“…my soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
From the poem “A Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes.
“The man with the real sense of humor is the man who can put himself in the spectator’s place and laugh at his own misfortune.” Bert Williams
I’ve done a lot of soul searching about clowning over the past four years. The soul-searching is led me to question my place at the work. It’s made me ask why I value the work I do and, more importantly, why I continue to want to do it. During this questioning, I asked myself if I should just quit clowning and do something else, go into a different line of work. Stop performing. This type of self-questioning typically doesn’t last for very long for me. I know that I want to continue to perform. However, the real question was where, how, and with whom?
The COVID pandemic has tried my soul. It turned everything upside down. It took an essential artistic outlet from me. I miss the clowning work as it was before COVID. I guess I took it for granted. I miss hearing the laughter of patients and families in the hospital.
I’ve had some performing gigs recently, but it’s not like it was before Covid. I guess that’s what happens when you take something for granted. Years ago, I’m sure I would’ve said that I appreciate everything the work provides. However, after living in the COVID pandemic for a year, I have an even deeper appreciation for what I had.
I have had some good moments on zoom during COVID. These beautiful moments have come when I taught a class and other marvelous moments when I took someone else’s course or saw other people’s virtual work.
However, I still long for a return to the way it was before COVID when I could reach out and touch the audience. They could reach out and touch me. A live performance meant being in the same room with your audience, breathing the same air, whether it was the clinically clean air in a hospital room, or the stuffy stale air of a refugee tent, or the gymnasium air of sweaty kids working in a circus workshop. I miss it all.
It’s disheartening knowing that so much of this is beyond my control. The hospital work may never return to the way it was before COVID. It’s paused. Who knows when and if that pause will be lifted? During this pause. I’ve worked on my clowning. I’ve learned new music. I took more classes. All the while, I can’t help but miss “the way it used to be.” My artistic soul longs for better connections. My soul longs for a better outlet to do my artistic work.
And so I prepare, and I wait. I’m ready to spring into action. I’ve spent time at home preparing to go to work, like a firefighter at the station eager to be called into service.
An example of this can be found in the Guardian story published a few days ago. This is a story about Clowns Without Borders dealing with the transitions caused by COVID. You can read that full story here.
A clown’s work is best experienced at the intersection of the ridiculousness and the ordinary, of sorrow and joy. A clown’s work turns attention to the absurd reality in which we live. Humor does that. How many of us can remember being at a funeral where one of the highlights is when someone tells a funny story about the deceased. In those moments, we find joy despite our sorrows. We find a way to smile when our hearts are heavy. We laugh, knowing tomorrow will be difficult, but we laugh anyway. That’s where we live as clowns. We go into these areas of suffering, pain, and anxiety, and we focus on humanity and humor.
My soul is weary. However, I know that an outlet for this is to sit squarely in the weariness. In it, I will find the human and the humorous- a salve for the soul.
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