To Be Free We Must Be Daring!
Let us be not surprised for things are not often as they appear. Many of us are 'clowns' and can be the life of the party. We appear content and bring much laughter and mirth, but we clowns often carry much sorrow inside our hearts and souls. I think there is a little 'clown' in most of us. To be free we must take risks and be bold and daring. We must be willing to don the wigs and costumes and facades that we hide behind. May we embrace sorrow and Joy for they are both part and parcel of who and all that we humans are. Please enjoy the poem and the story!
A CLOWN I STILL AM, BUT A DIFFERENT CLOWN, THERE WILL BE NO PAINT ON MY FACE!
He was the life of every party.
A master of movement, illusion and words.
He brought merriment, and laughter to people.
But to him life was meaningless and absurd.
People came from afar to see him.
He grew more popular over the years.
When they looked at him they saw smiles.
In the mirror he saw sorrow and tears.
One day he asked himself why am I alone?
How can this truly be?
“Stop,” said a voice inside him.
“For once please listen to me.”
Take off the wig, the costume must go.
All props must be tossed aside.
Lastly the painted face must go.
From me you cannot hide.”
“Who are you, strange voice? what do you mean?
This is the only life I know.
I bring laughter, smiles and joy to all.
There are no tears wherever I go.”
“Tis not true, my friend” said the voice to him.
“Your tears have brought me to you.
Although you think you are unworthy of love.
I say you deserve it too.
I have watched you perform many times.
You do it so very well.
But after the curtain call is over,
you crawl back into your shell.
For many years you have been lonely
despite uplifting words that pour from your heart.
Now you yearn for Love’s tender embrace.
You need more than amusement, laughter and art.
With humor you have created many moods
without experiencing that of which you spoke.
When you cried they laughed, how could they not?
Life to you has been a big joke.
Now you have changed, you believe there is more.
You are ready to experience, to feel.
I am here to help you, dear friend.
To show you that Love is real.”
“What must I do, oh voice, please tell me I pray.
From these chains I wish to be free.
Listening to you gives me hope
that Love will come to me.”
“Listen carefully, gentle man, to my message.
To see behind words is your task.
Experience their truth instead of their form,
and you shall have that for which you ask.
Risks you must take, exposed you must be.
You must reveal your fears.
As frightening as it is to show your deep self,
when you do then others come near.
Not all will come, some will hide behind words.
Like you, they feel it safer to run.
But one day they will reach out to Love.
I tell you my work is never done.
“I bid thee adieu” said the voice to the man.
Now you are ready to trust.
Risks you will take; some pain you will feel
but I promise Love will be just.
In offering your gift, the gift of yourself,
you will lose, but you will also gain more.
You will take the chance, you will be alive.
You will step upon Heaven’s shore.”
“I understand,” said the man.
“You are a great master who came to earth.
The voice of one who lived long ago
and taught people about rebirth.
You never died, you were never born.
Alive you have always been.
Alive am I, and Love am I.
This is my promise to you now and then.”
“Yes,” said the voice, “today is your day.
Sadness and sorrow will soon part.
Help others to feel they are not alone
through your antics, your humor and your art.”
“Thank you,” said the man, “you may now go
so we both can work at our pace.
I clown I still am, but a different clown.
There will be no paint on my face.”
When we studied up on lizards in grade school, the chameleon was definitely my favorite one. I was intrigued and fascinated how this creature could change its skin color so rapidly to blend in where it was to help ward off its predators. When I entered therapy again back in 1982 for what I called “yet another round in The Talking Chair”, I recall telling my therapist one day that I felt like a chameleon. I could be so many different things to so many people. Just like the chameleon I was very skilled at shifting my personality to fit the moment and person at hand. “I really don’t even know who I am, I’d say. I think of that TV show “To Tell the Truth” where they say, “would the real John Doe please stand up” and I’d laugh, thinking, well at least they know who they are.
In eighth grade I used to pretend that I was Barry Peters because I was not happy with who I was. Sometimes I would look in the mirror and say, “I am not Michael Dennis. I am Barry Peters. People like me. I am strong and brave and popular with the girls. Yes, I am Barry Peters. I would watch him in class and in the lunch room and hallways, then later try to imitate how he walked, talked and held himself. He seemed to be so confident and sure of himself.
“Why did I have to be me?” I’d ask God sometimes. Surely God Almighty made a mistake when he gave me my personal identity, I’d think. I remember one of my teachers saying one day, “When they made me they broke the mold.” Needless to say he was rather fond of himself or at least he liked to give that impression. I remember thinking, I’d sure like to find that mold and glue it back together so a new me could be made.
