by Ken Rosenberg
Professor Rob Potter juggles and not simply the typical “juggling” in which we all engage: family, friends, work, personal growth, and the like. No, Rob actually juggles, using balls and pins to exercise his balance, dexterity, and – the most important attraction to the hobby – his patience. Now a tenured professor, Rob started juggling way back in high school. Why? “I don’t know that I have an answer,” Rob says. “I guess I wanted to accomplish something and I probably had seen somebody – I wanted to have a goal.” Rob says he probably saw a juggler as an active member of his high school theater program. “God, I was such a nerdy kid. I wanted to find something hard and work toward it.”
Instead of scarves or some squishy balls, Rob started with golf balls. That was a mistake. “It hurt an awful lot,” Rob laughingly recalls. They would hit his thumbs and roll away when dropped – adding injury and inconvenience to the already-frustrating task of learning how to juggle. Eventually, he got some books from the library and figured out that most people start with easier fare. Scarves are light and malleable, which means they float and are easier to catch. Bean bags require more deft reactions, but they don’t brutalize undisciplined hands. In just one summer, Rob mastered the basics; he could juggle three balls.
Rob continued to practice intermittently through the intervening years as a scholar but, about two years ago, he resumed his hobby with more zeal. He bought some professional practice equipment. This past spring during his vacation he decided to try juggling pins as well. Still, juggling balls is the quintessential juggling skill and, since high school, Rob had stopped at three. This summer he decided it was time to make it four. With multicolor balls taken piecemeal from sets that were ravaged by his dog, he got to work.
Though IU has (had) an intramural juggling team, Rob is not a member of any juggling group. He has encountered only one other juggler in academia. Rob thinks that since juggling is part of that “inner geek that you can’t get over,” most enthusiasts are closeted, performing mostly for their own pleasure.
One of the spectacles we often see in public performances is someone juggling while riding a unicycle. The idea has crossed his mind but, while impressed by others, Rob has no inclination to follow suit.
For now, Rob is content to practice in his backyard and the park near his house. (However, if anyone knows of a similarly secluded place to practice indoors during the winter, please, send him a suggestion!) When Rob’s children watch him practice, they attempt to start with all four balls, just like their father. “They don’t recognize that goals are achieved through a process,” Rob said, “but they’ll get there someday.” Hopefully, his steady patience will persevere next summer, when he tackles his next juggling project: devil sticks.