Brand New Clown (part 1)

Why did I become a clown? It’s fun! Really, really, really, really fun.

10409092_10152466188946675_5237126887439902071_n (2)_1I applied to Portland, Oregon’s Rose Festival Character Clown Corps and was interviewed by Angel, the Clown Prince and administrator of this program. He must have noticed my stiff posture and fearful face. Trying out was a huge challenge for me, a quiet, mild-mannered, and private person. I didn’t know how to juggle or ride a unicycle so I read a poem entitled “Smiling is Contagious”, written by an anonymous clown, for my tryout. The Clown Prince graciously told me I reminded him of Meryl Streep and welcomed me into the program.

There were seven women at training. The youngest was 25, and I fear I was the oldest at 65. Angel and his two male assistants spent three days showing us how to put on our makeup and assemble a costume that matched our character. Angel demonstrated silly things to do to please a crowd. I couldn’t catch a ball in a magic paper bag like he showed us or juggle scarves, so I decided I would give away flowers and stickers. I hoped that some time in the future my secret skill of writing backwards could be utilized.

On the way home on the last day of clown training, I visited a neighbor’s wife who was almost comatose and close to death. She opened her eyes and smiled at my big red nose and generously-drawn mouth. Her family asked me to pose for a photo with them. My career was already in the fast lane.

During the next weeks I spent hours shopping the secondhand stores for a better costume — and had way too much fun. At Goodwill, I found a silk shirt covered in abstract art. At Hollywood Vintage I found a pair of shoes painted yellow, green, and blue, and a cap in lavender. All would look good with the huge pair of purple pants and suspenders I wore.

My first official gig was to meet with about 15 other clowns at City Fair, the Rose Festival amusement park at Waterfront

Park. We hung out with the Rose Festival princesses and had our photographs taken dozens of times by the media. The Clown Prince was dressed in purple robes and a top hat. I noticed that my clown mouth was drawn the same as his. Did I copy it on purpose? We fanned out and walked conspicuously through the crowd. Kids stared, and if their parents approved, they came running over for a little sticker and kind words. It was an exhilarating three hours. When I arrived home, I immediately began to build a better bag of tricks.

Stand Up (for your friends) To Bullies

This is about friends, classmates and bystanders standing up for others. If your friend is being bullied, you can motivate the others who are standing there with you to say something. You can say something. When others stand up to a bully, on behalf of a person being bullied, they make a difference.

How do you do it? Why do you do it? In Power Play, Mako, the main character, stands up to a bully to defend Derald even though he is not a close friend. Perhaps Mako knew conflict management or had been to a class in mediation or problem solving? No. When Mako saw the bullying begin, he felt a strong reaction in his gut that told him to do something.

Standing up to bullies is more about finding your own compassion and acting on it. Special classes are not needed to do this. A bullying situation is not a problem to be solved or negotiated, it is someone treating someone else without respect. It is about another person in trouble. That should make everyone who sees it mad. When Mako stepped forward to defend Derald he did not have a plan ( perhaps he should have) but the disgust he felt at what was happening overcame him and motivated him to action.

Mako could have asked others to get involved, but he did not feel particularly  powerful at the time. However, he may have had more influence than he believed. He was scared of the bully, but his compassion was stronger than his fear. When you see a bully in action, you may be scared too. Perhaps the bully threatens to hurt you or anyone else who gets in his or her way. But this is a time to find your own compassion and act on it. Talk to the kids around you and help them to find their own compassion.  Encourage them to get involved. Point out that what is happening is disrespectful to everyone involved.

Don’t assume that if you have compassion that the bully will. Many  lack the ability to feel empathy for others; that is one reason they feel free to do what they do. Don’t rely on encouraging the bully to find his or her compassion to stop the bullying.

I wish I could report on all the times I saved a friend from a bully and rallied others to do the same. However, today I am braver and more out spoken about injustice and disrespect than I was as a kid. Hooray to those of you who can find your compassion and act on it early in life.


In Complicity, Please Augie, one of the main characters, has passed away but he returns to visit family and friends and becomes an important part of the novel. This is a story of someone who has died possibly coming back to visit me.

Near the end of an RV trip across Canada, I insisted we stop for Sunday services at a Spiritualist Church on Vancouver Island, near Victoria, British Columbia. I had discovered these churches in college when I hung out with religion majors. On visits to other Spiritualist churches, I had been fascinated by mediums who communicated messages from the dead.

Our GPS took us down a narrow dirt road to a remote lodge. Alan and our Labrador retriever stayed in the RV while I waded into the small crowd in the parking lot.

“Your first time?” a woman asked me. She cradled a frosted chocolate cake.

I nodded, wondering whether she meant Spiritualist churches in general or this church. “We’re traveling through Canada.”

“Welcome. We’ll get a late start today. Our caretaker had a late night and forgot Sunday services.” She spoke without judgment.

After a flurry of activity, the door opened, and I followed the crowd inside. I took a seat in the second row while a dozen people filled the other chairs. The woman with the cake set it on a table before she opened the service with a prayer.  She led us in hymns and delivered a short sermon. I do not remember the content because I was waiting for the messages at the end. When the woman sat down and a man strode to the front and stood facing us, I felt hopeful.

“May I come to you?” he said to the woman sitting on my right.

“Yes, please.” The heavy-set, middle-aged woman appeared burdened by life.

“Gus is standing next to you. He wants you to know he’s watching over you.” The medium paused, staring into unseen places. “Don’t buy the house. It will lead to financial ruin.”

