Week 3: Send in the Clowns

“Isn’t it rich? Aren’t we a pair?” – Stephen Sondheim

Clowns love lipstick. I should know; I’ve been a clown. Informally trained in the clown arts, I answered to the name of Peanut. I could juggle, make balloon animals, and never break character. I was eleven.

My character of Peanut was a white face. Every clown has his or her own distinct face. The face is the character, not the performer. More than one person played Bozo the Clown, including Willard Scott, and who knows how many struggling actors got a glimpse of the spotlight donning the face of Ronald McDonald? (Remind me to tell you about my years of performing in the Ronald McDonald Circus. Not as a clown. As a dancer. No shit.)

So my older sister, Michelle, carefully created the white face of Peanut. Michelle was formally trained in the clown arts and answered to the name of Blueberry, an auguste clown. The auguste clown, with big white circles around the mouth and eyes, is the jester. The fool. The white face is the foil. The straight man.

I was made for the part.

I tend to attract free spirits, the kind of girl (now woman) flinging herself at life, skipping to the top of the mountain, screaming at me to come see the view. (I’m looking at you, Sabrina. You, too, Natalie. Wink, wink, Carridy.) And seeing as I was voted “Most Dependable” in high school, the sexiest superlative by far, I often do go see the view. Of course, I’m not flinging myself, I’m carefully climbing up with a safety harness attached, my knees starting to wobble when I remember I’m not fantastic with heights, so just don’t look down. But I get there. I’m always happy I saw the view, even while fighting the urge to vomit.

Hananah Zaheer is one of these women and my best girlfriend in the trenches of the writing life. We met at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and text back and forth every day. Even more impressive than our constant contact is the fact that I live in Nashville, Tennessee, and she lives in Dubai. We encourage each other and read each other’s work. She tells me where to apply for the next summer of conferences, and I dutifully do it, because she is my road dog. She told me to write a post for this blog, and I may have said, “Wait a minute. What do you mean right now? Let’s talk about this for a minute.” But here it is!

She sent me Bradbury’s challenge: 52 stories in a year. One a week. This is week three, and like the sexy, dependable one I am, I am in the middle of a third story. (Remind me to tell you how far Hananah has gotten.) But the point is to do this with Bradbury’s premise that they can’t all be bad. I look at his words and think, “Dear God, I hope you’re right.”

But there’s Hananah, in my ear (actually on my phone), asking me, “What do you have to lose?” This is a question I never ask myself, because I am too busy asking myself, “What if you fail?”

Ask Hananah that question. She’ll shrug. She’ll put on the lipstick. Smear it all over her mouth and walk out on stage again. And when she asks me to come see the view from there, I will walk out on stage, too. The worst thing that happens is that I make someone laugh, and I’ve done that before. It’s a joy, actually. A fucking joy.

(K.K. as Clown. 1991.)


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