked, of course, and as I flew through the air toward him, I lobstered him before he could get me, so his hands weren’t in a good position to hold onto me; he was pretty much hanging on with fingernails, even though I had a decent grip on him (it’s really much better for it to be the other way around since he outweighs me by at least half). I could see him, of course, his “oh shit” eyes when I grabbed him; I’m sure he could see the despair in mine when I realized my mistake. Even so, this wasn’t the first time I jumped up to him and caused this problem, and unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last. We dealt with it, though, and through his touch, I could feel that he was with me–he had me–and we were going to make it through the full swing radius.

We did, and before I knew it, I was floating back down to Daniel in a safe position. As usual, Daniel yelled to me, “Keep your hands steady!” as I have a tendency to start moving them in or out as I come down, depending on my mood. I listened, and I was soon back in hands, swinging with Daniel through bottom. Daniel prepared me for my return by reminding me to sweep back late and keep my feet together (I’m terribly sloppy sometimes). His coaching worked, and I was back on the board, saluting the audience in victory, before I could have even counted to five.

In the second show…

On that same trick, my grip got stuck on the bar when I began my twist, and as soon as it happened, I thought, “It’s a good thing I’m climbing, so the girls will have more time to get my bar. This is going to be a tough one for them!” It was true; once I was back on the board, they told me that the bar came back vertically and that Cindy saved the day with her fingertips. I knew they could do it!

And that was just my first trick!

In each show I do three tricks and a dismount. Luckily, the other tricks were less memorable, but every show is different, and only one thing is certain: you never know what’s going to happen. In this life less ordinary, we become accustomed to–and perhaps reliant upon–the razor’s edge we walk that depends so heavily on our intimate knowledge of and our trust in each other. It’s what keeps us alive; what keeps us safe; and what keeps us coming back for more!

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Sakura Significance

I have a hard time identifying one annual event in America that is of importance to everybody. Christmas is celebrated by Christians for the lord and heathens for the gifts,  but there’s still a large population of Jews who would do fine without it. Like Christmas, Easter is celebrated (or not celebrated) by the same groups (though this time the heathens are in it for the egg hunts and the chocolates). My personal list would see Oktoberfest as the most important annual holiday, with St. Patty’s Day a close second (what does this say about my liver?). Clearly, the American culture is not unified.

In contrast, the Japanese culture is nothing if not unified.

Sure, there are ample examples of individualistic self-expression, and in many ways the country is truly a land of opposites and extremes (the hole-in-the-floor toilets versus the heated-seat-butt-washing toilets are a perfect example), but when it comes to families, values, and thought processes, most of the Japanese minds are singular.

What many would argue to be the most important event of the year in Japan has just come to pass: the blossoming of the sakura (cherry blossom) trees. People enjoy the blossoms for their beauty, which is made all the more profound by the fact that this beauty only lasts a short time–a week or so at best–as the petals are delicate and the early April weather unkind.

In addition to the alcohol-enhanced reveling that goes on in parks across the country, many take this gift from nature as an opportunity to reflect on life and how it relates to sakura, with the main takeaway being that life is beautiful yet fleeting.

Tokyo Viewing

Here’s a video of Ueno Park cherry blossom viewing to help you consider the fleeting life of a cherry blossom (and what a good time it would be for you to come here and experience this holiday yourself):

I did not make this video, but since it shows the park where I took my teammate Cindy so she could see the cherry blossoms, I figure it’s appropriate. Ueno Park is about an hour and a half (two if you miss your train stop…ehm) from where we are living now.

Nakameguro

Last year we were in Kobe for the cherry blossoms, and the park near us only had a few trees. This year, I had the good fortune of being near Tokyo and meeting a great “tour guide.” Not only did I view the cherry blossoms with my friends Cindy and Angus on my day off, but the night before, my new friend Paulo knew just where to take me for a walk along a canal lined with cherry blossoms.

Nakameguro hanami

(Disclaimer: I didn’t take this picture of Nakameguro, either.)

