My Big Freakshow: Lessons from Clown School


By Frankie Rose

I knew this girl who wanted to go to clown school once.

I was sixteen at the time, and she was probably nineteen. High school was at an end (we leave High school and move onto college at 16 in the UK) and I was paralyzed by life, the prospect of it, anyway, because now I was expected to go out and decide what to do with mine. My friends were making their big decisions–lawyers and veterinarians, with a meteorologist and a space scientist thrown in for good measure. And then there was Katy. She had gone to college to do something entirely respectable, but then dropped out.

Clown school was calling to her.

At the time I was incredibly nervous about the strange decision she was making. With so much on the line, it seemed, well…indulgent and foolish to be picking clown school over something practical that would provide her with a lifelong career. I didn’t know much about the job, but I imagined there came a time in a clown’s life when enough was just enough. A moment would arrive when being crammed into a comically small car alongside fifteen other face-painted people no longer made any sense. And, let’s face it, clowns are hardly sexy.

In fact, they’re downright scary. Dean Winchester had it right. I mean, I watched Stephen King’s It when I was eight years old, and I’ve never gotten over the trauma.

People laughed at Katy, and I found myself increasingly worried. My anxiety was firmly rooted in the fact that she knew exactly what she wanted out of her life, and it was a life equated with chaos and parody. Why would anyone choose that for themselves? I came to the only conclusion I could at the time: Katy was mad. She was probably better off following her dreams, because clown school was surely where all the other mad people went, right?

Wrong. I didn’t know at the time, but all the crazies are out here with us. And unbeknownst to me, choosing to be a writer, to be a follower of the arts, is exactly the same as joining the circus. As a writer, my life is one big freakshow. There’s very little that’s crazier than making stuff up in your head and sticking with it to the point that you start believing it’s real. In the medical world, they actually have a name for that, and it starts with P and ends with sectioning.

See, the life of an author, especially an indie author, sadly has very little to do with writing. The majority of my day is spent querying or lamenting the fact that autocorrect seems set on sabotaging my life. It’s a rare event when I get the chance to focus on my WIP, because I’m too busy responding to random queries from kids in Brazil about whether I prefer smooth peanut butter over crunchy (how is that even relevant?), or learning how to format e-books and create book trailers.

I’ve had so many curve balls lobbed at me over the past year that my head is still spinning. I haven’t allowed myself chance to really think about it all too much, because that’s venturing into panic attack territory. I’ve quit my day job twice to follow my dreams (if that’s not scary, I don’t know what is!) and I’ve had to learn to delegate and lean on others for support, something I have never done before. It’s been a massively educational experience. A lot of my perceived success–whatever that may be–has been achieved with the help of some seriously crazy ass people. Since publishing, those crazies have become my closest friends, whom I cherish dearly, but I’m not afraid to admit that they’re mostly a little unhinged. That’s okay, though. I am, too.

At the end of the day, it takes a wild kind of mind to produce writing of any worth. My favourite author, Neil Gaiman, gave a truly inspiring graduation talk on the subject of his art and success that many of you will already have seen. Having lost myself countless times in his stories, some of which are downright bizarre, I know without a doubt that he is a card-carrying member of the freakshow. Don’t be fooled by the softly spoken exterior–it takes a certain type of person to pen books like Coraline and Neverwhere!

Now, looking back on my anxious sixteen-year-old self, I wish I could impart some valuable advice:

Don’t worry so much.

Chaos is a good thing, and being able to make a parody of yourself is also good for the soul. It reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously, and that we are all a little ridiculous on occasion. I would encourage myself to embrace the unknown and be unafraid of not conforming to what other people think is best. There are so many adventures out there for us to live, foolish or otherwise, and whether we physically get to experience them or only live them through our work, they’re all valuable and make us who we are.

And just in case you were wondering, my friend Katy made a kick-ass clown.

frankieMy Big Freakshow: Lessons from Clown School

One Comment on ““My Big Freakshow: Lessons from Clown School”

  1. Alex Bledsoe

    Dead on, Frankie. We’re all clowns here. But the best clowns make us both laugh *and* cry, and that’s a noble thing.

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