My fantasy of being Barry Peters lasted about a year until my hero got in trouble in freshman year for getting into fights and getting caught with booze and drugs. Barry seemed to go downhill so fast. How could the simple change from graduating from our grade school to moving on to ninth through twelfth grade at another school cause him to change so much I wondered. That both frightened and somehow comforted me. I was upset to have my dream fantasy hero get into far more trouble and have more problems than I did. But it did make me think that maybe I was not a hopeless basket case. I made good grades. I was good at pleasing my teachers. I was in Beta and the Thespian Club and won achievement awards in Consumer Education and Career Exploration Class. I was in the school plays and articles I wrote were even published in the high school newspaper.
The local paper, “The Pioneer News” even took a picture of me giving my rendition of The Wizard of Oz to third graders at the nearby grade school in my seventh period Career Exploration Class. No, I was not so bad. I was kinda, sorta a good guy worth something. My social worker, Gloria, had even recommended me as a Honorary Page to the KY State Legislature and I won an award. Never mind that my father’s response was, “Hell, that little piece of paper won’t even buy a loaf of bread,” and my self esteem sank to rock bottom where it stayed for years.
I knew about the side of me that loved to achieve and make others happy. Partly, I yearned for attention, affection and approval which I never got from my parents. Partly, I had a genuine love for learning and books and always got excited about different ideas and subjects. I also knew about the part of me that never quite fit it and felt lonely and depressed. I kept This smile on my face, like politicians do.
I felt it went along with the job description, or at least it went along with my conception of who I was supposed to be, and how I wanted people to perceive me. Everyone pretty much thought I was Mr. Happy. In college I loved it when the show director at one of the summer resorts where I performed and worked, sang that song “Laughing on the outside, crying on the inside. Be a pagliaccio and laugh”. I sat mesmerized as she sang. Though I do not even know the name of the song, I still recall certain of the lines, “Even though you’re only make believe, laugh clown laugh. Even though your heart is bleeding, laugh clown laugh. Even though you are grieving, laugh clown laugh.” And how I have always loved paintings of clowns. I always felt I could spot the sadness behind the eyes even though the painter might believe it is only happiness and merriment he is portraying on the canvas.
In The Prophet Kahil Gibran says, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. The selfsame well from which your laughter arises was often times filled with your tears. The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” I believe that the funniest most entertaining people also have a deep capacity for sorrow and often times have known tremendous suffering in their lives. So, though I was known in school for my constant smile and “loony laugh” as some of my friends referred to it, the truth was, I was haunted and consumed by sadness.
It is no wonder I had such a strong, intense fantasy life and felt like a chameleon. When I was pretending to be someone else, I did not have to think about myself or deal with my own uncertainties, struggles and depressions.
It is not surprising that I could not find Love or attract the love that I yearned for when I had so many torn and confusing parts and characters in my own inner world. Part of me wanted to love and yearned for it. Another part of me was too scared to give a real relationship a halfway chance. Mary had been a real jewel, a goddess of sorts sent to me from Heaven I used to say, but that relationship did not last. She had her own unresolved issues, hurts, and childhood scars and so did I. My inner child had been battered for years back home, and though I had been in therapy many times, I was still unable to open up and trust anybody. It was just too unsafe, too scary.
I had been on my own for years. Four years in four different foster homes and five years away at college with a lot of travel involved further reinforced my independence. Still I yearned to be with my family for Christmas my freshman year of college. No matter what had happened or how dysfunctional my family was, I still ached for a home and to be with them. I often recall what my therapist friend Elizabeth once said, “Michael, it’s sad that our parents put us through hell growing up and were seldom there for us. But what is sadder is after all that we still need their love and acceptance. Years after becoming an adult and being out on my own, I still felt like a little girl craving her mommie’s acceptance, affection and attention. You’d think that we’d just move on, but some of us just can’t.”
Like my therapist friend, I was one of those people that “just can’t.” But I did choose to stay on campus my first year at college because I knew that dad would be yelling and arguing with mom and they’d be drinking. I’d walk along the streets during Christmas and enjoy all the decorations and lights, and smile when I saw families sharing a meal and enjoying each other’s company. One man was having a snowball fight with my little boy who looked to be about seven. Another one was building a snowman with my two little girls and two boys who clapped their little hands, full of glee and excitement when their father stuffed the carrot nose and placed an old black hat on top of the snow man. That night was magical; all that snow dropping out of the sky, no two flakes alike. The gleaming street lights made them look like small diamonds and crystals. I let out little giggles as some landed on my cheek giving me a tickle. Then I heard the noisy cries of family merriment as another dad held my little one on my shoulder and ran around the front yard. More snow was falling on my cheeks. My tears would melt some of them.
