A small bell rings from a green ribbon as I step through the front door of my favorite shop along Harajuku’s Takeshita street in Tokyo.
I discover a unique pair of floral socks and head to the register.
The cashier recognizes me from one of my previous visits. And in her best English, she asks, “Are you visiting Japan?” I exhale loudly, “Well, no. I mean, yes. I’m not on vacation or anything. Not exactly.”
She nods politely as I pay the 500 Japanese yen for my socks.
I leave the shop repeating her question again to myself. Am I visiting Japan?
Yes and no.
I live here, and I’m visiting here. But is it my home? The truth is: I don’t really have a home.
My daily routine of yoga and meditation—that feels like home. Sobriety and staying with my body are the closest things to a home that I know. Because when you live on the road the way that I do, home cannot be something as permanent as a physical place. It just can’t be. This is the nomad’s creed and life while traveling with the circus.
My husband plays cello and piano with Cirque Du Soleil. Our show, Kurios, is a moving city that represents 20 different nationalities. We travel as a unit. And we travel as a family with all forms of family on tour.
Most days are busy for everyone, working 10 shows per week. But as much as it is a professional atmosphere—it’s a blend of work and home. Acrobats, musicians, technicians, and directors bring their wives, husbands, and children along on this journey. On Sundays, our fabulous kitchen staff makes a breakfast feast for everyone, followed by a circus training day for children in the artistic tent.
Unlike most touring bands and arena shows, Kurios moves and stays for extended periods of time in each city. So we all live alongside the big top for an average of nine weeks. After touring North America for four years, our show moved to Japan where we are still touring.
For us, the Grand Chapiteau (big top circus) migrates just like any tribe moving across the great plains. This is our life. We are true nomads.
Nomadic living may be different, but it is not new. Nomadic tribes used to roam this earth and some still do. In Tibet, nomads wander the Tibetan Plain without a specific place to call home. In 1995, it was recorded that 30 to 40 million nomads still roamed the planet.
There is definitely something ancient and magical about migrating with a small community from home to home—about seeing the map of your life spark in many different locations.
I lived off of India street in Boston and walked to the waterfront with my journal every morning for nine weeks.
I got engaged on the steps of the Lincoln memorial in Washington D.C.
My husband and I got married at a courthouse in Manhattan, New York.
I toured NASA and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
I fell in love with polar bears and the gateway to the Arctic in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
I had my first wedding anniversary in Vancouver, British Columbia and my second in Nagoya, Japan.
And these are just a few of my stories. Everyone has their own. Babies are born in our community. Couples get engaged. Regular life happens for us.
But the dream of waltzing across the globe is not as glamorous as people would like to think. It comes with sacrifice.
Living nomadically means letting go of luxuries like a favorite spot on the couch or family photos along the hallway. It means coming to peace with missing family get-togethers, birthdays, and day-to-day life. It means letting go of that vegetable garden with a screened-in back porch. And in some cases, it means using an electric tea kettle in the bathroom to make oatmeal as the one hot meal that you have a day.
Within a year of living on the road, I learned that traveling light is more valuable than anything I can take with me. All of our belongings fit into four large suitcases and a medium sized tub.
To me, traveling with less brings joy to the simplest things. The flowers bouncing in a water vase on the windowsill become enough of a garden for me. My yoga mat and meditation pillow serve as a yoga studio when I cannot find one. A portable lap desk becomes an office. And an electric tea kettle, cutting board, and a proper knife serve as a fully functioning kitchen.
These few simple items solidify home. My space. My corner. These few things separate any old hotel room or apartment from my reason for living in it at that moment.
In fact, everyone on tour has unique items that make them feel at home on the road. For some, it is a Keurig coffee machine, a sheepskin rug, or a bicycle. For others it is a hard drive of photos logging some kind of permanence into our temporary time from place to place.
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I had the honor of interviewing one of the circus veterans on our show for this article. He had a lot to say about the perception of home while on a six-month sabbatical from Kurios.
He has spent 36 years living on the road with the exception of teaching at Cirque headquarters in Montreal. His circus career began in 1981 when he cofounded a small traveling circus theater. In 1995, he joined Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria. And in 2017, he joined our show, Kurios.
Speaking with him from his “home” away from the show, he says it does not really feel like a home at all.
His little rented apartment feels no different than any of the places we stay in while traveling with the big top. The same boxes with labels on them are on display in his stationary life just as they would be while traveling with the show.
To him, the suitcases, clothes, mess of papers—items he would have with him on the road—those are what feel the most alive. The rest is not a home—it is a shell. His few belongings are what make it come alive.
Then I asked him when he would return to Kurios, and this was his reply: “Answering the Cirque way: to a question about time. Do we ask when? No. Circus people answer with place. We ask…where? So then, I will see you in Fukuoka, Japan!”
Traveling this way for so long changes the idea of home. What do I really need to live—to survive?
I will not lie to you, there are times of longing for something to stay the same. But the further I am from that idea of home, the more I realize that nothing is permanent. The ongoing metaphor of living nomadically only brings me closer to home within my body—to what matters the most. It brings me closer to people I care about.
So if the cashier from Takeshita street were to ask me again, “Is Japan your home?”—I would say that when I am in my body, I am always home.
After riding the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka at 200 mph, I realized that no matter how fast we are moving we can find stillness. Earth is always rotating and our universe is always expanding. And so even though we are always on the go in the circus, life is always moving, too. Time is always going.
I would tell the cashier from Takeshita street that right now, Japan is very much my home.
We do not carry a lot. We are always moving. And for us circus folks, what is really alive is who we are and what we experience. This is home.
And even that is temporary. All of this is temporary.
There is no where else to go but here.