Me at age 18 practicing juggling. Note how the lamp is placed well out of harm’s way.
People often are amazed to learn I can juggle.
I’m not great at it. I can juggle three balls pretty well and even do a few tricks.
I’m competent with four, but I can’t do any tricks — only straight juggling. Every time I’ve attempted to toss a ball under my leg or behind my back, I’ve had to pay to replace a lamp.
Because I’m only a fair juggler, I don’t do it that often.
It’s not that I don’t like to perform. It’s more the logistical nightmare of hauling four tennis balls around. (“Is that a tennis ball in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”)
Also, I often end up dropping one of the balls and chasing it across the room. (Interestingly, people seem to be more entertained by me chasing the balls than actually juggling them.)
I taught myself to juggle at age 8. I started with two beanbags and threw them from one hand to the other, starting out slow, then getting faster and faster.
Later, I graduated to three beanbags and learned to juggle them in a circle. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I could juggle three balls in a typical cross pattern.
I can trace my love of juggling to one thing: an hourlong Jonathan Winters comedy special that aired on Showtime sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
The special was composed of four acts, in between which Winters performed standup. The performers were Pat Hazell, a magician and comedian; the Raspyni Brothers, a pair of comedian jugglers; Johnny Fox, a sword swallower; and the Pendragons, a husband-and-wife magician team.
My family taped the special on VHS, and I remember watching the tape over and over. I loved it all: the magic, the comedy, the stunts — and especially the juggling.
Hazell’s act included a neat setup where he juggled three hats, with a different hat landing on his head with each toss. He also performed comedy and sleight-of-hand.
The Raspyni Brothers tossed juggling pins back and forth while bouncing a ball to each other using only their heads. I loved their self-deprecating comedy. They were preforming this amazing feat of juggling and telling each other things like “make it look hard” and “there are literally hundreds of variations you can do [with five clubs and a ball]. But unfortunately, they all look like this.”
I knew right away that I wanted to learn juggling and magic. (I figured I already had the comedy part down, because I was the class clown at school. I imagined that if I also could juggle and do card tricks, the realms of my popularity would know no bounds.)
There’s that magical time when we’re young when anything seems possible. The world is at our fingertips, just waiting for us to reach for it.
As a child watching that special, the idea of growing up to become a comedian/juggler seemed perfectly reasonable — indeed, the ideal career path. While some people were determined to grow up to become firefighters or doctors, I wanted to tell jokes while juggling chainsaws. (Although my mom always appreciated my humor, I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about chainsaws.)
The notion somehow lost its luster as I grew older, as such dreams tend to do.
But then again, maybe it didn’t. Maybe it’s more that I gave up on that dream, because it seemed so unlikely and unachievable. (After all, how many jobs are there on Craigslist for chainsaw-juggling? At last count, not many.)
As we age, we get the notion that we need to buckle down and get to work. We learn to let go of the impossible and embrace the conventional.
An everyday job pays the bills, whereas chasing a dream may not.
The everyday road means safety, while the path to a dream may be treacherous and full of potholes.
And that’s fine. Not all of us are cut out to be jugglers or sword-swallowers. (Besides, unlike my current job, I doubt sword-swallowing offers a comprehensive benefits package.)
But we never should let go of our dreams completely. Even if we’re ensconced in our everyday lives, we should try to grasp for the impossible — to improve ourselves and grow creatively.
We shouldn’t do what I did in my twenties — which was my leave my tennis balls in the closet to languish and collect dust.
I looked for them not long ago, after watching a Chris Bliss juggling video on YouTube. Seeing the video rekindled my interest in a hobby I’d long forgotten.
I dusted them off and started tossing them in the air. I was definitely rusty — as evidenced by the first ball knocking over my alarm clock — but after a few minutes, I started to get the hang of it. Old reflexes kicked to life, and soon I was up to my old tricks (well, all two of them, anyway).
That instance of juggling brought a little magic to my evening. For a while, anything seemed possible — just like it used to all those years ago, when I was a little kid juggling two beanbags in an endless circle.
And that’s the true magic of living. It’s not illusions or sleight-of-hand or even juggling chainsaws with their blades on fire.
It’s the idea of pursuing the impossible; of deriving inspiration from unexpected sources and living the life you want to live.
It’s never settling into a rut and letting the world pass you by. It’s reaching for the unachievable; grasping for the impractical — letting your mind and spirit soar as you figure out who you want to be and the kind of life you want to live.
I’ll probably never juggle professionally. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t juggle at all.
Learning to juggle two balls, three balls, four balls — and someday, maybe even five — I’m reaching out to achieve a goal; to grasp for the impossible.
And that’s what that magic and comedy special taught me so many years ago. More so than any card trick or sleight-of-hand illusion, the true magic of life is the ability we discover within ourselves, and the skills we develop through hard work and perseverance.