I felt so alone and alienated, but yet every night I was out there taking walks and I wondered if I would ever belong to anyone or have a sense of family. Am I destined to always be an outsider? Will I ever let my guard and stop hiding behind facades and just be me? I wondered. I’d watch The Wizard of Oz and feel so nostalgic and sad when Dorothy says, “There’s no place like home.” One day a friend told me that home is where the heart is. I simply looked at her blankly and said, “My heart is broken. I will never have a home.”
Though I felt confused, alienated from myself and very alone, I was going to lots of parties and was often the life of the party. At the Ramada Inn restaurant where I worked, customers often asked for me. I loved sharing jokes and making people laugh. I often took out take what Chris called, “the little book” and said, “tell me that joke again. I have to get This one down.”
“And that one and that one,“ Chris would say, “soon you’re going to have a whole book of jokes.”
On my second day at Ramada Inn, we were catering a big wedding party. I serenaded, on bended knee, the bride to be. When the guests went upstairs to their rooms, the bachelor stepped out onto my balcony and called out to me, “Hey, Michael, you were great. Why don’t you come up and party with us?” I stepped onto a table next to the wall and they pulled me into their room. I was met by a crowd of people and their applause. To reward them I burst into a hilarious drinking song then told them another string of jokes. A few minutes later my catering boss stormed into the room. “What are you doing up here?” she said angrily.
“Entertaining” I, replied, feeling like a mouse cornered by a cat.
She walked to the window and pointed to the other servers. “They are cleaning up which is what you should be doing as well. If you weren’t a good worker, I’d fire you right now. But don’t let This happen again.” she said then stormed out. I told the bachelor and my entourage I was sorry but I had to get back to work. Ever the clown, Sometimes I truly seemed to forget where I was and what I was supposed to be doing. I guess I was so starved for attention and affection that I welcomed it whenever the opportunity availed itself. As a kid, my father was gone most of the time at work, and when he was home he was busy drinking himself to oblivion and fighting with my mother.
I learned that day at Ramada Inn not to party on the job, but I took my parties elsewhere. At one party after a few drinks, I took my shirt off, stood on the kitchen table and belted out, “Those were the days my friends,” and soon had everyone joining in. Having a sensual affectionate side, I often found myself giving women, and Sometimes men, shoulder massages. Some would moan and tell me I could do that all night. One time we had an entire line of people walking from room massaging each other. My friend Daniel came in later and laughing said, “I can see that wherever Michael is, people are all over each other.”
“We’re just keeping in touch,” I’d reply, laughing, then yell, “Come on everybody, time for a group hug.”
During that time I began to teach myself Italian. I had a crush on my friend Chris’ sister Mandy. She spoke Italian and I wanted to impress her, plus I had a love for Italian from my singing days in college. Though the sounds of foreign languages greatly appealed to me, they were also a part of my facade. The parties went on for about a year then I began to get bored with them. I yearned for closeness as much as I shied away from it. A few weeks later the famous Mime, Marcel Marceau, came to Bloomington, IN where I was living. I was enthralled by my performance, especially my rendition of what he called “The tree” Wow, I had told my friend Chris. “Just put some white makeup on my face, and a tight body suit and the man can become anything, and all without a word being spoken.” I wanted to learn mime, but instead, "the writing" urge returned, and a few days later I wrote “The Clown”.
“Whoa," I recall after laying the notebook and pen down and leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes. In my mind’s eye I saw a clown in a dressing room sitting in front of a mirror putting on my makeup. Then he walked on stage and began to perform. Big blue lights shone in the background and little stars dazzled about. Different size smiley faces floated all about, giving the stage a surreal sort of look. Then a chorus in the background began singing softly and slowly “Make us laugh, clown. Make us laugh clown,” until they reached a crescendo. It was all in my imagination, but still I put my hands over my ears hoping to drown it out.
The clown performed a series of juggling and tumbling acts then some mime. When finished, he slowly walked to the front of the stage and took a deep gracious bow. The audience was roaring in applause. He just stood there doing nothing. The spectators grew very quiet, their eyes riveted on him. The clown stood a few more moments then out of thin air appeared a small bucket of water and a cloth. He reached for the cloth, dipped it in the bucket of water, squeezed it, then began washing the paint off my face while repeating the final two lines,” A clown I still am, but a different clown. There will be no paint on my face.”
