strangers in an elevator

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” –Mahatma Gandhi

My incredible friends Shaheen and Shouniez reminded me of this quote while they are also traveling, granting the gift of circus arts on their journey across India.

Here in Port Elizabeth, “the friendly city,” people look at you. Strangers wave hi wordlessly from their cars, people you cross paths with on the sidewalk smile at you without a sound. Conversations sprout and grow from nothing, all the time. Some of my best friends here have happened because of spur-of-the-moment out loud observations, or spontaneous compliments. Human beings here are open, empathetic—people here are laughing constantly, and it’s contagious—I laugh all the time now, for no reason at all. For that reason, Port Elizabeth reminds me more of Baltimore than New York City…

In New York, the train through midtown Manhattan everyday to work was filled with human beings packed in as close as they could with one another, but without ever risking something as friendly as eye contact. People walk looking straight ahead, like they are in their own world, as opposed to being in of the most densely populated areas of it…people will do anything to avoid pointless conversation.

All that pointless conversation is more meaningful than we realize.

Sometimes, when I used to get in an elevator with a stranger, and they would comment on the weather—part of me always wanted to just laugh and say, “Are you kidding? The weather? Could you not?”

But an experimental literature class once exposed me to the world of Kenneth Goldsmith—the master of “uncreative” writing. Goldsmith reappropriates ordinary everyday mundane text into poetry. The Weather literally consists of the transcripts of radio weather reports…everyday for a year.

That’s it. What’s the point? Well, the thing about weather is…regardless of who enters that elevator with you—regardless of that person’s age, nationality, race, creed, personality, whatever, they could be the most different person from you in the world, but you know the one thing you share with each other? You are occupying the same space at the same time. And because of that, you are experiencing the exact same weather. Embrace that. A conversation is like a rope—someone throws one out to you, grab onto it. They are saying, I see you. Do you see me?

Every week is filled with challenges. And every rule has its exception. Sometimes, when a conversation partner is toxic…or a student is overstepping a boundary…you are forced to burn that rope.

Everyday I am practicing the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to accept the things I can’t. Being a source of abundance, without illusion or clinging to the past.

I am determined to be a source of light in people’s lives—especially in the lives of my students. This past week I taught my creative writing students about steam-of-consciousness, and their faces lit up when I told them that they could write whatever they wanted, and they didn’t need to use punctuation, and they didn’t even need to make sense. I had a conversation with another one of my students about nuclear deterrence and the importance of studying wars from the past even though they are tragic, so we don’t repeat our mistakes. While I write, Chineze and I are scheming about ways to get working, reliable computers in our library so that our students can do research for their studies…we are launching recycling efforts to clean up the trash blowing around the courtyards. We are even inviting the incredible artists of Creative X to help us paint a mural on one of the school walls, which is currently covered in pornographic graffiti.

And the Port Elizabeth Circus Society (PECS!) is steadily growing with new members every spinjam.

Pretty soon, I will be hopping on a plane to Cape Town, where I will be rejoined with my psytrance circus family after three long years of being apart…my schedule is filled with spinning fire for Altered States, teaching a workshop for Rock Your Hoop, and stomping like mad at Easter Vortex.

I am grateful everyday for the opportunity to be here on this Fulbright. I’m in this elevator now. With a bunch of talkative strangers. I love it. And I love you.