Aerial silks, performance art, and creativity

Two years ago, I walked into my first aerial silks class. About two weeks ago, I returned home from an intensive workshop in the tropics in aerial silks, flying trapeze, and acroyoga.

I take aerial silks at a small studio in downtown Roanoke called Cirqulation, owned by my good friend Lynsey Wyatt. Lynsey is a few years younger than me, and I met her through another friend who also happens to be her older sister. All of the Wyatt sisters are those special, blessed people you meet who seem to just flow through life. This is not to say they don’t have struggles, but they seem to spend more time looking at possibilities than they do looking at impossibilities. When Lynsey said she was organizing a trip to Costa Rica with hours of class time every day, I knew I wanted to go. I spent a lot of time questioning if it were possible, until I finally decided to just go for it.

Aerial acrobatics of any stripe is a lot of trying to feel out what is possible, to convince your mind that your body is strong enough to do things that look superhuman. And I did things on this trip that I didn’t think possible pretty much every day. I was able to do those things because of how much time and energy I have put into studying aerial silks and becoming stronger, but I was also able to do it because I let go and embraced possibilities.

Not long after I got back, The Hoodwitch posted a lovely graphic on her Instagram. If you can’t see it below, it says that Flow is found at the intersection of Discipline and Surrender. This is what flying trapeze is like, and this is what aerial silks is like. This is what jumping off a mountain attached to a dude with a parachute is like and this is what writing a damn book is like. You must surrender. But you must surrender with control. You have to jump off the board, but if you let go of the bar you can’t do the trick and if you let go of the bar at the wrong time you are certainly never going to reach your catcher. You have to climb the silks and set up the drop, but if you don’t let go and sink into it then you don’t ever manage to do the drop, you just sit there in your pretty scaffolding and try to figure out how to come down.

Everything on this blog eventually comes back to writing, for me, which is ironic because I got into aerial silks as a way to release creativity without the associated stressors of writing. There’s immediate gratification to learning a new trick or drop, and there’s a physical outlet that keeps my body whole and functioning. The overall creative process to crafting a routine is both alike and unlike crafting a story, in the sense that I have to figure out what I’m saying and practice it to exhaustion but it takes a lot less time to manage it and the final product is inherently ephemeral. I’m forced to be in my body for this art form, whereas writing is essentially a subjugation of the body by the mind, a mining of memory, an attempt to make a new bubble of reality to hide the reader away in for a time. Performance art is not that – it is creating within this reality, within this realm. The spectator, while important, is incidental in some ways. The turnaround for a routine is a month or weeks, not years.

So it is perhaps surprising that the lesson of acrobatics is one that seems so important for a writer to learn: at the intersection of Surrender and Discipline there is Creation. Butt-in-chair time is Discipline, as is studying the rules of grammar and reading and analyzing other people’s work. But Surrender – that seems more elusive for me. Surrender is letting the words come and not critiquing them, not doubting myself, having faith that I have words worth speaking. It’s getting out of my own way, turning off that monkey brain, and doing.

Surrender is letting the words come and not critiquing them, not doubting myself, having faith that I have words worth speaking.

Flying requires work. The art of trapeze or silk looks weightless, and it’s meant to be that way, to look that way. When you stand on the board and look out on the rig, when you grasp the bar and hop out into space, you look like you’re falling, flying, effortlessly. But you aren’t doing anything without effort. Your whole body must be engaged in every moment of this process. You have trained for this for months, weeks, days. Your strength doesn’t come from nothing.

Flying is about trust. It is about letting gravity do what it wants and letting your partners be good at what they do. It is about knowing what you can control and what you can’t. And what you can control is yourself. It’s about stepping into space, and knowing that you have the skill to land on the other side. What you must trust, always, is yourself, the you in this process. And I can think of no better lesson for anyone pursuing a creative career.

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