The woman sucked in a breath. Her hands trembled as she wiped an eye. “Thank you.”

Other parishioners received readings, mostly greetings from dead relatives. A few got advice or comments on an event from the past. When I had gone to these churches in the past, I always left with some good advice or a new insight, thanks to a departed relative. Today I was feeling passed over. After the man at the front told a man to beware of hidden enemies at work, the medium sat and a woman with bright eyes under a nest of brown hair stood at the front.

“I’m coming to you.” She pointed to me.

“Me?” I felt my heart speed up.

“Is that okay?”

I nodded.

“What’s your name?”

“Janice.” I wanted to remember every word she said.

She closed her eyes and nodded. When they opened, she searched for me. “Sulee Blackburn is here.”

I did not recognize the name. Disappointing

“She has her arms around you.”

It was a pleasant image, but I did not know who Sulee was.

“She thanks you for your kindness in grade school.”

Grade school? I ticked through the 60 other students in my class at Llewellyn Elementary School until I remembered Sulee. She was tall, and her dark hair was always cut into an uneven bob. One side of her body did not function properly, and she had trouble speaking. Many of our classmates had not treated her well.

“Sulee says you made her feel happy.” The medium was smiling.

I did? I could not remember one conversation I had had with Sulee.

“She says she can walk now that she’s on the other side.”

I sensed Sulee’s happiness at leaving her imperfect body and imagined Sulee’s heavenly arms around me. It felt good. But I had been no nicer to her, so some of my classmates must have been cruel. Tears started down my cheeks.

“Sulee’s not leaving,” the medium said. “She’ll have her arms around you when you need comfort. You did it for her and she’s been doing it for you.”

I sobbed as I considered how Sulee took care of me because of something I did not remember. Why? My kindness to her had been modest. The woman beside me handed me a tissue.

After the service, I rushed to tell Alan. When I opened the door of the RV, I hesitated because Alan would not believe me.

“How was it?” he asked while he fiddled with his cell phone.

I shrugged. I would tell someone else, someone who understood angels.

Back home, I asked Kay, my old Llewellyn class mate who knew everyone, what had happened to Sulee. Kay said she had died young.

I want to believe that Sulee is with me, her arms around me. If she is, she has given me much more than I gave her in those early years. But what do I know? We do not choose your angels; they choose us.

Super Thrifting

In Complicity, Please, Lucia has moved from a rural high school to the big city and needs new clothes. Her new best friend takes her to a thrift store and shows her how to shop. I wrote these scenes from my first-hand knowledge. Shopping at thrift stores is how I’ve bought most of my clothes for years now. My husband prefers new clothing but occasionally will accept one of my cheap finds.

No one knows my shopping habits until I tell them, except one time. I found an unusual skirt from England at a Goodwill when we lived in Florida. When I wore it to a meeting, a woman told me she had donated that skirt a year ago. She bought it in England during a visit with her children. Otherwise, my thrift buys usually go unnoticed and often generate compliments, even from my very fashion conscious mother.

Before shopping I make a list of what I need. Recently it was black pants and tan or brown summer shoes. I found all of those easily. Now it is long-sleeved knit tops. I am also aware of what colors I need. My favorite thrift store, Value Village, gives a discount to people my age on Wednesdays so I try to go then. If I go on another day I pay attention to what color tag is on sale. Anything I like with a sale tag looks more attractive to me. I look for new or almost new clothes. Anything with a balled surface, stretched, discolored, stained (unless I can get it out with Oxy Clean or bleach), or very worn is not considered. I am attracted to good quality fabrics and my favorite colors. I always look at the shoes and purses and occasionally find a high quality, low wear item. After trying everything on, I take another look at the items I’m considering and discard anything I’m not sure of before checking out.

I buy clown shoes, wigs, shirts, bags, props, and magic tricks at thrift stores.

There is a new wrinkle to thrift shopping that I am now addicted to. In the Portland-Vancouver area we have three Goodwill outlet stores also called “The Bins.” Items that haven’t sold in the regular stores are delivered to these stores and dumped into bins. Books, clothes, bedding, and shoes each have their own bin(s). The items are sold by the pound; the more you buy, the cheaper it gets. On each shopping trip, I spend a couple of hours looking through the bins while old bins are wheeled out and new bins are brought in. I have found bins of brand new evening dresses or jackets that have probably never seen the inside of a regular Goodwill store. I put items I might buy into my basket and at the end of my trip I try them on over my clothes. Again, I am very picky. Most of what I buy is new or almost new

On my last trip to The Bins I met a woman who makes a lot of money on eBay by finding name brands that people want and selling the clothing on-line. I also observed two 13 year olds carefully sorting through an entire bin of clothing and commenting on each piece. What a good learning experience for them. I wish I had had a thrifting buddy at an early age.

I have a friend who is size 00 and I look for her. On my most recent trip, I found her three cute jackets. I have found covers for the pillows on my bed that match my bedspread. When I was teaching a class on activities for adult foster homes, I found dozens of games, puzzles and other items of entertainment to use for my class. My dog plays with a punching bag and two big stuffed toys I recently found there.

My best find was on my first trip ever to The Bins.  I spotted a leopard skin purse and when I saw it was new put it in my basket. It probably cost me $1.50. When I got home I googled Kate Spade and discovered I had a $300 purse. It might be a knock off so I’m not going to sell it but just looking at that purse makes me want to go back for more shopping.