The flanks of the canal in Nakameguro were engorged with food and drink vendors hawking merriment to thousands of passersby. The atmosphere was lively and intoxicating but totally safe, as one comes to expect from Japan. My favorite part of the evening was sitting on the porch of a wine bar that faced this beautiful canal, sipping a robust red while sharing great conversation, which was occasionally interrupted by young Japanese girls (and even the occasional men) screeching “Wan-chan kawaii” (cute dog!) upon seeing Bill in my arms.

Sakura Significance for Me

Now, three days after our trek to Ueno Park, sakura season is just about over thanks to last night’s hurricane-like winds and the previous day’s downpour. “Lucky” is all I can think when I consider how the sakura-viewing events came together for me this week.

Maybe when I go back to America, I’ll plant a cherry blossom tree in my yard, so its petals will remind me annually of life’s fleeting beauty. Maybe it will be my new favorite American holiday.

The life-cycle symbolism is also relevant to the time I am spending in Japan. I won’t be here forever, as Japan really is meant for the Japanese, but I’m grateful for the time I’m spending here, and until my end, I will cherish the beautiful, delicate memories floating around my mind like sakura petals in the wind.

Resources

There is a website that gives Cherry blossom predictions for when meteorologists (I guess?) believe will be the first blooms of the year. And of course, there are many sites listing the top viewing spots around the country, like this website touting Japan’s top 100 cherry blossom spots. Wikipedia has further information about the symbolism of the cherry blossom.

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The Flying Geria-Tricks

We have been having a great time since our new flyers, Kosta and Cindy, arrived. The team has really come together in the past few months, and we are all growing in ways that make our troupe a serious force to be reckoned with!

Yesterday’s practice was a landmark in many respects. First, Cindy has been making huge improvements on her swing and set since she arrived, and yesterday she threw her best tuck double yet. Second, I threw my double layout out of lines for the first time since I learned to do it properly. Third, after a few months of rest, Harmony is back throwing her triple at catch height. All three of us have some work to do on various parts of our tricks, but there is no reason that we each won’t be catching these tricks and “leveling up” very soon.

 

*Not seen in this video Kosta’s full-twisting double layout that is in the show now, and we’ll soon be hanging a bar up in the copula for him to jump up to, toe hang from, and then drop during our dismounts. That’s always a crowd pleaser.

So where do “The Flying Geria-Tricks” come in? Aside from Kosta, we’re all old as dirt for this profession…and that’s just fine with us! Yesterday, Harmony and I were musing that when she gets her triple, I get my double lay (or full-twisting double lay, my real goal), and Cindy gets her tuck double or a double pike, we’d honestly be able to make a showing at Monte Carlo, the most prestigious circus festival in the world.

What would our troupe be called? Why, The Flying Geria-Tricks, of course!

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Double Lay…Oh, Hey!

Finally…

After months of suffering, I made a breakthrough with double lays today.

I started writing about my desire to “improve” my double lays (ie. do them even remotely right) back in November 2013, though I didn’t publish a post about it until January 29, 2014. The reason it took so long for me to publish anything was that from November to the end of January, I didn’t made any progress, and some might even say I made “regress.” (But that’s all part of the extremely painful and depressing learning process, right?)

Since that post at the end of January, I again found myself at a standstill, literally. I was putting as much power as I could into my swing and my break (the kick back before the actual trick), but then my drive (kick forward) just…stopped. Practice after practice I struggled with stalling the trick and then having to pike it around to get to the net safely. I just couldn’t understand what to do differently.

During the year preceding my double lay practice, I spent countless hours stalling standard (single flip) layouts, which must have contributed to my penchant for stopping my trick in an ever-so-inconvenient head-first-into-the-net position. But the other side of the coin is simply that I’ve never learned how to generate the kind of lift and rotation necessary for a bona fide double lay. Back home I readily played around with potato-chip-shaped flippity-flips, but I’ve come to learn that catching a double straight-bodied flip is truly a whole different animals (like the difference between a house cat and a cougar). ;)

Before coming to POP, I was tossing “double lays” at Imperial Flyers. I flipped them right off the bar like somebody popping a Pringles. They were just a toy to me, though, as I really had my sights set on a full-in double flip. Though I had a bit of an aptitude for that trick, I was experiencing a problem in that on the second flip, I always dropped like a rock. After numerous, marginally successful attempts to fix the problem, I took a step back to actually learn a proper drive off the bar for a double lay, which I hoped would then translate into the proper drive for a full-in.

