Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On Transience and Fantasies That Make it Bearable

When I was nine years old my father went to Poland and brought me two traditionally dressed Polish dolls and a bunch of photographs. I still vividly remember my favorite photo of the bunch. It was of a couple of gypsies dressed in full, ground grazing skirts, babushkas, and heavy coats. They had their backs turned away from the camera because for reasons I don't know they didn't want to be photographed.

I spent a great deal of time looking at that picture and making up stories in my head about what kind of lives those people must have lived. To me the word gypsy conjured images of vardos, caravans, and campfires with good drinks and even better music. A life unencumbered by mortgages and electric bills. Where rules didn't always apply and along with the animals that accompanied you, people may be collected along the way and added to the fracas.

Perhaps I identified so much with the gypsies because of all the constant change in my life as a young person. Most likely I glamorized and romanticized their existence like I do most things, but whatever the case was, it was an admiration that never went away. One doesn't really run into too many gypsies in the US, you've got your transient youth, and the travelling salesmen but no gypsies. Fortunately for me, we've got something better. THE CIRCUS.

Four years ago during a trip to my in laws in southern Indiana I went to the circus. It was the first circus I can remember seeing. This was no Ringling brothers. This was a small, family owned operation that performed every show under the big top, in this case it was more like a medium top. I remember vividly standing outside of the tent with it's pennants waving in the wind while children ran by holding sticks of cotton candy bigger than their heads. Next to all of this was a small enclosure containing an elephant. I stood in awe of it all.

As I watched the show, the trapeze artists, the acrobats, the animals, and the clowns, it dawned on me that the circus really embodied so many of the things I loved about gypsies. Except everything was covered in feathers and they had a BEDAZZLER! HOW MUCH COOLER COULD THAT LIFE BE!?!? And thus began another round of fantasies involving people's lives I didn't know very much about, other than BOY DID I WANT IT!

Lucky for me, Water For Elephants came out around that time, further plunging me into the glamorous, imaginary world of circus life. Since then I have often wished someone would make a documentary abut a small circus like the one I had seen and so when I saw this as a suggestion for me on Netflix I was really, really excited. I'm into episode three and it is just SO good.

Recently on a drive home from Indiana, when I was only a few miles from home I saw the points and flags of a big top tent on a hill on the side of the interstate. As soon as I got home we found it online, Cole Brothers Circus and the very next day we got to go. Every single part of that experience was magical for me and I felt so much like a kid again, believing in magic and fairies and dreams as I watched it all. But what was even better was watching my children as the twinkle of the lights reflected in their eyes and they sat, in rapt attention, soaking it all in and believing in the magic with me.

I don't believe in lying about Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, and so those childhood experiences aren't as much for me as a parent because of that. But this, this was REAL magic and for a couple of hours we got to believe in it together, pink poodles and all.

I always thought that when I married a dentist he would start a practice somewhere and we would settle down for the rest of our lives...and then The Navy entered our lives, or we entered it. So a life of constant change continues on with its history and we keep adding people to the fracas. But just like I did as a kid, I continue to play the fantasies in my mind to get me through some of the hard parts. Except this time I have other players with me. Maybe now we're circus performers, moving on to the next show. Pack the unicorns and the pink poodles! Make sure you have your fancy costumes. I've got the bull whip and the megaphone, now everyone in the clown car and let's go! The show must go on, no matter where it takes us.


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