Nodus Tollens

nodus tollensn. the realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore

The Seattle Seahawks are a circus. Our friend Danny has been saying this for ages.

(Even blogefather Fraley once got in on the act.)

The suggestion implies a carnival of nonstop, often dazzling entertainment surrounded by sideshows, suckers games, hoopla, and popcorn. Depending on your taste, the circus can be quite fun, almost an overload of fun. In the NFL sense though, circus is mostly code for “distraction” which is also mostly code for conduct detrimental to professional football success.

Yet the Seahawks, for the most of Pete Carroll’s era, have learned to integrate a circus-like atmosphere, normalize it (Marshawn Marshawn Marshawn!), even feed off it like a fairground parking and concessions outfit. The circus is where freaks get paid. Or used to.

Well I’m here to tell you I witnessed a real circus Sunday—and I missed almost all of the Seahawks game.

No, it was my mom’s 70th birthday and her wish was to see Cirque du Soleil, so the rest of us all flew back to Seattle and spent the afternoon under the big top.

I’d never been to a Cirque performance before, and other than a general sense of it being an acrobatic, balletic spectacle, the gambler that I am mostly knew of the scene from its founder, Guy Laliberté, who converted his youth career as a street clown into an enormous bank of wealth and eventually a third gig as a professional poker player (he is also an outer space tourist). Last time I went to a circus proper, with like elephants and tigers jumping through rings of fire, not only did the SuperSonics still exist but the “chapiteau” was not a tent but actually their gym, back when it was called Seattle Center Coliseum.

There are many different Cirque du Soleil routines and tours, each united by a theme or storyline almost like a gymnast’s opera, but the act I saw was called Volta. These things are interpretive but best I could gather it went like this: a young runaway with blue hair dreams of competing on a Japanese talent show, gets initiated into a troupe of wandering tumblers, and eventually ascends their ranks as a trick BMX rider. There was some pretty amazing stuff with trampolines, my nieces almost choked with laughter at an interstitial bit featuring a clown at the laundromat, and by intermission I expected the narrative to follow its destined course: the blue-haired fellow capitalizes his bike riding as a contestant on Mr. Wow’s program, emerging, presumably, triumphant.

Instead I totally lost the plot. The second half involved a series of seemingly disconnected showcases. Trapeze-like swingers, a mime, a human hair pendulum. All displays of inarguable talent and awe, and the blue-haired boy kept turning up but I kept wondering what happened to his shimmering dream of multiple Super Bowl titles grand prizes and stardom on the Mr. Wow show. Then the circus let out and I got in an automobile where the radio fired bullets of audio suspense as the Seahawks let the dreadful Arizona Cardinals back into the game with a tying touchdown that ended Earl Thomas’s season and probably his future in Seattle.

Ladies and gentlemen, please direct your attention to the center ring. Or the smokey sky or the pit in your belly. Or wherever fine disappointments get sold.

The Latin phrase at the start of this post is a play on “modus tollens”, a rule from propositional calculus indicating how one thing follows logically from another. Nodus tollens, instead, roughly translates as “being pulled into a knot”.

The word circus also comes from Latin. Basically, it just means circle, or ring (the Circus Maximus in ancient Rome was the chariot track). But if you possess the loose mind of a dreamer you may also hear a whisper of Circe, goddess of magic and illusion. Circe once promised Ulysses’s voyagers a feast with honey and wine but made a fool of them, turning them into hogs and trapping them on her island.

The Seahawks were dealt a gem of a quarterback on a cheap rookie deal and a historical defense and, with those tokens, it follows that from one championship will come two championships and from two championships maybe four or ten. But at the circus, the milk bottles are made with lead and the clown’s mouth spits back. When Seattle’s football club looked poised to go on a long run of Super Bowls, we thought we knew how the story ended—even after hardship struck, and struck and struck, we believed in the process, that we held an edge in the deal. We believed the magic was on our side.

Now, with the last member of the Legion of Boom sidelined, and even Russell Wilson looking most times like he could use a shot and Heimlich maneuver, I have to admit I have lost the fucking plot. I don’t know what happens next. The narrative that held my confidence for so long, that Carroll and John Schneider had a cleverer model, a long plan for their ragtag troupe of circus performers, doesn’t make much sense to me anymore. Lots of young pieces, Will Dissly, drawing from the wrong half of familiar fortune’s deck. I hope the organization can build out of it, but maybe the NFL is a game rigged to tear down our hopes.

Still, there’s one backup plan remaining to even the most hopeless individual. When the rigged games go all the way to the top of the halls of justice and the world owners’ boardrooms. When you’re in that existential knot, or like trapped in a paper sack. When Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh come to town and even the Rams, the Rams, have an explosive offense. When any expectation of victory or even trust in the process has broken.

That’s the thing about the circus.

You can always run away and join it.

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