Which Brings Us to Today

I still haven’t gone back to training the full-in, but today I made a significant breakthrough with my double layouts, which I hope will A) allow me to catch them soon-ish and B) will translate into the lift I was looking for to catch full-twisting double flips. The breakthrough came from something simple Harmony told me: squeeze my butt. Though that may seem like an “Uh, duh!” it really is a difficult proposition…to look at my toes and squeeze my butt at the same time. Anyway, it turns out that those two things together are key ingredients in the formula for me, coupled with a strong, fluid break and drive.

Here’s a video from practice today, which I like because it shows the evolution of the trick for me. In the first trick, you can see me stall. In the second trick, you see me over-hollow to compensate and try to get it around. That position, however, is a dead giveaway that I wasn’t squeezing my butt. In the following four, I’m on the up and up (literally…yay!), and you can see the difference the butt squeeze makes. Clearly I’m a little low to catch, but between taking off the lines and continuing to gain confidence, I hope to be high enough soon. The last trick is a full-twisting layout…Didn’t realize I snuck that in there from practice today.

Everyone on the team, especially Daniel and Harmony, have given me great advice on this, and I’m grateful for their encouragement and help.

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Japan Vs. America BATTLE!

10 Japanese Travel Tips for Visiting America” piqued my interest as it was floating around the Internet this week for two reasons: 1) I just returned from America, where I experienced some serious culture shock; and 2) I couldn’t believe a Japanese person actually wrote it, as many of the observations seemed inconsistent with the differences I’ve experienced between America and Japan. While sorting out my general confusion about the article, I came to the conclusion that the author must have been from a big Japanese city like Tokyo, visiting a smallish American city like–oh, I don’t know–Omaha, Nebraska, where there’s not much going on (sorry, Nebraskans).

The Japanese love a good robot battle, but all I have here are my words. Even so, I’m ready to pick apart this author piece by piece:

Meals

The author says that “In Japan, meals at home are for eating, because your stomach is vacant. [In America meals are for] maintaining rich human relationships.”

Perhaps it has been an unusual occasion whenever Japanese people have invited me for meals at their homes, but I’ve found Japanese meals to be full of rich conversation. And I would say that perhaps this author experienced the same thing in America–unusually festive family meals because of his presence. It’s likely that the typical Japanese meal atmosphere matches the usual American one, with little conversation, a TV providing background noise, and a general sense of shoveling down the food so as to move on to something more interesting.

I agree when the author says that one difference between Japanese meals and American meals is that Americans use dinner plates for most of the food, whereas Japanese use tiny, appropriately-shaped dishes for each individual item, but I can’t agree that American food is flat to the taste. After all, what could be less flavorful than tofu? This author clearly ate at the home of someone who didn’t know how to cook.

The author goes on to say that Americans like “…sweet, high fat, high calories things.” In this statement, I find the greatest misconception about Japanese vs. American eating. Both countries abuse salt, though Americans in the form of table salt and Japanese in the form of soy sauce. Although people like to think that the Japanese eat extremely healthy, I can tell you that both countries consume an abundance of sweets and junk food. There are vending machines on every corner in Japan offering soda and ice cream. And like many Americans, the Japanese like coffee with their sugar (not the other way around). About a third of the standard Japanese grocery store is dedicated to mochi (a Japanese sticky rice paste dessert), ice cream, cakes, cookies, crackers, and candy.

I find irony in the observation that American’s have a greater  preference than the Japanese for high fat items as well, since it’s practically impossible to get a lean piece of meat in this country. Despite how this may sound, I do agree that the Japanese diet is healthier than the American diet, but not in the way most people think: Japanese people consume equally fatty, salty, sugary foods, but they do so in much smaller portions than Americans, which has been documented as a key to good health. They use less chemicals in their food, and they are more likely to eat a balanced meal, as almost every meal includes some component of vegetables, carbohydrates (noodles or rice), and meat or fish.

As a whole, I believe Japanese eating habits to be healthier that America’s, but in terms of flavor, NOTHING beats the rainbow of culinary delights America has to offer due to our incredibly a diverse culture.

