I’m going to practice a bit of honesty here. A bit more openness than I normally exercise. A tad more straight ahead nonfiction rather than creative.
Firstly, I’m not approaching this honesty post with the intention of wanting to sit down and talk with any of you reading this afterward. Please don’t be offended. I am simply aware that what’s currently going on in my life is spilling over from private to public anyway and I wanted to share some insight.
Secondly, I am self-aware enough to know that most of you who read this may not know me or see me in real life and will think this is pretty narcissistic. I won’t argue with that. However, it’s also very therapeutic for me to get my thoughts out of my head and onto paper/computer screen, etc. There’s always the off-chance that something I write will help someone else or give them a different perspective as other bloggers/writers have done for me in the past.
Okay, onto honesty:
A little over four years ago…
John and I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. We made plans to move there because I had applied to graduate school at U of M and since I had already been accepted into another school (that I ultimately turned down because I didn’t like the city or campus when I visited), I felt confident that I would be accepted at U of M also.
I didn’t find this out until the evening before we were moving there. Looking back, it was ridiculous to have finalized moving plans before actually finding out if I had made it in or not, but we didn’t. We were full steam ahead.
Getting that rejection letter (not even a letter; an email) changed the course of my life. I was devastated, I was embarrassed, I felt stupid, and I very quickly felt as though I needed to fix things. Immediately. On my own. We were moving out of state for me and now we had nothing.
Once in Ann Arbor, I proceeded to lie to anyone I met about what happened with grad school: “Oh, I decided to defer a year until I am a Michigan resident so that my tuition costs will be lowered.” I said this so often that I began to believe it. It saved my sanity at the time and helped me feel as though I still had a chance at going back to school.
But I never applied there again. Instead, I jumped from job to job, frantically trying to find The Job that would justify us moving to Michigan and would get me started on my life’s path.
I worked at a grocery store to start and applied for an assistant manager position there. Then I worked at Zingerman’s Deli, then Relaxstation Massage Therapy, then Nicola’s Books. In the midst of that, I volunteered at a local farm and learned how to plant, manage, and harvest from a 15(?) acre farm.
One of those places could have been It (more than likely the farm) but I was still so focused on the future that I wasn’t living in the present. I had put walls up around me in self-defense, I had blinders on to anything that wasn’t career-focused, and I was living in my own little world.
When John was offered the circus job, it felt like a relief. Ann Arbor was quickly spiraling into a rut that wasn’t giving me any direction. Looking back now, I realized it wasn’t the city; it was me. But at the time, I was so relieved to have a direction, a path handed to us that we wholeheartedly agreed to it and spent the next six weeks selling most of our stuff off, storing the rest, subletting our apartment, financing and buying an RV, learning how to drive an RV, and giving notice at our jobs.
Before I knew it, we were driving from Michigan down to Arkansas to meet up with the show before beginning our PR jobs in Illinois. My life had suddenly become held together by a 29′ RV with frequent overnight stops in Walmart parking lots, fire stations, parks, stranger’s driveways, industrial parks, and even stranger places I don’t remember now.
To say that the first few months were traumatic makes it sound too blissful. I had one long continuous panic attack that lasted those three months (and then floated in and out of my consciousness for the next two years) that resulted in me crying uncontrollably every day. The stress of the new job and all of its demands on both of us didn’t allow me to process my panic and tears so I swallowed them as I could and assured John I was in.
I wasn’t in. But I didn’t feel as though we had a choice to be out. We had financed and were paying on an RV, we had nowhere to call home and no other jobs to go to. In retrospect, I wish we had given notice and left the job. I don’t know where we would have gone but it would have been better than what we went through.
I tried to keep a positive face on everything in my travel blog. I didn’t want to admit to the world that I felt as though I was failing this HUGE thing that we had proudly announced we were doing. That people were telling us they were envious of us doing. That we were supposed to be having the time of our lives doing. And I didn’t want to let the circus down.
So we kept going. Eventually things were better, we established a routine, we saw friends along the way, and it started to feel normal. I felt victorious. I told myself that I just needed to adjust to this life and that it took me a bit longer than some to do so.
By the middle of the season, we were made privy to the knowledge that the ring clown position would be opening up the next season. John wanted to go for it; I wanted him to go for it. Being on the show had to be better than being all by ourselves traveling for nine months.
At the end of the season, John had auditioned in the ring a few times and the season ended in Oklahoma. Not knowing if he had the job or not yet, we parked at winter quarters and waited. The wait ended up being longer than we had planned and after going through the money we had saved to travel back home for the holidays, we settled in for an Oklahoma winter.
It was hell.
Well, not all of it. We had the chance to hang out and socialize with friends on the show. We learned how to carve foam into props, how to latex it a million times and how to paint them realistically. The office manager invited us to her house for Thanksgiving and the elephant handler graciously invited us to his house for Christmas since we didn’t have anywhere else to go.
But we’d blown through our savings already with no other income in sight. So I applied at every business with an open sign in Hugo, Oklahoma and finally ended up getting offered a job at their Pizza Hut up the road.
Free Personal Pan pizzas and the meager earnings of a server barely kept us afloat and it was only through a loan from the show and another loan from a loving family member that got us through to the beginning of the season in February.
But we’d made it…the season was upon us, we were going to both be earning paychecks every week and things would be good.
Except they weren’t. Because of immigration laws and the hoopla surrounding them at the time, the show wasn’t able to secure most of our crew from Mexico or some of our international performers for the first 2-3 weeks. It fell on everyone else there to do double and triple duty.
Therein was our first newbie mistake. We offered to help a couple of times and we were told thanks, but it wasn’t needed. So we stopped asking and concentrated instead on trying to finish John’s props and costumes for the impending first show. Because we were holed up in our RV for most of the day, every day, I believe that some folks thought we were just being lazy and unhelpful. Some bad feelings emerged, not helped by the added stress of no crew members, and I don’t think we ever outgrew the lazy stigma the rest of the season.
I won’t go into details about the season. Suffice it to say, there were good times, fantastic times, exuberant times, and then there were deeply depressing, lonely, and frantic times. And everything in between. I felt like a towner playing circus and though we succeeded in finishing the entire season (though we took two weeks off to be with my dying grandma and to attend her subsequent funeral), we made a lot of mistakes along the way and didn’t feel too great about ourselves by the end. There were a number of loving, caring people on the show who reached out to us and though we accepted their friendship and support, we accepted many of them conditionally, wondering if by accepting help we were somehow showing weakness. We didn’t want to appear weak; there is no place in circus for weakness.
To be continued…