Words don’t do justice to this subject, so here goes;
When the old mind wanders…
They tell you you’re just too slow.
But thoughts like mine drift everywhere,
And the edges of the universe… are a place to go.
Maybe I should write in red.
And argue with the voices
That rhyme inside my head.
And break the rhyme scheme
Here and there
Because of what they said.
Or maybe I should write in blue
Because I’ve been thinking in the nude
And laying all my secrets bare
Which really might be rude.
But the old mind wanders…
In the form of a poem,
And breaks and squanders
Tallest waves in mere foam.
This is my latest clown picture, inspired by my newest fascination with Puddles’ Pity Party on YouTube. Like all my clown pictures, I am fairly sure that my number one son will tell me it’s a creepy clown. He has never liked clowns. When he was still small we took him to the pre-show at Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus which at that time was Meet the Clowns. We met the men… and women… and dwarves… in the face paint with the loud personalities and huge red smiles. I was charmed, as always, but number one son spent most of the time behind my pantleg, peering around for sneak peaks at the clowns. He was actually shivering most of the time.
But me, I love clowns. Always have. Especially the sad clowns. The hobo clowns. Red Skelton playing Freddy the Freeloader, Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp, Marcel Marceau, the peerless mime, and Emmett Kelly Jr. as Weary Willie. There is something deeply poetic and resonant about a clown who makes you laugh by his outward actions but manifests deep feelings and an underlying sadness on the inside. It is a metaphor for the whole of life in the human world.
Puddles walked on to the stage of America’s Got Talent and engaged everyone first with his silent-clown mime routine, and then grabbed everyone right by the heart by singing a song about drinking and swinging on the chandelier with such emotion and operatic power that, by the end of the song everyone was standing, everyone loved him. Singing clowns with a sad song help us keep our own little boats afloat on a vast and stormy ocean of life. The song buoys us up and makes it bearable to tread water a little longer. I am at a time and place in my life where I really need that.
I love clowns. Especially sad clowns. Particularly when they sing.
I dare you to watch these videos and not fall in love with Puddles. That’s the point of sad clowns. They make you laugh at the sad and serious things that tear people apart. And by doing that, they put Scotch Tape on the tears and put you back together.
Yes, I did wash my mouth out with soap after saying that title out loud. But I can’t help thinking such strange thoughts. It is probably because Trump’s healthcare plans already have me off my meds.
I hear you screaming at your WordPress Reader saying, “How can you possibly be thinking such un-Democratic and really dumb thoughts?”
Well, if you think about it… I mean, hit your head three times near the reasoning center of the brain with a really hard rock… some of the greatest things that have happened to mankind have come from the very worst things that ever happened.
Because of World War Two and Hitler, we ended up inventing computers, and we ended up with a space program because beating Hitler gave us Werner Von Braun and some of the best rocket science minds in Germany. Because LBJ felt guilty about helping the CIA murder Kennedy he enacted the Great Society and Civil Rights reforms that make up the best of Kennedy’s legacy. (What? You say that’s crazy conspiracy theory? Well, I have been hitting my own head with a rock.) In fact, the combination of Hitler and Kennedy’s assassination put men on the moon.
Yes, humanity needs really bad times to happen to force them to make changes for the better. And Trump is really bad times. He takes food away from school children and old home-bound people so he can play more golf at Mar-a-Lago on the taxpayers’ dime. (Well, actually, it costs significantly more than a dime.) He puts coal plant waste into rivers and the drinking water of millions. He cuts regulations so corporate polluters are free to pour more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and keep us all so toasty warm with global warming that our faces will eventually melt. (And can you imagine what beauty pageants will be like when the contestants no longer have faces? Mr. Trump will no longer even be anxious to make those un-announced tours of the dressing rooms.)