Safety and Individualism

The author advises readers not to wear hip-hop clothes in the wrong parts of town in America, even though in Japan that fashion is appropriate almost everywhere. I completely agree, and must add that these are some of the things I love about Japan. Japan is safe, and it is extremely individualistic. They don’t have gang violence–or any violence, really–like we do in The States. And you can wear whatever the hell you want without feeling like people are staring at you. (Not that I’ve done it, but mall outings in my one-piece fleece bunny suit would be completely acceptable. If the weather gets any colder here, it might have to happen.)

Traffic

My impression of Japanese traffic has been that everyone generally drives the speed limit and behaves courteously, but the author of this article feels that Japanese are rude and Americans have better traffic-related manners. Again, the author must have been visiting Nebraska, as he definitely wasn’t in California.

To be fair, though, perhaps my impression is off because when I’m in a car, it’s generally on the open highway between fairly rural cities…the Omahas of Japan.

Free Time

On this point I have to wholeheartedly agree: the author compares the Japanese and American work weeks, claiming that Americans have free time during the week, and Japanese do not. I believe this to be absolutely true. Americans live by “nine-to-five,” whereas Japanese live by “six to ten” (they board the train at six a.m. and return at ten at night). Sucks to be them.

Laughing

Again, agreed. The author notices how laughing out loud in America is a virtue, whereas in Japan it would be very rude. People cover their mouths when they laugh here. I chalk it up to bad teeth.

Queues

The author notes how checkout lines move so much faster in Japan. This is so true, mainly because Japanese checkers generally don’t bag things for you. They artfully arrange your items in your basket in the manner that you SHOULD bag them, but then they send you off to another table where you have to do the job yourself. (This is terribly frustrating because then you have no choice but to unpack everything and start from scratch or pack your bag in the opposite order, which results in everything getting smooshed.) I have heard of mystical bags that fit exactly in your shopping cart, when if used the checkers actually will pack them for you, but I’ve been turned down for my bags time and time again and have yet to find one that fits perfectly enough that the checker has been willing to fill it.

Optimism

At the end of the article, the author concedes that Americans have one wonderful, overarching feature: our eagerness to try. In Japan, the fear of failure is paralyzing. I read that some men don’t even want to have sex because they’re afraid of doing a bad job! When I tell people about the mistakes I made with the snack food company I founded and subsequently exploded (in a bad way), they are shocked when I get to the part about none of my investors suggesting I commit hari kari.

The suicide rate in Japan is high, especially because of this fear of failure and pressure to perform. It’s surprising to me that Japan has succeeded as it has in innovation, despite this intense fear of failure. I tip my hat to the people at the front end of innovation here in Japan because they really are risk takers.

In Conclusion

Who wins this battle? I wouldn’t be a patriot if I didn’t say America, but the truth is, each country has it’s good and bad features. It depends on the individual which features are more important to you. Like I said, an experience can be skewed depending on where you visit, especially when it comes to America, but to a lesser extent here in Japan as well.

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From the Mountains…to the Ocean White with Foam

Bill and I had an incredible trip back to America. We spent our first week visiting friends and family in Colorado and then our second week enjoying sun and fun in Southern California. Here are a few of the highlights:

-Getting off the plane and seeing my most beloved Susan first thing. She whisked me straight over to Rock Bottom for an awesome ballpark-style hot pretzel, as is our tradition. Then my parents came to pick me up with Hillary in tow. We weren’t sure how she would react to seeing Bill, but I couldn’t have predicted that she would growl at him! Apparently Sea Biscuit (my parents’ trusty Honda Element) is hers now. Though off to a rocky start, Bill and Hillary quickly fell back into step with each other, and my first morning in Colorado I awoke to find them playing “bitey face” on the couch downstairs.

