The fears of a clown.

I am afraid. I am afraid of lots of things and always have been.
When I was little, I was afraid of getting lost, of monsters, of the dark.
Later I became afraid of girls.
Of exams.
Of plane crashes.
Of my stepfather.
Of fire engines pulling up outside my house.
For a while, I was afraid of going to the ATM, afraid I had no money
I have long been afraid of my body, of the hidden diseases and disasters it is concealing.
I have been afraid of strangers who write me mean emails telling me why they no longer like me or my blog.
I have been afraid of speaking to crowded rooms.
I have been afraid of death, especially the deaths of people I love.
I have been afraid to draw, afraid I can’t do it.

I have come to believe that my life’s purpose, the key to my happiness, is to pare away the things I fear.
Some I have outgrown — I can now sleep with the door closed and the lights off.
Some I have had shaken out of me — I don’t fear death much anymore. Bring it on, bitch.
Some I have just faced — I have had a physical, so I know I am healthy, regardless of what the monkey voice tries to make of that twinge in my gut, the ache in my knee. I speak to groups of all sizes, no butterflies. I drive the freeways, radio blasting. I fly hundreds of thousands of miles, cool as a clam. I quit my fucking job. I fell in love again. I moved across the country. I roar, godamn it, and I rock.

A few months ago, I overheard somebody at the gym talking about something called “Clown School”. I googled it. I found there’s one here in town. I signed up for the next intensive session. Why? Because I have no idea what it is but it sounds scary and important and utterly alien. Then I committed to not to think about it again until the day arrived. Why? So I wouldn’t chicken out.
I am now in my final day of Clown School. It was very scary — as clowns can be. Not because we wore makeup and big shoes, which we haven’t, but because we confronted many of the things that scare me the most. I stood in front of a room of strangers staring each one in the eye and telling embarassing shameful things. I collaborated with strangers on humiliating choreography. I shrieked with fear, wailed with grief, howled with anger until I literally lost my voice. I sung a spontaneous song about what I loathe most. I danced across the stage, by myself, to demonstrate my self-confidence, and then had to do it again and again and again, until I was utterly without guile or reserve.
I have never before seen the people who saw me do this, and I sincerely hope that, though I loved them all, I never see them again. I couldn’t have done it otherwise.
Mostly, I revisited the most powerful emotions there are, familiar and often hateful emotions that I have worked so hard for so long to deny and avoid. And now, for day after day, I have sought them out and felt them surge through my body, grip my throat, shudder through my veins, cramp my stomach, churn my bowels. Terror. Loss. Humiliation. Sorrow. And joy, lots of joys — the longest lasting physical toll was the aches in my cheeks and neck and stomach: aches from too much laughter.
I am not a physical person, I spend all too much time living exclusively between my ears. But a few days of Clown School have helped me loosen my hips, have reminded me of what it is to really move with feeling, to express myself spontaneously from my gut, from my spine, from my balls, to be gripped by rhythm and to respond on a subconscious visceral level to another’s movement, to an impulse, to an emotion deep within.
Our teacher, a wise and hilarious clown, told us that clowning is about the importance of being ridiculous, because to be ridiculous is to fail, and failure is what we all have in common, the most basic and honest human experience, the one that helps us grow and change and improve and survive. If we are willing to open ourselves up and be laid bare, to respond to the moment and without hesitation, to connect deeply with our audiences’ eyeballs and the minds behind, we will be freed of the bullshit that holds us back. We will tap into the deep wellsprings of creativity that lie beneath our artifice and style and selfconscious crap and hesitation and self-deception and excuses and fears. We will make art of truth.
Time and again, as I adressed old emotions in a new way, I thought about drawing.
About how the most important part of drawing is not what pen you use or the weight of your paper. At their core, drawing, painting, clowning, all art, are about letting go, of responding from your gut, of trusting, of working hard. Can you let go of all your preconceptions and finally, truly, truthfully see? Can you embrace and trust your audience rather than trying desperately to impress or con them? Can you put in the hours, the sweat, the pain of failure, so you can get deeper and deeper, looser and looser, sharper and sharper, digging down to essential truths?
Art is not entertainment. It is the way to what matters in our lives. To conquer our fears, we must face them, turn their ugly lies to beautiful truth, and share what we have made of them on the page or the stage.
I may just be a clown and a not very good one at that, but I ask you this: If you aren’t making art, what are you afraid of?

47 thoughts on “The fears of a clown.