The only choice we will have for survival if we are not Walmart heirs or Koch brothers is to fight back and correct the situation. It is possible that enough people will wake up to the whole Trump trauma to take back the House of Representatives in 2018. Then the investigations can really begin. Trump is waking up a sleeping giant. The public is ready to start fighting back. Bill Nye the Science Guy is ready to throw some punches for science.
Things that are necessary are never easy. It is by making too many easy choices that we got ourselves into this mess. There is a lot of stupidity and incompetence and badness out there to overcome now. And we must face it or it will kill us.
And it may be a good thing that Trump won the election. Hillary would’ve been a competent president and nothing would really have changed about the status quo. We would’ve continued to complacently allow Republicans to run the House and Senate and oppose even the most mild and wishy-washy things that President Hillary would’ve tried to get done. Now, the Trump backlash may propel us onward towards actual solutions to very real problems like climate change, excessive money in politics, ignorance among the voting public, and income inequality that is tipping us toward a new dark ages and a feudal-technological society.
So the big splash that Trump is sure to make might be a very good thing for liberals who hope to change things for the betterment of a majority of the people.
See Dick run?
See Jane run?
See Sally…? Wait a minute! Why don’t I remember Sally?
Did Dick forget to feed Spot and Spot was forced to kill and eat Sally?
No… I had Dick and Jane books in Kiddy-garter and they did have Sally in them. And Spot never killed anyone. But with all the running she did, Sally did not do anything memorable. If my teacher, Miss Ketchum, had told the Spot eats Sally story, I’m sure I would’ve remembered Sally better and learned to read faster.
But I actually did learn to read faster because there was a Cat in the Hat, and a Yertle the Turtle, and because Horton the elephant heard a Who, and a Grinch stole Christmas. Yes, humor is what always did it for me in the classroom. Dr. Seuss taught me to read. Miss Mennenga taught me to read out loud. And in seventh grade, Mr. Hickman taught me to appreciate really really terrible jokes. And those are the people who twisted my arm… er, actually my brain… enough to make me be a teacher who taught by making things funny. There were kids who really loved me, and principals who really hated me. But I had students come back to me years later and say… “I don’t remember anything at all from my classes in junior high except when you read The Outsiders out loud and did all those voices, and played the Greek myth game where we had to kill the giants with magic arrows, and the stupid jokes you told.” High praise indeed!
I think that teaching kids to laugh in the classroom was a big part of teaching them how to use the language and how to think critically. You find what’s funny in what you learn, and you have accidentally examined it carefully… and probably etched it on the stone part of your brain more memorably than any other way you could do it. And once it’s etched in stone, you’re not getting that out again any time soon.
Humor makes you look at things from another point of view, if for no other reason, then simply because you are trying to make somebody laugh. For instance, do you wonder like I do why the Cat in the Hat is trying to pluck the wig off of Yelling Yolanda who is perched on the back of yellow yawning yak? I bet you can’t look at those two pictures positioned like that and not see what I am talking about. Of course, I am not betting money on it. I am simply talking Iowegian… a totally different post.
But the point is, humor and learning go hand in hand. It takes intelligence to get the joke. Joking makes you smarter. And that is why the class clowns in the past… the good and funny ones… not the stupid and clueless ones… were always my favorite students.
Yes, this essay is supposed to be a book review of Sara Gruen’s lovely, enthralling circus story Water for Elephants. But you know me. My writing gets overwhelmed and filigreed by my obsessive urge to dive into the ocean of things that excite me to purple paisley prose.
It is a fascinating love story involving a depression-era travelling train circus, a young man who suddenly finds himself a penniless orphan days before he can complete his degree in veterinary medicine, an elephant, a beautiful horse-riding show girl and circus star, and her cruel but charming ring master husband.
I don’t think I am spoiling anything by telling you that Jacob Jankowski, the main character of the tale falls in love with both the beautiful Marlena and an apparently untrainable elephant named Rosie. And I also shouldn’t actually be ruining the ending by telling you that the murderer who ends the story is revealed in the opening pages, but is still a surprise when masterful story-teller Sara Gruen re-reveals the murder at the end. This is a plot-driven novel that completely catches you up in a doomed relationship, a complicated romance, and an artfully re-created world of depression-era train circuses that ranks right up there with Cecil B. DeMille’s movie spectacular The Greatest Show on Earth.