-Catching up with many friends in Colorado: Wings and margs with Mom, Dad, Bruce, Linda, Kristin, and Tara at my favorite restaurant, Murphy’s; more margs with Aly at Tres Margaritas; Wahoo’s lunch with Kendra, my dance instructor and dear friend; happy hour and then some with Dan; doggie dates with Kim (thank you for the incredible handmade scarf and headband!), Todd, Ruth, Jorge, and dogpark friends; Walnut Cafe on several separate occasions; gymnastics with Gary, Dylan, Julie, Kelly, and friends; City O’ City with Equilibrium Deb (you rooooock!), Kara, Lisa and adorable Enzo; Imperial Flyers night out for the DU gymnastics meet (Nicky, thanks for hosting!), more margs at Murphy’s with Mandy; meeting Shana and Aaron’s new baby, Leonin; and a final night out at Il Pastaio, Colorado’s finest Italian restaurant, with my parents, Sharon, Mikey, Jay, Kim, and Joe…and, of course, Mariano and his wonderful family.

-Flying from Colorado to San Diego the day before my birthday. Was sitting next to a woman who took one look at Bill and said, “I like cats.” I don’t know what I was supposed to say about that, but it turned out her husband was in the center in the row across from us, so I offered to switch. It turned out to be my best idea yet, since I ended up between two dog lovers, one of whom happened to be Gail, my friend Lindsay’s coworker. Small world, indeed. Bill curled up on her lap and remained there for most of the flight.

The other funny thing that happened on that flight was that when I asked for water from the flight attendant offering drinks, she said, “Are you sure you wouldn’t like something stronger? Maybe some wine?” It was like she knew me!

-Visiting old friends in San Diego. During the first few nights in San Diego, I stayed at my favorite AirBNB rental. It’s owned by this awesome woman, Tanja, with whom I’ve developed a friendship. On my birthday, she came with me on a last minute outing to Circus Vargas, where we saw a great show and were treated like royalty, thanks to my friend, Caren, who is well-known in the circus industry for her innovative body repair techniques. After the show, we hot-tubbed and drank margaritas in Tanja’s yard under her giant banana trees. It was a great birthday, especially since earlier in the day Harmony took me to a few wineries for tasting and lunch, and Bill and I walked twice at Fiesta Island, one of my favorite places in the world.

The next day I visited one of my favorite people, Betty, who is both an inspiration and a good friend. We flew trapeze together at Trapeze High, and then that night, I trained at Circus Vargas before heading back to Betty’s to catch the tail end of the Olympic coverage. What a treat that was!

-Spending my last few days in The States with Susan, a few more old friends, and some new friends. I picked Susan up from the San Diego airport Friday morning, and we immediately headed over to Fiesta Island to walk Bill. After enjoying the playful pups, the ocean, and the beautiful view of San Diego, we moved on to La Jolla to have lunch with Betty before cruising up to the Los Angeles area via Escondido for one last stop at Trapeze High.

After sharing some good laughs with Dave and Lindsay, the owners of Trapeze High, Susan and I found a hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint that served the limey-ist margaritas we had ever tasted. Though I was too puckered to finish my second one, I’m confident that I drank enough to ward off scurvy.

The following day, Susan and I headed up to Nicolina’s Cotton Candy Club to fly with some lovely ladies and their fabulous catcher, Robert Taylor, and then, again, we found ourselves in a restaurant with margaritas in front of us, though this time we were there with Nicolina and Carol Dawson to celebrate Carol’s lovely splits-catch/angel-return-to-the-board. Susan’s spicy cucumber margarita was definitely the best.

On our final day together for this particular trip, Susan and I returned to the Cotton Candy Club for a few more swings. We met Candace, a circus photographer with deep roots in the circus industry, and Kevin Venardos, an experienced ringmaster who, despite being 6′ 4″, fearlessly and gracefully demonstrated a planche. We finished the day by toasting to Carol’s birthday with champagne and donut holes, and then we hopped in the car and headed for the airport, so Susan could fly home (thank goodness for Skype!).

-And then, much too soon, it was time to leave. I’d like to thank everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to visit with me (and even those who visited with me because they just had nothing better to do). It was both comforting and joyful to know that between true friends, time and distance is merely a tool to help us appreciate each other more.

Our troupe’s new flyer (and my good friend) Cindy met up with me at LAX. She was joining me for the overseas portion of her flight after leaving from New York early that morning. The flight back to Japan was comfortable, especially due to the kindness of a musician named Paulie, who selflessly switched seats with me so that Bill could rest comfortably on an empty center seat. And this time, the man on the far side of Bill introduced himself by telling me, “I love dogs.”

