Yesterday I sent a first draft manuscript to Thom Wall, the publisher for my new book. Of course, it is really the ninth or twentieth or thirtieth draft, depending on how you count.
I’m excited. This is my first non-fiction book, the first time I’ve worked with a group to create a book, and the first time that the book itself is only half the project -- bringing the Bay Area circus community together is as important as the published result. Doing dozens of interviews with and about the acrobatic master Lu Yi, we’re simultaneously exploring the history of the “circus affair” between Nanjing and San Francisco and reigniting that affair.
I stumbled upon one of the core ideas for the book a couple of months ago in the middle of an argument about Jewish orthodoxy and esoteric Kabbalism. A few days later I got this quote from former Cirque du Soleil clown John Gilkey:
“In the world of clown, and perhaps everywhere, there is a paradox of discipline and wildness – you need the discipline if you want to be professional, but you’ve got to have wildness if you want to find something new, original, and engaging. So, there is always a push and pull with discipline.”
And this story about the late great Joan Mankin takes John’s lofty ideas right down to earth.
The day after flying east to Nanjing, Joan Mankin taught a clown class for twenty Chinese acrobats. She began with a warm-up designed to connect the students’ emotions and thoughts with the various parts of their bodies. Joan’s translator Ma Li interpreted instructions like “paint the ceiling purple with your breath” as “okay, she’s at it again; just do something weird.”
Now I wait for Thom’s notes on the manuscript so I can head into draft ten, or thirty-one.