Yes, I had to equate this book with an old 1950’s movie that I love because of the similarities of plot and spectacle. Both the movie and the book have a faithful clown friend who lives a tragic life. Both Buttons the clown, played by Jimmy Stewart in the movie, and Kinko the clown, the dwarf Walter in the book whose only friend is Queenie the dog before he gets involved in the main character’s problems, play a crucial role as a supporting character. There is a romantic triangle in each. Jacob, Marlena, and Marlena’s husband August in the book mirror the complex relationship between the circus runner Brad Braden, his girlfriend the trapeze star, Holly, and the circus’s newest trapeze star, the Great Sebastian in the movie. And in each story there is a huge disaster that threatens the existence of the circus. But I am in no way suggesting that one is merely a copy of the other. Each story is unique and enthralling in a thousand different ways. They are two entirely different stories told by two different master story-tellers that happen to be built on the same basic framework. And both of those things teach you a great wealth of carefully researched details about the magical world of real travelling circuses.
Oh, yes… And I forgot to mention, the book Water for Elephants was made into a movie in 2011.
“Oh, I just hate you, you can draw so well! I always wished I could draw like that.”
Yes, the perfect thing to hear when you are a twelve year old boy in the sixth grade, and you are hearing it from the girl in your class whom you most want to have a chance to see naked when you grow up. Being smart, creative, and according to Alicia when we were twelve, “You’re so funny,” is not really as fun and wonderful as you might imagine. There’s a downside to being highly creative.
First of all, there’s that. Yes, the naked part of the illustration above. An artist, especially one who also writes and knows how to write from the heart, makes himself or herself naked all the time. The secret parts on the inside come out constantly. You can’t have a private, embarrassing, or secret thought without it being obviously discernible somewhere in the artworks you create. Even the perverted ones like the one about wanting to see Alicia naked when I was twelve. If nakedness is one of things that is on your creative little mind even though it is the one thing that you wish really wasn’t there at all, guess which of the many things on your creative little mind is going to come out first. Artists walk around naked in front of the world all the time, no matter how many clothes they put on.
Secondly, you don’t seem to be able to think like normal people do. Normal people are not divergent thinkers. They are not constantly trying to stand on their head before looking at the world, connecting bizarre things together and seeing the world in constantly shifting and highly exotic colors. I imagine normal people probably walk around all the time with Elton John tunes playing in their head, thinking only about what they ate for lunch and then posted pictures of on Facebook. The lights are not always on in their attic, and they certainly don’t have ghost dogs and booger-men named Douglas playing noisy games of full contact tackle Parcheesi in there during the middle of the night. They don’t have wake-up-sweating nightmares about being attacked by ducks with gigantic white dentures.
There are no Clowntown Kops throwing pies at them in their daydreams about rescuing naked Alicias from sinister bald villains with trained seals for evil minions. Their minds go round and round on a single railroad track on an ordinary oval path. Unlike my mind that is a multi-tracked switch yard where you have to approach going at least ninety miles and hour, losing a single car at every switch, nearly careening sideways off the track at least three times, and having to come together as a train on the other side, collecting all the cars again at high speed and chugging down the tracks to destinations unknown.
And it is all too easy to see the future when you are both creative and at least mildly perceptive. I knew the Cubs were going to win the World Series. I knew Trump would become our leader. I still pray that I am wrong about the whole world-ending thing.
Being creative is not easy. Sometimes it hurts more than it makes you laugh. It leaves you naked and vulnerable. It makes you think in abnormal ways that are studied by abnormal psychiatrists. And it makes you see and understand things that you really wish you were still ignorant of. But would I trade it for anything else? Hmm… let me think about that one for a few more years.