  1. Ah, your list was a good start. It’s always about rejection. But then I’ve started to decide what the hell. I’ve got three potentially terminal conditions, get over it. Get’er done. Ok now to do the creating. Easy to say, still difficult to do.

  2. I’m glad you quit your fucking job, moved to California, went to Clown School, and wrote this. It shakes up the tidy quilt of crap I’ve been boring myself and others with about why I don’t/can’t make art. Thank you for your model of great courage and authenticity in the face of many fears. :O) (Clown nose)

  3. Wow, reading this just shook me out of…I can’t even say…something damn it! I too am in the middle of a big move from Maryland to Texas. During so, all these fears, questions, and more fears have crept into or back into me and my life. Has me questioning everything I know to be solid. So then I question was anything solid afterall?? See, this crap can go on and on. So I sit here with my coffee and I am thrilled, excited, embracing this move again. Could it really be because of reading an article? I am afraid so…I actually feel energized, so onto wake my husband up to tell him how good I feel about it all again, just like I did when we first found out about his promotion that has us relocating!! He’ll say with the rediculous confidence [arrogance?] that he always has…”I know.”

  4. This sounded like an awesome, earth-moving experience for you — and thank you for writing about it and inspiring us. As you have inspired me in many of your blog posts. Several years back, I read “Art & Fear,” and your writing reminded me of that book. You’ve knifed into something that I grapple with (and probably many, many others): of being hobbled by the worry: “What will others think?” I like your thoughts of being ridiculous, embracing failure, learning from those, and sticking our fists deep into our creativity beyond that worry of what others will think.

  5. This is absolutely great! The other day I was so annoyed by a documentary about an art school and all those seemingly hip and clever interpretations of what ‘art’ is and I thought that this is why I really don’t like using the words ‘art’ or ‘artist’ when I refer to myself. But your definition of art being a way to what matters in our lives and helping us conquer our fear really describes what drawing is to me – getting back to the little girl I once was, the girl that is still beneath all the accumulated layers of my adult ego. Thank you so much for writing this!

  6. Thanks for sharing that. We are all human with our fears and it was brave of you to share that. The most scary thing of all though, and it must be ‘God’s’ joke, as soon as we heal one thing something else comes up to be dealt with. Yet somehow there are people who just seem to coast through life. We are the thinkers and the creators in the world and as with everything else, there are two sides. The talent which others regard with awe and the self doubts and fears that come along in the package. We just need to keep doing it.

  7. Wow! So awesome…i want to go to clown school. Reminds me of a two year masters program i did in education and the arts. We rotated through twelve different areas of the arts…music & voice, creative movement, storytelling, poetry & creative writing, visual arts, drama, innovation, research….i was so consistently outside of my comfort zone having to creatively express and expose myself during each of the sections…some I performed alot better than others (I asked one of my cohorts to read his review after my 3 minute independantly choreographed dance performance and he had written “Sappy ending!”. OMG! I was privately horrified, but you know what…i would do the dance again and again, and I now know that I CAN step outside my comfort zone, and that each time I do I get better. I learned that we are all always becoming.

  8. I wrote a blog post that muddled around what you wrote so sharply. Thank you for these truths!

    Can you put in the hours, the sweat, the pain of failure, so you can get deeper and deeper, looser and looser, sharper and sharper, digging down to essential truths?
    Art is not entertainment. It is the way to what matters in our lives. To conquer our fears, we must face them, turn their ugly lies to beautiful truth, and share what we have made of them on the page or the stage.
    I may just be a clown and a not very good one at that, but I ask you this: If you aren’t making art, what are you afraid of?

  9. Danny, Lisa from Houston, here. I am a professional face painter and I deal with a lot of “clowns” – for real – in my business. I read recently something along these lines: Why do we admire people who allow themselves to be vulnerable, yet we shy away from allowing our true selves to show through. I admire your truth. Thanks for the great post.

  10. Thank you for sharing this, Danny. It was so thought-provoking and made me think about my fears. There aren’t that many, but they are hidden from others and those are the worst to deal with. I love that you are feeling the essence of your art and life. Rock on, friend. !

  11. You remind me of Jasper Fford’s book, Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron. Since prisons are too expensive they control the populous with fear: of the dark, of being found out, strangers, aloneness, crowds, the unknown, the unknowable, life, death, failure, success. If was an inexpensive yet successful ploy since there is an infinite number of things to be afraid of, all tailorable to each individual. That said, it is a hoot of a book about a social structure based on color perception. I laughed out loud.

