Why is There Only One Wes Peden?

By Dan Holzman “Award of Excellence Winner” with Nicholas Polini “Research Biologist”

Props are tossed skyward. The EJC practice hall smells strongly of sweat and concentration.  As myriad objects are held aloft in gravity’s slippery grasp, the rest lay on the floor like children waiting their turn at play. I can hear the juggler next to me as his sneakers thud on the floor. He’s juggling three clubs and throwing each one under his legs. I twirl my hat absentmindedly as I give each juggler I watch around me a mental round of applause.  There are a lot of talented performers here from all over the world. But I have to ask myself, “Why is there only one Wes Peden?”

I could watch a skinny tattooed juggler practice five-club backcrosses or the woman across the gym play with three cigar boxes with a dancer’s grace. But what catches my eye is an unassuming young man in a black tank top and jeans standing off in the corner. He is wearing head phones and nodding slightly at the music’s internal pulse. His eyes are alive with a quiet intensity as he shrugs a juggling ring off his shoulder over and over again, each time thinking of different ways to make it roll up and down his arm. 

I learned to juggle in the era of the boombox and have seen Wes’s talent take shape before my eyes, like a Polaroid picture developing in slow motion. There have been other juggling prodigies before Wes.  One started in short pants and went on to reach a high level of professional excellence, only to burn out in the spotlight’s glare and fall like Icarus back into the sea of normality. Wes conceived of trick innovations like Tesla lit up on a triple-shot of caffeine. The other performed an act of unmatched technical prowess while playing the role of a juggler who was happy to be there. 

Professional juggling coach Richard Kennison appreciates Wes’ juggling so much he plans to get a Volcano vs. Palm Tree show logo tattoo. Still, Richard believes it negates a person’s hard work to use the label “genius.” He says the term is “just used as a way for people to let themselves off the hook.” 

I can understand the hours of intense practice that go into Wes’s level of juggling skill.  But when Richard says, “There’s no such thing as genius.” My head shakes side to side like an Enrico Rastelli bobble-head doll.

“But wait, I’m watching one right now!” my mind screams. I’m watching an artist create tricks in real time. Most jugglers need a spark of inspiration first. Wes Peden’s muse works so hard, the HR department of his mind is stacked with overtime complaints.

From its home base in Lucerne, Switzerland, “The Biology of Achievement” Institute has undertaken an extensive study of these “talent outliers” like Wes, who exist amongst us. Those individuals whose extreme skill at an activity is matched by the strength of what the institute has dubbed “Directed Creative Thought.” They state: it is this combination of original point of view with the commensurate level of proficiency necessary to express it that produces what can be termed as “genius.” 

It is their contention that two disparate personality types are required to achieve this level of accomplishment. This unique pairing of the practical methodology of the “planner” with the more fantastical imagination of the “fantasist” was first referenced in a 1957 Berlin psychiatric journal in a lecture entitled, “The Diligent Dreamer.” 

This combination has been calculated to exist in only 0.2% of the population. The “planner” tends to be too dogmatic to engage in flights of fancy, and the “fantasist” is often too whimsical and lacks the discipline needed to find real world success. The perfect state for genius to flourish can be summed up in the Chinese idiom “Ding tian li di” translated to English as: Go forward with your head in the clouds and the feet on the ground. It was first used as a slogan by the 14th century Yuan Dynasty to encourage its generals when superior strategic thinking was required.

Even given this rare combination of personality type, there is still the “Favorable Environment Proviso” that requires a suitable combination of favorable conditions for the latent potential of the “Diligent Dreamer” to blossom. The genetic component factors very little in the odds of producing a savant or prodigy in any given area of study. One interesting fact is that occurrences of these “unicorns” often occur in clusters such as Michelangelo’s Florence, Steve Job’s Silicon Valley or Jay Gilligan’s Stockholm Sweden. It was during a speech at the Sydney Luminous Festival that electronic music composer, Brian Eno, first coined the term “Scenius” to describe this phenomena of creative groupings. 

High intelligence is necessary but not enough by itself. There is a level of introspection that only those with an unassuming inward nature possess. The individual in question can’t be driven by the pursuit of any notoriety or affluence his research may result in, but in the journey of discovery. Finally, one is not to underestimate the role of bravery in the role of genius. There is a greater chance of failure in the risk-taking required to break the boundaries of everyday thought. Every school child knows the story of Thomas Edison and the 10,000 tries it took him to invent the light bulb.* 

What shows more grit than presenting one new work of juggling after another in the most demanding situations possible? As much as I admire the performances of jugglers like Francis Brunn, Albert Lucas, and my personal juggling idol, Kris Kremo, when you sit down to enjoy a scoop of their juggling, you know exactly what flavor you’ll get. With Wes Peden you don’t know if you’re going to get served Smooth Vanilla or Rocky Road, but you know it’s going to be fresh. Warning: consuming too much Wes Peden juggling too fast can result in brain freeze! 

In my correspondence with biologist Nicholas Polini, I inquired if the B.O.A. Institute had any advice on how eJuggle readers could tap into Wes’s unique personality type to improve the creativity and mastery of their own juggling. Below, with indulgence of the reader, I will paraphrase their dry two-page technical response with a short colorful metaphor: 

“Consider your quest to become a top professional juggler the same way an intrepid explorer plans to climb Mount Everest. They are both quests that require grand leaps of imagination combined with careful strategic planning. In one, you can perish in “The Death Zone” and in the other you can die “onstage.” Use day-dreams to launch your rocket ship of possibilities, but use good old-fashioned unleaded fuel to drive on the way to your first paying gigs. Adopt the persona of “The Diligent Dreamer” and harness your own powers of genius. 

Mozart, Isaac Newton, Beethoven, and many other world-renowned geniuses have shared one biological commonality: mutated Mast cells and/or mutated Astrocytes in the brain. Of course, the exact composition of Wes Peden’s brain can’t be determined until more experiments can be done at a later date. In the meantime, we have to ask ourselves, has some combination of developmental factors in Wes’ brain produced the mind of a juggling super-human? Or was it something else?  Perhaps it can be best summed up in the following equation:

Nature + Nurture + Gilligan/Scenius = Genius level Juggling.

This is the first in a series of reports on “The Biology of Achievement.” Thanks to the B.O.A. institute for their support and funding and to Nicholas Polini for providing additional scientific support. We hope the information provided in this article will help inspire you to become the “next” Wes Peden. **

* During my research I learned that it actually took Edison 10,008 tries but the number was rounded off for marketing purposes. 

** Disclaimer: The B.O.A. Institute and the Berlin psychiatric journal are figments of imagination. All viewpoints, statistics, and opinions are those of the author.

IJA life member and two time team champion as one half of the Raspyni Brothers. Currently enjoying my 34th year as a professional juggler.

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