Failure and Freedom

Lisa AltomareThe clown took stock, gathered herself, and delivered the message to the teacher:  fuck you.

I gasped, then exhaled to partake in the laughter.  "More of that," said the teacher, and the clown delivered:  "FUCK YOUUU!!"...middle finger in full salute, body crouched, shaking with rage and pride, she expressed the truth of her experience, and it was absolutely hilarious.

It was the first day of the weekend workshop with Caroline Dream, master clown teacher, and we were playing games.Caroline, with class  The aim of this one was to scare the audience, and Lisa, the clown, was failing.  The audience neither quaked nor laughed, so Lisa was doing everything she could to get a reaction.  Caroline was giving direction.  "Sing opera," she said.  According to clown logic, singing opera can be very scary, but still nothing much happened. The clown tried harder.  The teacher pushed.  So it went, until, finally, the clown had a surprise encounter with her deep defiant core, and out it came.  fuck you.  FUCK YOUUU!   Oh my, did she enjoy the defiance!  and because she did, we did.

Zen students may recognize this exasperating learning process.  When studying koans, directions from the teacher are meant to point students directly into their experience.  We need a teacher because our experience is rarely where we want to be, especially if we have reason to fear it, which most of us do.  And of course the Zen teacher can't transmit her own experience to the student any more than the clown teacher can get up and get the laugh for the clown.  So, we are given a ridiculous question to go and meditate with, and when we return proudly with our very excellent, very plausible answer, the teacher pulls the rug out from under us, and then again, and again, until there is nothing left but This.  Me, except free.

In the workshop, I witnessed such transformation many times.  Play-acting, bits of business, disconnection, anything signaling lack of authentic feeling was called out by Caroline, and the clowns responded, or, rather, those who could, did.  I wish I could say that I broke on through to the other side, but I found myself scrambling for footing instead of letting go.  One of our first games was frisbee, but my fused wrists (surgery following childhood arthritis) make throwing a frisbee nearly impossible, so my first throw nearly cracked my neighbor's ribs.  I was horrified.  The next time I tried, Caroline announced that I was dangerous.  Everyone laughed and ducked. That was my opening.  I declined.  Instead of botching another, I tried really really hard to throw it right, and succeeded.  And then I did it again.  I survived, doctor, but the joke died.  I totally missed the opportunity to play.  It was clown hell.

Clowns take pleasure in failure.  In one game, we attempted to follow commands, and when we bungled, we got to make a splendid exit and go to the corner.  Soon the corner was filled with best friends, cheering and comforting each other.  The levity came from the company.  No one was alone.  My mistake, I now realize, is that I separated myself from the group.  Instead of committing myself to my own unique flaws, and celebrating them, I tried to eliminate them so that I could 'pass.'  That could have been funny too.  Once we understand that every absurd and wholehearted effort to overcome our limitations is beautiful and lovable, we can release ourselves into laughter, and join the group of humans on the same journey.  

Fail Gloriously, I once said, when I realized that I couldn't achieve what was expected of mothers nowadays, and what a relief for the whole family that was!  I say it now again, to myself and anyone out there listening. Keep trying, and keep failing, and do fall in love with that beautiful, ridiculous clown pointing to freedom.  The New York Clown Theatre Festival is in full flower at the Brick Theatre until September 28th.   

(Related posts:  PsychoZen of ClownFor the Love of ClownsTruth! What is it?Purpose and PoliticsDemons and Death)


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (1)

You make me want to put down my camera for some of these performances (or workshops, for that matter) and immerse myself in the experience of the clown.

September 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIan

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>
« For the Love of Clowns | Main | PsychoZen of Clown »