Upon landing, our luggage arrive promptly and we sped through quarantine. I didn’t even think they were going to scan Bill’s microchip, as the officials greeted Bill by name when we walked up! I was apprehensive about navigating two-and-a-half hours of busses and trains with all our luggage after leaving the airport. The bus was easy; the train was a pain in the ass. But at least Daniel and Jeremy were there to pick us up for the final 15-minute drive when we got into Kuki station.

Now, we’re just getting back into the swing of things (har-dee-har). So far, Kuki has been windy and cold, reminiscent of Maine in winter. I’m guessing we’ve got about another month of this unpleasantness before the weather breaks. We don’t seem to be in a prime viewing place for March’s cherry blossoms, but being that we’re only about an hour outside of Tokyo, we can always head to Ueno Park on our day off. At least in this city we’re next to a giant mall with an import store, a grocery store, and even a dog park, and the container arrangement has me right in a little patch of sun for my porch dog, Bill, to enjoy.

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OH-MY-GYN

Just like a free beer or a free ticket to your favorite show, when someone offers you a free cervical cancer test, you take it.

That was not really my first thought when Kirenia came to my door one evening and told me she had been offered a free gynecology appointment…and I was the lucky winner who got to go along with her.

“Oh, wow!” I said with feigned enthusiasm. “How did we get so lucky?”

I’m still unclear on that point, but I was happy to receive the OBGYN invite because I don’t really want to waste precious time on unnecessary doctor’s appointments when I get back to The States for a visit next week. (Later I found out that the visit was truly only for a cervical cancer screening and not a full checkup, so I would, indeed, be visiting my OBGYN at home, too.)

The Man Behind the Curtain

Even though the purpose of the visit was limited, it was definitely not a waste of time–not any more than my recent haircut was, as least. Like with every sort of personal care appointment, in Japan they do gynecology a little differently. When my name was called, I walked through a set of double doors and met the doctor briefly before being ushered into a very small compartment. It wasn’t really a room; it was more of a Japan-sized cubicle that had space for a chair, a small cart for your clothing, and you…if you are a typical Japan-sized woman.

I was told to take off my pants and sit in the chair. Back home, I was used to celebrating “No Pants Wednesday,” when my roommate would work from home in his boxer shorts. Apparently this day would be my “No Pants Monday.” No boxer shorts required.

I stripped off my pants and then turned toward the chair (I almost wrote “moved” toward the chair, but the space was so small that really it was more of a “turn” toward the chair than a “move”). That’s when I noticed the curtain that would be right in my face once I sat down. Either the gynecologist moonlighted as the Wizard of Oz or this curtain, which separated me from the myriad other people I heard milling around on the far side, was placed there by the misguided modesty police to help avoid embarrassment. I don’t know what they could have possibly been thinking. I mean, imagine having to take your pants off and then sit in a chair with a curtain three inches from your nose that only covered the part of you that was already covered! For all I knew, there could be paparazzi on the other side taking pictures! (For all my fans…hahaha!)

Just as I was about to pull the curtain aside, a nurse peeked her head around and asked if I would like the curtain open. Was that really a question? Of course I wanted the curtain open! While I’m sure there’s someone with a fetish about receiving a cold, metal surprise from a stranger, it’s not me.

And Then The Chair Moved

With my head wrapped up in the ill-conceived curtain, I didn’t even think about the fact that I was sitting in a chair instead of lying on a table, as we normally do in The States. Noticing this difference was inescapable, however, once the chair started tilting back and automatically opening my legs. At 35 years old, I’m well aware of how an OBGYN appointment works, and I would have put my feet up in stirrups willingly. With the chair raising and opening my legs for me, I felt so…violated. I can’t imagine how I would have felt about it if I couldn’t see what was going on on the other side of the curtain.

The doctor was nice, and he got the job done quickly, but I was already reconsidering my strategy to take anything and everything that is given to me for free.

