I'm a Clown School Drop-Out; Pride Goeth Before A Pratfall

There are actually pictures of me in clown makeup in this post. Be forewarned!

May 17, 2012 at 5:21pm | Leave a comment

Like a lot of people, I'm sure, my favorite scene in the movie "Grease" has nothing to do with young John Travolta's very swively hips or Olivia Newton John's good girl routine. (Or her good-girl-gone-bad routine, though that's fun, too.) And, hey, can we talk about how killer Stockard Channing was as Rizzo? But my heart has always belonged to Frenchie and I'll never get tired of Beauty School Drop Out.


It's been stuck in my head for a week or so. Because, you see, I am now a Clown School Drop Out.

Yeah, y'all, I went to 12 weeks of clown school classes only to take, uh, let's call it a medical withdrawal.

Once upon a time, a little while back, I twisted my knee. And then, in part because I'm just stubborn and in part because I don't have any experience with injuries like this, I largely ignored it.

Yes, actually, that was a stupid move. My only excuse is that other than a broken arm in high school, I've never hurt myself so severely that some Tiger Balm and a good night's sleep couldn't fix it. And once they got the cast on my arm, even that was mostly just an inconvenience. I didn't really know what to do about a slightly achy knee and I had Things To Do. So I did them.

Of course, then the elevator at work went out so I climbed a lot of stairs for a couple of days. And then I took four plane trips in two days (to a walking campus with more stairs). And then I could hardly put any weight on my knee at all.

That's when I had a moment of complete and quiet panic. You know the kind of panic where you KNOW something that you want to happen isn't going to happen and it's probably your own damn fault but you have to go through the motions of trying to figure out a way to make it happen anyway? Or is that just me?

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Auguste clowns come in a couple of different types - they're in the middle of the clown hierarchy.

That's what happened when I realized if I couldn't actually walk on a Friday there was no way in hell I was going to take a series of pratfalls on a Saturday.

I immediately emailed my clown school president. The news, as I suspected it would be, wasn't great -- the graduation requirements were clear, had been from the beginning: I couldn't graduate without doing a skit.

The graduation skit is the culmination of everything we learned in clown school. We're meant to integrate all of our knowledge about juggling and props and makeup and costuming and come up with something -- or learn a tried-and-true classic clown skit -- to perform in front of our fellow clowns and friends. And/or family. Skits are recorded and put up on YouTube for all to see.

At the start of clown school, this was the part about which I was the most nervous. There are parts of performing I really like and, uh, parts that I don't. Physical performance has always been scary for me -- which is part of why I went to clown school in the first place.

I'd entertained, on and off, idle fantasies of quitting clown school before the skit portion of the program. But they were really just self-soothing, the way I sometimes remind myself that, yeah, I'm in my relationship by choice, or that I could actually get another job if I were miserable (which I'm not). The point is, I hate being forced into things, so reminding myself that I don't actually HAVE to do something is a calming coping strategy for when something is stressing me out.

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Tramp/Hobo clowns on are the bottom of the clown hierarchy - and they're all men, hence the beard makeup.

That's why being physically unable to do my skit was actually all kinds of a cruel irony.

My clown school president emailed me back. He said I could sit on stage and do three minutes of material that way -- but that left me trying to come up with three minutes of stand up (well, sit down) comedy in less than 24 hours. I didn't actually see that going very well. And if I'm going to do something, I want it to be good. Three minutes is a really long time on stage -- and it feels just as long in the audience if the performer is tanking hard.

But more than that, I knew what I NEEDED to be doing -- which was sitting on the sofa with my knee elevated and iced. Getting into clown drag and shuffling through the park to the performance space didn't qualify as staying off my knee or even as babying it.

I put 12 weeks into clown school. In the greater scheme of things, especially in comparison with my college education, that's not all that long. In comparison with my pride, though -- well, it's a lifetime all its own. Because I don't really quit things.

And my pride was telling me I could tough out three minutes on stage, including all the physical comedy involved in my skit. My pride was telling me that, yeah, sure, my knee would hurt even worse afterwards but It Would Be Worth It.

The thing about pride is that sometimes pride is a bald-faced liar.

Because at the end of the day, my physical well-being is actually way more important than a clown school diploma. And sometimes, often times, we have to make the decisions that are good for us instead of what we WANT to be doing. This is why I don't trust decisions made purely on emotion -- I'm a logic and reason woman. I also like to think I'm an adult, trying my best to make adult decisions.

Maybe, really, I'm just a utilitarian though.

Joints are tricky things. If you don't treat them well, injuries really can linger. I made a huge mistake by not addressing my knee pain -- I've got an inflamed patellar tendon that is taking its sweet time to heal. I can't even say that my mistake cost me my clown school graduation because the odds are that my knee still wouldn't have been in good enough shape for the demands of the skit. (Though, a responsible and grown-up voice in my head whispers, if I'd dealt with it earlier, I'd have had time to develop an alternate routine.)

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Whiteface clowns are the fancy sparkly clowns - and the hardest makeup, in my opinion.

I have the option of doing my skit next year, at the conclusion of the next clown school program. It's on my calendar already, and I really do plan to go to the classes again, too. My pride is kind of demanding it.

Stinging pride aside, though, I also know I made the right choice. It's going to take a little while for my knee to be okay again (especially if I reaggravate it, which I am pretty sure I did this past weekend). Taking care of it will help ensure that it is okay again. And that is what it really means to take care of myself.

But in the meantime, I'm a Clown School Drop Out -- and that song is still stuck in my head.