Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Juggling Razor Blades

         SIDE SHOW

no song in my heart today

nearer to an accordion
flattened by a truck

puff the magic dragon
ate my liver

a thin film of sweat
sticks to my face like glue

how long can I dance here
keepin' up this old soft-shoe

doin' this rickety razzmatazz
twirlin' my top hat and cane

now I'm supposed to juggle too
but what's with the razor blades

and where'd my audience go
all I see are empty seats

row after row after row


My teacher told me one thing:
"Live in the soul."
When that was so
I began to go naked
and to dance.

-- Lalla --


     Trying to juggle extra sharp razor blades--did you ever feel at times like that's what your life's come down to? You're beset with an inescapable swarm of challenges and difficulties; mishandling just one of them could prove disastrous! Not only that, but your audience has deserted the theater. You find yourself all alone up there on stage, riddled with fear, pain, loneliness, doubt; but nobody else seems to know, or care.

     Born in the United States nearly halfway through the Twentieth Century; raised a bright, white, healthy middle class boy, I inherited a ton of ready-made, built-in advantages which I could hardly avoid taking completely for granted. In most respects, my earliest years were about as safe, innocent and sheltered as my parents could make them. I realized only later how much razor blade juggling was going on all around me in those halcyon days simply to make that fragile haven possible.

     Then, out of nowhere, my younger sister was diagnosed with cancer. She died a long, slow, ugly, brutal death--and that blasting reality shattered my crystal paperweight world forever. Without a clue as to why or what to do about it, I suddenly discovered that the universe was rife with huge, ruthless, unpredictable razor blades. I knew this now without question, because one of them had slashed right through the heart of my family. So my nerve-racking vocation as a razor blade juggler began.

     The trouble with undertaking such a dicey calling while still so young is the inevitably lopsided disproportion between enormous, untutored imagination, and paltry, unseasoned experience. As an adolescent, I was a roiling thundercloud of lurid, unbridled fantasies, shot through with lightning flashes of volatile, undisciplined emotions.

     I knew I'd suffered a grievous wound--I was anguished, terrified, enraged and paranoid. I understood now there were deadly razor blades whirring viciously through the air. But I could no more tell the real from the conjured ones than jump over the moon. All I could do was strain to juggle every nasty blade I saw slicing my way--or even imagined I did.

     This rude awakening did not auger a peaceful, contented and cheerful future. Not surprisingly, mine has not turned out that way. I was sensitized too early to a hyper-awareness of life's tragic dimension. Childhood trauma fixated my feelings and imaginings on certain horrors to an obsessive degree. Now, even when no razor blades gleam or monsters threaten, I reflexively project them anyway.

     Yet if by some cosmic sleight of soul I could change all this, could wipe away the piercing wound, expunge the loss and horror, grief and rage--would I do it? I'm always amazed to hear myself answer "No." Undeniably, that harsh, violent jolt was damaging and destructive as hell--but it was also, ultimately, a wake-up call. I suffered throes of agony, but my flayed-open soul grew capable of transports of ecstasy as well.

     Never again could I be oblivious to the tragic shadow. Real, scary, threatening razor blades are always flailing around, and so many people on our over-populated, poverty-stricken, hunger-ravaged planet face them much more nakedly every day than I do. Life, as Boris Pasternak wrote, is not just a walk in the park.

     Nevertheless, I'm finally learning to become playful, even insouciant, as a juggler of razor blades--real and imaginary! It's not that both types, in their different ways, aren't just as dangerous as always. The secret is, I've found my essential footing at last, attained my indispensable balance. Through grueling years of painstaking apprenticeship, I've mastered the rigorously harrowing yet grimly exhilirating art of juggling a scintillating congeries of razor blades!


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