?

Log in

 
 
18 October 2005 @ 09:28 pm
17  
"Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies." – Seneca

- Today was the first time you’d ever seen what capoeira looked like, wasn’t it?
- Yeah.
- So, what did you walk away from it with? What stood out to you, what’d you think?
- It was impressive, but confusing.
- How so?
- Don’t get me wrong, I did like a few things about it.
- It’s okay if you didn’t like everything, but I don’t mind hearing about things about it you did like either, obviously.
- I was thinking about how Emma told me she was willing to walk into a punch if that’s what it took to win a fight. I can appreciate that you have to be willing to make sacrifices to get something back and how noble that is and all, but today I saw people getting out of kicks’ ways and kicking back at the same time. I’m sure some people would say that escaping is cowardly, but on some level, that kind of self-preservation instinct seems healthier to me.
- People say the same kind of thing about stories all the time, you know.
- Huh?
- Books, movies, television, video games, stories of every shape and form, all nothing but cowardly ways of escaping from reality, a lot of people say.
- But it’s easy to say that without thinking about what it is that makes people want to escape from reality in the first place, isn’t it?
- Exactly. Some things really do warrant being run away from.
- You’re telling me!
- Heh, I actually forgot who I was talking to for a moment there, yeah. The point is that slaves couldn’t get out of the way when their masters would beat them or their families would be killed, so when they faced each other in the circle, there was no way they were going to allow themselves to get hit any more than they absolutely had to. And in the greater scheme of things, their only reason to stay alive was the hope they’d eventually be able to escape from their masters themselves.
- That made them escape artists, so to speak.
- Basically, yes. The best defense is not being there.
- I’m glad there’d have been part of it I’d have gotten right, at least.
- I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having to ask questions to understand something either, just so you’re aware. I can’t read other people’s minds either.
- Thanks. Now that you mention it, there are still a few things that raise a few questions for me.
- Go on.
- Some of it doesn’t seem to add up to me.
- What do you mean?
- For one thing, isn’t kicking all the time a lot riskier and doesn’t it demand a lot more effort than punching does?
- The slaves who came up with it were usually shackled, Klein. They had to be prepared for the kinds of conditions they could have to spring into action in. And every chance of improving their lives they had depended on their willingness to take risks to begin with.
- Wouldn’t the ideal have been to get the shackles removed, though?
- Sometimes ideals have to make concessions to reality and you have to make the most out of whatever you have, you know?
- Isn’t assuming that they’d still have a whole bunch of energy left over after having done slave labor all day for doing so many unnecessary movements relying on ideal conditions and refusing to acknowledge reality?
- Who gets to define what’s necessary and what’s not?
- What do you mean?
- Do you read books that don’t have anything to do with work, food, school or money?
- Yeah.
- Do you need to?
- I... guess I don’t technically need to do that to stay physically alive, but I don’t think I could see myself living without it, if that’s what you mean.
- So is it necessary or not?
- Point taken.
- Slaves would spend all their days doing things they had to do, and personally, I can imagine them having been quite sick of that. There are some things that on some level you need to do just to remind yourself you can.
- Is that why they all looked so happy to be fighting each other?
- Heh, I guess you could say that, why do you ask?
- Did they really fight each other with smiles on their faces even back then, like the people I saw today?
- As far as I know, yes.
- Did they also fight their slave owners the same way?
- When they had to and got the chance to, at least.
- See, that seems odd to me.
- In what ways?
- It seems like they should have been saving their energy for fighting the slave owners, not each other, and when they were fighting the slave owners themselves, it seems to me like a ferocious expression or a serious one would have been more menacing.
- It would have also telegraphed their intentions a lot more, wouldn’t it? You wouldn’t expect someone who’s smiling to attack you at all, would you?
- Not under most circumstances, I have to admit.
- As for why they were fighting each other, my theory is that the slave owners must have been trying to keep them as divided as possible to prevent effective revolts.
- Are you sure about that?
- No, but it seems to me like it’d be the coldly logical thing to do if one was a slave owner. They must have offered rewards for betrayal to create suspicion and competition among them to that end, and a lot of pre-existing tribal tensions would have given them a fertile ground to plant their seeds of doubt in.
- Wouldn’t have fighting each other the way they did reinforced those doubts rather than diminishing them?
- Not if you’re playing with and not against each other. Anyone you think of as an enemy has some good aspects and anyone you think of as a friend has some nasty aspects, don’t they?
