On Tuesday, Paul and I went to an acrobatics class. We both have not-so-secret fantasies of running away to join the circus, and we figured this was the first logical step.
We had absolutely no idea what to expect, and the website gave no details other than the time, price, and location of the class. But this was good, I thought. I need to do random, unusual things sometimes so that I always have experiences to write about.
We arrived at the OmCulture studio on the second floor of a warehouse by Lake Union. It was an enormous room with beautifully-draped tapestries billowing from the high ceiling and a Buddha statue sitting next to the door to the bathrooms. Best of all was the wide expanse of soft, squishy carpet.
“This carpet is so inviting,” I said as Paul and I sat down and began to stretch. “It makes me want to roll around.”
“Why don’t you?” This suggestion came from a gay man with fashionably-hip bleached blonde hair and a lithely athletic body. He was currently rolling around in happy baby position with his hands on his feet, rocking back and forth like an up-turned turtle. His two friends, who were also gay men with the bodies of modern dancers, were busy doing perfectly-executed headstands along with stretches that closely resembled some contortionist acts I’ve seen.
“Yeah, I should,” I said, but suddenly I felt a little out of place. On my other side, a couple had begun to work through an acrobatics routine in which the man lay on the floor with his feet in the air and moved the woman through a series of balancing acts that were, in theory, what Paul and I hoped to accomplish here, but seeing them up-close made me feel that perhaps we were in over our heads.
Warm-ups began — a series of somersaults, push-ups, cartwheels, high kicks, and monkey jumps. Paul and I giggled our way through them… and then it was time to fly!
Over the next hour, Paul and I practiced two beginner acro moves, and although it was awkward at first, we managed to get my feet off the ground and my body hovering precariously over Paul’s. We left class feeling proud of ourselves.
So here are my take-aways from the acro class. Like everything, I think these lessons can also apply to writing, and probably life, too.
#1 You need a good base and a strong core.
The first position we tried was a front plank. It was your basic “airplane,” with Paul’s feet on my hipbones as I tried to lift up and “fly” over his body. I was glad that Paul has strong legs to hold my body weight, and when I lifted up, I found myself engaging my abs tighter than I ever have in my life. I had to stay really strong, or I’d fall.
If you want to be a writer, you need to have a strong base, too. You need to read a lot and live a lot. You need to study what makes good writing and a good story. And then, when you’ve got the foundation, you’re ready to fly. That’s when you’ve got to hold tight to your core — to that desire deep in your gut that says “I am a writer and I have a story to tell.” Writing is really hard, and you’re going to have to find a way to stay strong.
#2 It takes a lot of work to make it look effortless.
The second position was back plank. We watched the two instructors demonstrate. Meegan, the flier, balanced her butt on top of her partner’s feet while she talked to us. Her tightly-muscled body was long and straight as a board. Her toes were pointed. Her arms were graceful at her sides. “Listen,” she said, “if you’re the base, do your flier a favor and don’t make them hang out here forever, unless you really hate them, because they are working their asses off up here.”
It certainly didn’t look like she was working hard, but when I tried it for myself I could not believe how incredibly difficult it was to lift my legs off the ground. They felt like two tree lead poles. “Oh my god!” I said, pressing at my abs. “How did she do that?”
Read any elegantly-written book or essay or short story. The words and images flow gracefully and the result seems effortless, but I guarantee the author practiced a ton and worked his or her ass off to make it seem that way.
#3 Lift your chest high, but always look at your toes.
When Meegan came to watch me and Paul struggling with back plank she said, “with your head back like that, Eva, you can’t see where you are in space. Puff up your chest and look at your toes.” And suddenly, balancing on Paul’s feet went from impossibly hard to extremely hard but doable.
Lately I’ve been realizing that a hindrance to my writing is my lack of confidence. There are plenty of wannbe writers out there with delusions of grandeur about their own work, but I am on the opposite end of the spectrum. I doubt my own abilities, and that makes things difficult, too.
The way to find balance in your writing career is to have confidence (puff up your chest), but also be realistic about your work (look at your toes). Be able to see honestly where your writing is, and where it needs to go.
#4 Play to your strengths.
Several times over the course of the class, I tried to be the base. I wanted to see what it was like, and I wanted to give Paul the chance to fly. At first, I couldn’t do it at all, and I worried that maybe I was too weak and Paul too dense and we were going to end up hurting ourselves. Meegan came over and gave me some pointers, and I was able to fly Paul for a few seconds. I’m sure that if I worked at it, I could learn how to be the base, but I’m much better-suited to being a flier. “I like being a flier better anyway,” I said. “I like being the base better,” Paul said. We decided to stick with our strengths.
In the same way, we all want to try different types of writing sometimes, and of course you should experiment as much as you want and always be open to trying new things. But I’ve known people (myself included) who have tried to write in a certain style or genre because they thought it was more marketable, and the results are almost never good. In the end, write what comes out of you naturally. Write what you enjoy writing. Play to your strengths.
#5 You need to be flexible, but make sure you have stability, too.
Before we left, Paul asked Meegan what he should do prepare for next week’s class. She suggested happy baby stretches and ab work. Being the base is a delicate balance. You have to be flexible enough to straighten your legs into the proper positions, but you also have to be strong and stable to provide a steady platform for your flier.
Being a writer is a delicate balance, too. Being flexible (traveling, having random adventures, etc.) encourages creativity and spawns new ideas, but you also need strong dedication and a stable environment to be able to sit down in front of the computer each day and let your words fly.