    Congrats on the clown school. Very inspiring.

  12. Hooray! Honest, to the heart and with a reasonable call to action. I am currently committed to embracing my fears of both drawing and walking the vulnerable path of authenticity. Thank you for putting it so beautifully, Danny Gregory! I will definitely be sharing with others.

  13. Pingback: Stopping Trying | cleaning up the studio

  14. Thank you, couldn’t have come at a better time. A friend sent me the link, so I’m grateful to both of you. Thanks for sharing, your post is terrific, and I needed just this very thing.
    Sheila

  15. Thanks for sharing Danny. What an interesting way to come into connection, I’ve never thought about what is involved and relating it to art.

  16. Thank you, Danny.  It is always illuminating and refreshing to read your honest, male perspective.

    ________________________________

  17. Just loved your post! I wonder what fabulous things I could have done if fear hadn’t stopped me! Here’s to living a fearless life and doing fabulous things…like clown school! Way to go DG…are are such an inspiration! Thanks!

  18. You were very brave Danny – I haven’t attended clown school (and probably never will) but i have learned the hard way – that it’s my inner critic (in all areas) that is not liking me or what I do. I am here to do what I do and if possible be a positive influence. Other than that – it’s not all about me. The people I come in contact with are reacting to their own inner voices and hurts – very rarely to who I am (not talking about relationships here). So – good for you – you had the courage to let go and be a bit ridiculous! That takes us off the proud place (they can’t do, say that to me!!!!) and into a place where we can do some good.

  19. You should check out the book “The Antidote: for people who hate positive thinking”. I loved it, and I think it will resonate with you. The author is a journalist with The Guardian.

  20. What am I afraid of? The usual. That the attempt will be a reminder about being “not good enough”. Even worse? That I like it, and it will make me happy. And when I do something that makes me happy; I feel guilty. Like I am not supposed to be able to enjoy myself. That is way more complicated than I meant to be; let’s just stick with the “not good enough” for now. :)

    • “let’s just stick with the “not good enough” for now.” :-)

      Yes. Let’s. Or let’s not.

      And just adore champagne. And cherish posts & replies that touch us. Deeply.

      • I had an experience when I was doing the sketch and painting for the EDM. I was doing art, having given myself this wonderful experience, and then after some long time, I started to feel guilty. I thought, “What is wrong with you? You are doing exactly what you gave yourself permission to do-ART? After a short while, I realized that I was tired. And because I did not have an emotion for that feeling, I went into guilt. Why guilt, I asked myself? Because I was taught that long ago. So, I gave myself permission to put the sketchbook up where I could look at that page, and I laid back in my chair and I rested while I looked at it. Now, I also allow myself to rest-physically and emotionally, and enjoy that I can do that and still look at what I am working on accomplishing. I also am accepting that with mistakes, I will learn more as I have to find my way through them. So, my Perfection Paralysis has left as well. All because I read the book, Everyday Matters and it does. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Danny.

  21. I have been dreaming about taking Drama classes for so long …for all those reasons that you pointed out….I wasn’t able to identified them before….until now (after reading your post) .
    I did not have any drama classes in school, back in Romania and in my area now, there are a lot for kids…none for adults :0(

    Your writings …i keep on reading them….over and over again…Most of your posts are like a Bible to me…like a motivational Bible…It makes me understand my frustrations/myself in a strange way…I/We are so lucky to find/have you Danny Gregory !

  22. Mindblowing post. “… until I was utterly without guile or reserve.” I think that’s the place we want to get to. By way of the ridiculous and the honest and the deepest, rawest thoughts & confessions. Sharing guts & feelings. All the wows have been posted. I just wanted to add another. Putain de wow.

  23. wow. fabulous. my goal for 2014 – be the REAL ME. live every moment from LOVE and practice kindness, starting with me. here’s a ginormous wahoo for being vulnerable, so open it hurts, then open some more!!!

  24. This is truly important- the “Clownspace” is where kids live when they play freely without thought of the self or of analyzing what they are doing. The impetus that leads me to draw is “What would be FUN to draw today?” Maybe a Pigzilla destroying Tokyo. Maybe an Anglerfish. Maybe my cats. So we need to have some of that Clownspace, if we have a history of playing in there it is now a fun and comfortable home. Thanks again Dan!!

  25. Pingback: Let them draw cake. | Danny Gregory

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