- I grudgingly have to recognize that most of them do, yeah.
- Enemies can become friends, friends can become enemies.
- I’ve had that happen. Well, the latter, at least, although I sure wouldn’t mind having the former happen too if the opportunity presented itself for it.
- When you go for a date, an interview, a transaction or a sparring match, you never know what to expect, so you have to be relaxed like around friends and alert like around enemies, all at the same time.
- Wouldn’t they have resented each other for being kicked to the ground by each other?
- Better brought down by an ally than an enemy. Non-lethal attacks are a show of trust that you can get out of the way, take punishment and forgive temporary adversaries, which can do a lot more to build confidence than over-protection can. There’s nothing wrong with falling if you can get back up, and that’s better learned sooner than later.
- But when they fell to the slave owners, they couldn’t get back up, so what good did their practice do them? I don’t see how kicks, sweeps and flips could have saved them from guns and knives.
- Although they still had to try to steal guns and knives themselves, their training may have helped them to use them more effectively, but that still couldn’t have saved them on its own, no.
- So what good was it?
- If there hadn’t been anything dangerous about it, it wouldn’t have been criminalized.
- Why was it? Weren’t the dance steps supposed to hide what it was?
- That had nothing to do with it, I think, although you might find people who disagree with me. Other cultural expressions were repressed just as much at the time. The point was that those tribes had to find some kind of activity they could all share that could bring them together into one unifying identity concept.
- So does that make it about treating everyone like they’re all the same and trying to water down what makes you different to fit in?
- I wouldn’t say that. It does acknowledge differences, it just doesn’t let them get in the way.
- Everyone was pressured to sing.
- No two people sing alike.
- Some people who weren’t very good at it sounded kind of embarrassed.
- It’s that embarrassment the singing is there to force them to break through, which people who’ve been told they don’t sing well a lot need more than anything. And I think the others can benefit from having to learn to listen to all different kinds of voices, even if they're not perfect. On some basic level, there’s no way anyone can afford to be ashamed to make their voice heard.
- But it sounds so happy. It doesn’t seem to me that slaves would have been making their real voices heard or expressing their real emotions by singing and dancing like that. It seems to me like they were putting on a brave face and that doesn’t make it sound like they were being fair to themselves.
- Do you think miserable conditions are enough to make people lose the ability to feel joy altogether, Klein?
- ... I don’t know.
- Think about this very carefully. If someone’s lost the ability to feel joy, what difference does it make if they’re in miserable conditions or not? You don’t have to feel sorry for them because they’re not missing out on anything. They have no motivation to escape because what’s there for them to feel elsewhere? When the enemy’s killed your ability to feel joy, then, you’ve really truly lost.
- But if they could still feel joy there, why risk losing that by leaving?
- They still felt more sorrow than joy there and knew they could feel more joy than sorrow elsewhere, and that was reason enough to take that chance. Security and liberty and whatnot. What do slaves and criminals have in common, Klein?
- The fact that the authorities generally don’t have their best interests in mind, for one thing.
- True, but, aside from that?
- I’m not sure.
- People don’t want to think about how the way their society’s built makes them suffer. It disturbs them to be reminded that people they think of as inherently reprehensible can feel happiness for some of the same reasons they can.
- They have to spend their lives hiding while other people are trying to forget them...
- The darker life gets, the stronger the urge to make it shine to make up for it can get. It’s a dirty little word in our day and age, but in some circumstances there’s nothing wrong with being an attention whore, Klein. Sometimes you just have to cartwheel and handstand and kickflip to say ‘I’m here! I'm alive! I work and play and breathe and love and die. My pain and joy are just as real and deserve to be acknowledged just as much as anybody else’s. I’m real. I exist.’

Taking in those words and thinking about how he could relate them to some of what he'd had to go through in his own life had unexpectedly brought tears to his eyes, he hadn’t held them back, and for the first time, he hadn’t felt ashamed of it. In the next few days, he’d discovered that capoeira had made his blood flow much the same way it had while he’d lived with Boko, but there hadn’t been any cognitive dissonance for him to contend with. At the peace march he’d gone to with Ivan he’d met a fascinating woman he’d tell the story of his life to in a casino about a year from then.

Hi, I’m Klein.

A wide, playfully arrogant grin had spread under his tightly shut eyes and cold wet skunk nose, all over his face.

I’m real. I exist.