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How Juggling Made Me Better at Writing and Everything Else

If you want to impress people, tell them you can juggle. If you want to bore them, show them.

The same is true with writing. Want to impress someone? Tell him you wrote a book. Want to bore him? Give him a copy.

I’ve done it all. I’ve impressed and bored people with my juggling and with my writing. That puts me in a unique category of humans. I’m a juggling writer. Or a writing juggler.

Juggling really isn’t that impressive of a feat—at least not in its most basic form. Take the three-ball cascade pattern. You are tossing three balls in the air and catching them. I learned how to juggle in less than an hour when I was thirteen. If you have two hands, somewhat decent coordination, and the slightest bit of patience, I could teach you to juggle in less than thirty minutes. If you practiced every day for a week, you’d look like an expert. Then you, too, could impress people.

I’ve been juggling off and on for twenty years. During that time, I have impressed thousands of people for seconds at a time. There’s no interesting story behind why I started. It’s just something I learned. And, like most everything else learned in life, I quickly became bored with it. I went a good many years without juggling much at all before I became somewhat passionate about it. Sure, I’d show off every once in a while, but I quickly learned that no one really gives a damn that you can juggle once you start doing it. Simply put, it’s not that exciting to watch someone just juggle.

Which is why I began pursuing other avenues of juggling. And I’m not just talking about learning standard juggling tricks. Before I go on, let me confess something to you. As a juggler, I’m not that good. I can do a few dozen tricks. I can juggle three or four of just about any object I can lift and toss with a single hand (Staplers, scissors, water bottles, tacks, books, and dead bugs are just a few of the things I juggled to impress my high school students.), but there are plenty of jugglers who are quite a bit better than I.

Of course, I don’t much care that there are a lot of better jugglers. Because you don’t have to be the best juggler to impress someone. And you don’t have to be the best juggler to have fun while doing it. But I can’t just stand still and toss a few balls in the air for an extended period of time. I need to do something more.

That’s why I started joggling—running and juggling at the same time. Sounds pretty impressive, right? Let me tell you, it’s a little bit harder than walking and chewing gum. But even joggling isn’t unique enough, and I’m nowhere near the best at it (although I did briefly hold the world record for running a backward mile while juggling). I can’t tell you the number of times people have mentioned that hotel commercial with the joggler in it. “Hey, did you see that commercial with the joggling guy? Why weren’t you in that commercial?” or “Hey, was that juggling guy in the hotel commercial the guy who broke your record?”

The answers are “Yup,” “Because,” and “No.”

I’m not hotel-commercial material. There’s much I need to accomplish as a joggler. I’ve yet even to joggle in an official race. Someday soon, I hope.

Actual achievements and recognition aside, you get a lot of attention when you joggle in public. I’ve had cars follow me, kids run beside me cheering, and older women whistle at me. Yeah, you better believe all that gave me a big head. I can run while tossing three balls in the air. And don’t you forget it.

But even joggling bores me. As it should. What could possibly be exciting about doing the same thing over and over while doing another thing over and over? As if the monotony of running isn’t bad enough.

Perhaps this is all why I began incorporating juggling into other forms of physical fitness. Juggling sit-ups, juggling weightlifting, juggling squats, and juggling planks are just a few of the things I’ve invented. I even hold a dozen or so “world records” for fitness juggling on a website called RecordSetter. I guess you could say I’m a juggling jock.

How’s this for a lame claim to fame: a contestant who juggled on America’s Got Talent—and made it past the first round—once sent me hate mail. He told me I was a hack and that he could break all my records during his warm-up routine. He also added that I was going to burn in hell. There’s such camaraderie in the juggling community, eh?

So what’s the point of all this, you’re probably wondering? This guy who claims to be a juggling writer is babbling on and on about everything he’s ever done as a juggler. Could anything be more interesting than reading the juggling bio of someone who isn’t even remotely famous?

Juggling has taught me at least two lessons. The first is that anyone in the world can be a world record holder if you pick something obscure enough. The second is that the key to making something enjoyable is to make it more challenging. And that’s also the secret to becoming better at something.

This spills over into my writing life. There are times when I’ve become bored with myself as a fiction writer. It’s not because I don’t have any ideas. It’s because the ideas I do have are often the same as all the other ideas I’ve already had. Sure, there are some subtle differences here and there (like this guy’s skin is made of onion peels as opposed to this guy’s hands are made of oats).

But it goes way beyond that. I’ve had over 200 stories published in online and print journals. Before you accuse me of bragging, stay with me here. About 85% of these were non-paying publications that probably had a hundred or so readers. Not to sound like a pompous ass, but I could write stories and place them in tiny online journals with no readership all day. And at the end of each day, it would be like juggling those same three balls in that same pattern over and over. It’s impressive at first, but I need to do something more. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop sending stories to small online journals—just like I’m not going to stop juggling three balls in a cascade pattern. I think it’s still a vital part of my writing, but I’m always going to look for new challenges.

As writers, jugglers, or anything else, we have to challenge ourselves. We need ambitions, goals, desires, or whatever the hell you want to call them. Otherwise, we’re going to bore everyone around us. Worst of all, we’re going to bore ourselves. And once our writing is boring to us, it loses every ounce of meaning.

So don’t just stand there and juggle three balls. Do something different. Do something difficult. Do something you enjoy. It will make you better at everything.

Nathaniel Tower lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and daughters. After teaching high school English in Missouri for nine years, he decided to move north and pursue writing and marketing. His short fiction has appeared in over two hundred online and print journals. Twenty-four of his surreal tales about the married life are compiled in the short story collection Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands (Martian Lit, 2014). Nathaniel is also the founding and managing editor of Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press. Find out more about Nathaniel at nathanieltower.com.

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