It's surprisingly pliant and strong fabric, stretchy, but just to a certain point where it locks and holds at whatever length marks its limit. It's called a "silk," as if it represented a single object rather than a length or segment of some endlessly stitched material. "Silk," also as if it were the softest textile to use, but be careful: it will give you subtle burns, taking away skin at such microscopic increments that you won't feel the blister until much later. As with most circus skills, you've been deceived by how easy the experienced performers make it look and, in at least a small part, by the seeming innocence or mundane appearance of the "silk" itself. Nothing of the performance of that skill suggests throbbing forearms or aching, limited lats in the slightest.

So the first thing you learn is how to climb, which is also the first deception. It would seem as though you're powering your way up, Greco-Roman, arm over arm. In point of fact your abdomen is the one of whom a lot is asked, lifting your feet as high up the tail of the fabric as you can so you can lock it between your feet and push with your legs until a new, higher point is within the reach of your ready arms. Once you've climbed, it's time to learn to descend. That's the slide down, but a controlled one, because even at a reasonable pace the silk can tear at your dermis. If you want to be demonstrative, you can add a certain flair to releasing your grips, extending your arms out wide to accentuate how little you feel the burning resistance between your clenched feet.

Next up is to learn a couple of locks, or positions in which the fabric holds your weight without much help. From the ground you step up into a foot lock, and learn new sorts of pain from the silk, which has instantly attained the leveraging attributes of a jiu-jitsu practitioner. You see yourself down the road a ways, your new blister healed and with an instinctive understanding of how to settle your foot into this lock without your toes cramping but, for now, both aspects are toying with your pain relays. The hip lock seems okay, once you learn to trust the twist involved and to be cautious of your external reproductive organs (an interesting trade-off in advantages for your upper body strength, if you possess said external organs), until you try the straight-leg variety, which performs a relentless shiatsu massage on the delicate nerves in your hip flexor. Perhaps all this nerve conditioning is more than you ever wanted, and gives you pause, but you're on to the next thing and are sure everything will be all right now that you aren't in a straight-leg relentless-shiatsu hip lock any longer.

Why is it that all the deaths related to circus practitioners you've heard of lately happened off of silks?

The next steps integrate what you've picked up (or limped through) with inversions and, eventually, drops. That's a large part of the appeal of silks; they very easily encapsulate the dual appeal of beauty and danger people associate with circus acts. Because of the forgiving behavior of the material (ha ha), the performer can not only climb it and flare it out and bind themselves up, but he or she can also drop, fall, spinning toward the ground, saved at the last possible moment by the bobbing silk. Obviously, the more dangerous the drop seems, the better response there is to be had from the audience. Dropping head-first is something you want to do. And it takes practice.

It's a funny thing, being upside down. You never really,


get used to it. Practice doesn't ever quite make it to perfect. There's always some part of you that insists that things are going to continue as they have, with the ground beneath your feet and your balance based from there on up ("up" being a direction associated with your standing "up" hair). So when someone tries to teach you how to tie yourself upside-down, you have the curious sensation of feeling proud of being able to pull it off. Then they ask you to fall face-first toward the floor, and you have the curious follow-up sensation of trepidation over whether or not you tied yourself upside-down in the right, un-cracked-spine manner.

Drop! Catch! Not even a bloody nose, and you suddenly have an easier time imagining yourself enduring pinched muscles, swollen forearms and blistered ankles.

Last Thursday

Wife Megan

and I took our first circus class together, and were taught beginner's silk lessons by

Friend Cody

. I have been eager to rejoin the world of circus training, so there was little doubt in my mind about the fun and challenges to be had. Still, one wonders if he has lost anything, if the risks now outweigh the rewards, if new patterns will allow for older enthusiasms. I haven't, they don't, and they do. Can't hardly wait for this Thursday's follow-up lesson and time for more drops and inversions.