Your Turn

Kirenia had said that she had never been to the gynecologist in Japan before, so I knew she had no idea what was awaiting her. (She had been to the gynecologist in Cuba, but I was pretty sure they didn’t use robot rape chairs there, either.) As I returned to the relative safety of the waiting room, I was feeling something between “that was really funny” and “what in the hell just happened to me.” I did my best to keep a straight face as I said, “Go ahead in. And, Kirenia? Don’t let the chair make you nervous.”

Having no idea what I was talking about, Kirenia just gave me a smile and headed in. Five minutes later, she was back out in the waiting room with wide eyes and an “oh-my-god” look on her face. I guess that’s just what the chair does to you.

If We Have to Suffer, So Do You

Poor Mochan, the 50-something circus manager who was charged with bringing us to the appointment. I’m sure he’s seen it all after working here for so long and dealing with so many foreigners, but I’m equally sure that taking performers to the gynecologist isn’t his favorite task. On the way home, we did nothing to make it easier on him. How could we? We invented joke after joke about the curtain and the chair until Mochan asked if I took a picture of it.

“Yep,” I replied. “While I was sitting in it!”

The shade of red he turned would give any tomato a run for its money. And that’s pretty much how we ended another day of good fun at POP Circus.

Hahaha! Just kidding.

Hahaha! Just kidding.

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A Double Lay Away

I started writing this back in November when we were still in Utsunomiya, but then I pulled a muscle and wasn’t able to work on new tricks for a while (hell, I was barely able to work for a while!). Luckily, with the turn of the New Year and the nice, warmish winter we’ve been having here in Chiba, I’ve been able to get back on track.

**Note: If you’re not into trapeze, this post is probably just going to be confusing. Sorry! I promise the next post is for everyone.

I decided to scrap my full-in for now because it’s wasn’t making any progress. In fact, it was making “regress,” and I think one of the reasons is that I just haven’t put time into learning how to get off the bar properly. Additionally, I do a single full-twisting layout in every show, and I was struggling to keep the two tricks separated in my head.

So, for now, I’ve moved on to double layouts.

The double layout is a double flip in a straight-bodied position. For me, this is a stepping stone, and ultimately I’d like to be able to do this trick with a twist on either the first or second flip (right now I’m thinking it’s going to work out better with the twist on the second flip so that I’m not twisting off the bar, but that’s a different story for another day).

Drive

My first step to achieving my goal has been to work on my drive off the bar. The drive is an essential component of any release trick, but while you can snag a tuck double without much of one, you simply can’t accomplish a catch-able double layout unless you know how to get lift. Before coming to Japan, I’d never even heard the term “drive,” so I’ve truly had a lot to work on with this one.

Break

Let’s take a step backward, as the drive really starts with the break. (The break is the kick back before you do a trick, and the drive is the kick forward, essentially.) The number one thing I’ve learned in the past few weeks is that I can only accomplish a double-lay-worthy drive if I break deep and then pull through the break into the drive with my chest leading me. I need to kick my feet back as far as I possibly can, and then smoothly pull through–HARD–as I’m coming “up the hill” into the trick.

One interesting recent development is that I’ve had more success with a later break than an earlier break. I’ve always been a late breaker, which is a disadvantage because a deep, earlier break tends to give people more power. For me, it just flings me toward the catcher because I can’t hold onto the bar. I think it’s because I’ve got short little legs and I’m not particularly flexible for a flyer, so I can’t get as deep into it as some people. Daniel had me start taking my own break (he was calling it for me before) and it turns out that my body just knows when to do it. It’s working out really well.

Release

Releasing the bar has been a bit of a problem for me because each time I release, I immediately want to glue my hands to my thighs instead of just releasing and letting my body fly up into the air. I’ve noticed that when I don’t immediately bring my hands down, I get much more lift.

Everybody’s Different

Here’s a comparison of my team’s double layouts. I’d like to note that everybody does theirs differently, but that doesn’t make one better or worse (except my “before” double layout…that one is definitely worse!). It’s just that everybody’s body is different and therefore requires different techniques to complete the motion. This is true with everything in trapeze. Many people get stuck in the mindset that there is only one right way to do things. While there are surely some definitively wrong ways to do things, there are most certainly myriad right ways to get the job done.

Is there anything that strikes you as interesting about how different each double lay is?

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