Yes, I'm Going To Clown School

There are no pictures of clowns in this article.

Feb 14, 2012 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

In college I majored in a lot of different things for a while. I'd had this Life Plan and then realized... yeah, no, that wasn't going to work. I had to figure out a new direction.

One of the women who helped with that was named Jeanne Leiby, a phenomenal writer and teacher who had a pretty significant impact on how I approached writing. And revisions. Man, Jeanne was single-handedly responsible for my approach to revisions.

She was my advisor the semester I had to take Chemistry for Non-Science Majors. I had put it off, you see, and it was almost my last semester -- I just needed the science credit. I was moaning about it, though, because it conflicted with a literature class I wanted to take.

Everything, she told me, is an opportunity -- everything is a way to find stories and characters, and I should be eager for new situations because they would give me fodder for writing.

I don't think I got any stories out of that science class (though I got some writing time, sitting in the back of the class),  but that doesn't mean Jeanne was wrong; anything can be the seed of something else. No matter what I'm writing, I remember that.

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This all kind of a round about way to say, yes, I signed up for clown college. Well, really more of a clown technical school -- one night a week for 12 weeks.

I don't know, y'all, I was at Walgreens one Saturday morning and there were clowns. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was sitting in a room at a community oriented church, learning about the history of clowning from a seven-year-old girl.

Clown school is her birthday present. She's been facepainting at fundraisers and balloon twisting -- and she can juggle two balls for a little while.

As much as the ball thing makes me snicker, that kid is going to kick my ass at clowning. I know it already.

There's a clown code of ethics -- did you know that? I didn't know that. There's a governing body of this particular clown school and various international clown organizations. It's all very serious business. And now that I've been for the first night, I find it kind of fascinating.

Now, I actually don't have any particular love of clowns -- I don't even find them all that funny half the time. I just like the ridiculous outfits. And I know a lot of people are straight-up terrified of clowns (Tim Curry [don't click if you don't like clowns], I blame you and Stephen King) (and maybe John Wayne Gacy a little bit, too).

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The makeup can be kind of creepy; clowns are largely anonymous because the makeup alters their features so significantly.

That anonymity is one of the freeing things about being a clown, or so the clowns at school told me. Even the people close to you might not recognize you when you wear your clown persona.

Oh, yeah, there are stories there, and not just awful horror stories.

I've also been told that it takes a while to develop your inner clown. That makeup and costuming shift over the years as you get to know yourself better. In some ways, the first night of clown school felt a little like group therapy. With a really diverse group.

There's an ex-nurse who said she was looking to bring some fun back into her life. There's a guy who went to an ICP concert. There's an 11-year-old martial artist looking to expand her comfort zone. Those were her words. She's also going to kick my ass.

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I don't think Jeanne liked clowns. But I think she'd totally approve of me going to clown school.

When I told people I was thinking of doing it, reactions were either appalled (from people who are afraid of clowns) and totally amused and supportive (from people who are not afraid of clowns -- but who aren't lining up to go to clown school with me, I cannot help but notice).

My husband, when I told him I just like clown outfits, said that explained everything. He wasn't being a jerk about it -- and then several of my other friends agreed.

Even so, on my way to the first night of clown school, I felt so much anxiety. I'm not silly enough, I told Ed. I'm not relaxed enough. I'm not good enough at improv.

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I could spend some time analyzing why clown school of all things made me have, like, a crisis of personality, but that hardly sounds fun at all. I'm an extrovert, and I can be fairly silly, but I still have my hangups about being watched and laughed at.

That's the wages of growning up a fatty, in large part. And while I've gotten over a lot of that, apparently I'm more attached to my dignity than I realized.

So, it seems the 11-year-old isn't the only one who will be expanding her comfort zone. I'm going to work on that, and I'm going to work on finding the stories there. Because, yes, there are totally stories there.

But first I have to do my clown school homework.