13 April 2009
1 2 3 SPRING
This weekend I went down to northern Virginia to celebrate a friend's birthday and Easter, and to meet my new niece-in-law, Hannah. It was a very fast trip, and a car was rented, which makes for a great deal more ease of travel, in spite of involving a great deal more effort on my part. It also allowed me to skip out on my own early Saturday morning for that birthday's adventures. The lucky birthday boy's wife arranged for a group of his friends to experience Inner Quest as adults. This was a popular field trip for all of us as children but, I must admit, it is so much way better as an adult. For one, nobody makes snide comments about one's athletic prowess, or lack thereof.
Well, it's done with a better sense of humor, anyway.
It was a fairly fascinating experience for me on many levels. As a youth, I only ever went to Inner Quest in my overweight phase (ages 5-16, this "phase" was) and I certainly didn't have a lot of background on the sorts of things they ask you to do there. I was a Boy Scout, and we do some challenging things in the Scouts, but rarely anything so singular as a zip wire, or climbing a 35-foot ladder (somehow that's more frightening than rock climbing). So perhaps needless to say, I was far better equipped to handle its challenges--physical and emotional--as a 31-year-old circus enthusiast. I didn't so much get a feeling of redemption from this experience, as I felt a strong need to make up for lost time. I wanted to run through, do everything, and do it all twice if I possibly could.
We did a zip wire (coast across a valley on a pulley attached to an airline cable), the "trapeze" (climb 30-or-so feet up a tree and jump from a platform to catch a trapeze), the "squirrel" (you're tied to a rope that runs up to a pulley very high in the air, and your friends are on the other end; at "go," you run in one direction and they, the other) and a "woozle" (two tightropes that wedge apart; you and a partner put your hands together and try to stay on them as far out in the widening wedge as possible). Of all of these, the trapeze was definitely my favorite. It was an awfully Batman-ish sort of challenge, and the terror I felt on that platform was unexpectedly strong. Pushing through that was an exhilarating reminder that there's a lot of new stuff I can still tackle physically, whether it's making up for lost time or finding all-new challenges. Wife Megan and I are, in fact, planning to take our first aerial class this week.
The other way in which this adventure was fascinating, though, was a quieter, less-terror-inducing one. Inner Quest is principally a team-building course, and they host school, church and corporate groups for day-long bouts of group challenges. This day was a bit like watching my own workshop curriculum writ large, stretched across valleys and up oak trees. Whether I'm teaching acrobalance or commedia dell'arte, there's always an emphasis on group work, on creating a sense of ensemble. That priority even ties back into the times I was first experiencing Inner Quest; growing up, I felt a very strong connection to the groups I was in that worked well together, theatre-oriented or otherwise. For me, there's a synergy to collaboration that simply has no match in individual efforts (if in fact any effort can be said to be purely individual). So I find the work of leading such inner-quests fascinating.
Our guides in this day, known to me only as Kate and Corey, were very accustomed to one another and seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic about the work. It was a miserable day weather-wise, rain-soaked and chilly, which made for mud, but they made sure we knew that by showing up on such a day we had impressed them. The emphasis was on fun, this being an adult birthday party, yet they kept up with their leadership techniques from what I could tell. I was struck in particular by how Kate dealt with an especially terrified friend on the trapeze platform. She just talked to her, but underlying the conversation was an awareness that she needed to balance distracting the jumper from the terror while focusing her on the task at hand. It's a delicate technique, and one that's impressed me ever since someone used it on me when I was a boy, to get me unfrozen from climbing up a couple of airline cables to the zip-wire platform.
I have had a few incidences of having to coax people into attempting the activities and/or challenges my workshops present. Some have gone better than others, of course, but it's an interesting and essential aspect of teaching. Everyone is accustomed to the idea of "requirements" for a given class or workshop, but requiring something is in my opinion antithetical to the learning process. The first step of learning is choice; take that away, and even when students accomplish something it is fleeting, personally unimportant or even ultimately resented. Inviting someone to challenge themselves, doing so in a compelling way, is a precious ability to cultivate in both teaching and other forms of leadership. It allows for progress and individuality. I'll be thinking about this a lot, no doubt, during my workshop at Swarthmore tomorrow.
There's only one thing better than springtime in NoVa, and that's autumn. But spring is pretty wonderful too, with its cherry blossoms and budding deciduous trees. I'm glad I got down there for our short weekend, and played outdoors a bit while there. On Sunday, in fact, Megan and her dad built Nephew James a new playground in the backyard. I slept in and missed most of the build, but selfishly scooped up a great deal of the payoff by playing with young James upon his first discovery of the fantastic addition to the yard. It was chilly. I definitely wished for it to be warmer as we romped around the castle, but kind of relished the youth of the season along with the youth of my companion. Before we know it, he'll be springing off platforms and hurtling through space. Eager as I am for warmer weather and more activity, the present moment is pretty wonderful, too.