I’ve Been Thinking A Lot About Clowns

Not circus clowns, or their gleeful appropriations in the horror industry and comic books. Instead, I’ve been thinking about the French clowning techniques I learned in acting conservatory based on the teachings of Jacques Lecoq (pronounced “Le Cock”, yes I know…), and even more specifically, about my own experience with clowning.

The assignment at the end of first semester of my junior year was to go home over winter break and gather a garbage bag full of old clothes. They didn’t have to be ours. When we returned for second semester, everyone in the class emptied their bags in the middle of the stage into one big pile. Then we were told to pick out some clothes for ourself from the pile. We were encouraged to dress as ridiculously as possible, like children sneaking into their parent’s closet to play dress-up. Once we had our “costume”, we were each given a red nose and told to experiment with the movement and voice that both the red nose and the clothing suggested. We did this for quite a while, milling around the stage, talking to ourselves or others as we skipped, ran, stumbled or hopped around. I’m sure an uninformed observer would have thought we were all insane (and perhaps an informed one as well).

The clown that emerged from me was odd. I can’t for the life of me remember what he wore, but he was quite young, very sweet, and for the most part rather shy. Bashful might be a good word to describe him. Like the skunk from Bambi. Except every once in a while, when someone did or said something that excited him, he would explode into a loud and raucous mirth that even other clowns found jarring.

We worked on our clowns for weeks, fine tuning their voices and behaviors. Frankly, I didn’t like my clown very much, but once I put on that red nose, it was difficult, if not impossible, to steer him in another direction. It’s the same resistance I’ve found as a writer when I try to get a character to move the plot forward in a way that their personality isn’t suited to do. Such efforts always backfire. So after several clumsy attempts to change things, I gave in and let my weirdo, adorable yet abrasive, social yet awkward clown just be himself.

At the end of the course, our instructor spoke of how our clown is often a manifestation of some aspect of ourselves we find uncomfortable, and that drawing it out and making it larger than life can be tremendously instructive, if not downright therapeutic. At the time I was quite certain I didn’t fit that process at all. I felt certain that I was nothing like my clown, and that somewhere along the way, most likely due to my own incompetence, I had done clowning wrong.

That was about twenty years ago, and there are two points I would like to make to my younger self:

  1. It is next to impossible to “do clowning wrong”. They are creatures of chaos and transgression, and therefore any perceived “mistakes” only fuel them.
  2. If you don’t think that adorable but annoying little clown isn’t inside you, you’re kidding yourself.

Now, as I struggle to find a way to fulfill the expectations of both publisher and readers and find meaningful ways to interact in social media, I think a lot about that clown, and what he would do. Nothing helpful or productive, I’m sure. And yet, I suspect there is some aspect to explore that may be instructive for me, if not downright therapeutic.

Restless Drive

There was this book in college. One of those thick, hardbound, coffee table books that you leave out so that people you don’t really know all that well can page through them while you’re in the toilet or something. I think it was called The Book of Birthdays. Or maybe The Secret Language of Birthdays. I can’t remember exactly, and when I searched for it just now, the covers look equally familiar to me, perhaps because they are so similar to each other. Whichever it was, it told you what sort of person you were based on what day of the year you were born. As far as I can remember, it didn’t take year into account, which for some reason made its accuracy even more dubious to my mind.

So this was back in college, and one of my roommate’s friends had the book. My friend Gabe’s birthday was called “the day of Quixotic dreams”. Man, we got a lot of laughs with that one, mostly because there actually was something sort of tragically romantic about Gabe. Mine was “the day of restless drive.” I claimed not to have any understanding what it was talking about.

And yet, here I am making a brand new blog expressly for the purpose of having something to write every day even when I have nothing to write. I don’t like “not writing.” It makes me anxious and irritable, which is especially problematic while parenting. But right now I have so many projects already out there—so many things that I’m waiting on—that to add one more writing project to the mix would be a terrible, and possibly ridiculous, idea.

And so…a blog.

I haven’t had a proper blog in years. I’m not sure what I’ll put on here, but as the name implies, I want this to be fairly focused. It’s a play on the main character’s name in my Empire of Storms trilogy, of course. But the intent is a curated collection of things that keep me from falling into that deep well of despair on a daily basis. It won’t necessarily be pretty, or uplifting, or even comprehensible to anyone other than me. It’s just a space to work things out in my mind, and the idea that someone might stumble across it tends to sharpen my intent.

So here. Some bleak hope for me:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas