As jugglers it seems to make clear and perfect sense to define ourselves based on our props: on tricks, on whirling orbits and topological paths, and perhaps also through our connection to the juggling community and the wider, but related, communities of other circus arts.
Sometimes, and if moving away from the basic facts of juggling to those of performance outlet and context, we may need to talk about ourselves as something else. As entertainers perhaps, or as comedians, or as something else that pushes the juggling gently (and temporarily) into the background. But so long as the community consists of so many jugglers of so many different aspirations, abilities, and ambitions, and so long as we have our own hallowed halls (such as this e-zine) to discuss our own particular needs and requirements, let us celebrate that it is in fact the technique of juggling which is the single thing which defines and unites us all.
And if we are to accept that, than let us move on further, and let us attempt to separate the technique of juggling from our own egos and needs. I believe that, although it needs us to exist, juggling is strong enough to stand alone. I believe that it has it’s own ego – one that we should look after and preserve. It has it’s own particular set of rules and requirements, and we should feel an obligation towards recognising, respecting and strengthening those.
I believe in subjugation to the technique. The technique of juggling, whether or not you agree with my statement above that it possesses it’s own ego, certainly exists outside the body (unlike more rarified disciplines such as theoretical mathematics or physics, which, although they relate directly to the world outside our bodies, take place within our brains), and that means that we have a special responsibility towards it and it’s place in the world.
As we learn to juggle, we slowly learn to understand the structure of it. As beginners, we struggle to see the complete picture. We simply cannot at first comprehend the whole pattern and all that is going on both physically and mentally. As we get better, we internalise the physical juggling technique, and at some point it becomes “a part of us”. This is an important aspect of the learning process, but I believe it is a real shame if we then keep that attitude for the rest of our juggling lives (probably a far longer time than that first learning process was!). If we could free the juggling again, and let it live outside of us (on its own terms), then perhaps we can experience it in a far stronger way ourselves.
Both artistically and technically speaking, what does the technique itself want to say? We all know there are tricks that seem more or less natural to us, patterns that flow more or less easily or props that demand to be handled in a certain way. If we can continue to notice these details, then our juggling can become more like an open and continued dialogue, and less like the self-obsessed monological rantings of a rampant egocentric.
When we allow the technique to speak, we take on the role of interpreter rather than that of author. With that role comes a deep responsibility to the original text, but a good interpreter also has a huge and real responsibility to flavour the language they choose so as to catch the intended nuances of the original text. With that job we still bear a strong and real responsibility for the juggling: for the details and the stylistic twitches and the underlying flair. But, like any good translator, we must first listen and, above all, comprehend exactly what it is that the original party wishes to communicate. And then, using our own skills, we can parlay that original intention into one that can be understood by the audience (which may just be us standing alone in the gym) for whom we are presenting the translated work.
What advantages can this subjugation offer us? For one thing, acknowledging that juggling exists externally of the ego allows us to separate it from our own, egotistical, concerns and doubts, wants and needs. How much time have I spent beating my head (figuratively) against the wall, or pounding my props (literally) into the ground in frustration at some piece of juggling technique? If I can accept that the juggling lives outside my own ego, then perhaps I can be less personally injured by what I see as juggling-related slights and insults. As well as helping my own (egotistical!) mental (and physical!) state, I believe that here too is a key to a longer term juggling-related-issue: that of continued motivation over the weeks, months, and years that we dedicate to our art. If juggling is independent of our egos, then it is also independent of our own personal (and sometime lack of) motivation.
I love juggling. But I don’t always like it. There’s a quote (which is not appropriate for me to include here) towards the end of Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” where Bill gives his opinion on The Bride, in a beautifully succinct phrase that often makes me think of my relationship to juggling. Those times when I manage to practice what I am here preaching are those times when not only do I feel true love for the art, but also those times when my respect for juggling is at its greatest and most powerful. When subjugating myself to the technique, I notice again my admiration and my care for the act of juggling itself. And those moments are those moments when I feel strongest, proudest, and most motivated as a juggler.
For those moments, remembering what it was like as a simple beginner, stepping back and admiring the wonder and complexity of juggling, it all seems worth it. A little less ego can go a very long way.