I opened my eyes, mumbling “There will be no paint on my face” as my hand slowly made its way to my cheeks and began rubbing them, half expecting to feel wetness. I shook my head a couple of times and slowly began to come back to myself. I read the words I had just penned. A warmth came over me, and I had the feeling that I was not alone. I had felt this warmth before but it was stronger this time. “Who is this voice?“ I asked as I read, “Stop” said a voice inside, “for once please listen to me.”
I got up and walked around. I thought of movies where people would hear strange sounds and voices in old houses, and they would say things like “Who goes there? Who are you? Identify yourself.” To be honest I was too scared to ask this voice to identify itself. But it seemed obvious the voice meant me no harm. On the contrary, it was reaching out to me and offering guidance. I decided that I needed an opinion, but who would I share this writing with? My friends might even think I had gone off my rocker.
My dilemma was solved a few days later when at a party I met Janet. I felt an instant rapport with her. In no time we were talking like old friends. At one point I grew quiet and took on what Leslie calls my “solemn look.” What is it?” Janet asked, looking puzzled.
“I have been wanting to share,” I stumbled; the rest of the words got stuck in my mouth.
“Go on,” Janet said, “it’s okay. You can tell me anything.”
“Well,” I write Sometimes, and recently I wrote something that I’ve been scared to share with anyone. These writings are all new. I wish I knew where they come from.“
Janet rubbed her hand through her hair and yawned. “Excuse me,” I was up late last night and am a bit tired, but I do want to hear what you wrote. My philosophy about writing is that if it’s entertaining or uplifting,” I don’t care if it’s from Bozo the Clown.”
I gasped at her use of the word clown. “Well, okay, Janet. I will read it to you, but I will be nervous. You are the first person to hear This one.”
“Can I visit the restroom first? I want to be able to give your writing my full attention.”
“Of course, and can I get you a drink?”
“Water would be fine, thanks.”
My voice quivered slightly as I read. What would she think? Sharing your art can be such a scary experience because you feel so vulnerable. This is your baby, your creation, and to think that someone might not like it or find it worthwhile never leaves my mind. The idea of putting it out there for the world to criticize or even judge is even more scary. I remind myself during such times of the countless writers who do the very same thing everyday.
Janet’s eyes never left mine while I read. Occasionally she let out a sigh. By the time I finished I had broken into a light sweat. Janet did not seem to notice. Her eyes were glued to mine. Since I finally learned how to handle eye contact without getting anxious, I have long since found it enjoyable to look at others and have them look at me. There is something very intimate and special, even magical about the experience. One only has to look at a baby or child to be reminded of such beauty. Eyes are indeed fascinating and beautiful to me. When I finished Janet was still gazing at me with a far away look in her eyes.
“Well, what do you think?” I asked, roiling in suspense.
Janet took my hand and gently rubbed it. “Michael, that is one of the most beautiful writings I have ever heard.”
“I have always been fascinated by clowns.”
“You know who the clown reminds me of; my old boyfriend Brad. It’s him to a tee. “I want a copy of that writing if you’d do me the honors, Michael.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“I am totally serious,” she said, taking two dollars from her purse. “I love that
writing, and here’s some money for you to make me a copy. Since we both live in the
same apartment complex, why not just tape it on my front door.
“Okay, I will do that.”
“I can’t wait to have my very own copy. It really is good, Michael.”.
“Thanks for listening” I told her.
“The honor and pleasure were mine. You really ought to see about getting your writings published.”
“You flatter me, Janet.”
“The Clown describes Brad so much. It’s amazing how someone who doesn’t even know someone can describe their characteristics so well. Yes, the clown, he is Brad. Well, I got to be going now.”
I walked Janet to the door and saw her out. We exchanged hugs. “The Clown is me,” I whispered as I shut the door.
Janet’s positive response did wonders for me. I could not get over how my Muse could write about something so special to me. That moved me very deeply and made a big impact on me. After “The Clown” I experienced a new respect and openness to the other writings. They began to feel like gifts instead of criticism and lectures. I reread “The Messenger of Love”. Now it made more sense to me. My former resistance and anger were gone. I was able to admit and face my insecurities with a new honesty and clarity. I began thinking of things I used to do to manipulate people and to impress them. Was that not in a sense trying to buy love?
It was a bit hard for my pride to swallow, but I did begin to swallow. To be honest, I was weary and tired of living my life the way I had been. It was time for changes and some different outlooks and attitudes. I relived times when I got gifts for someone I was courting. I did not do so just out of a spontaneous urge to give for the sake of giving, I definitely wanted something in return for my so called generosity. Yes, the lady had been right about that. I recalled times when I would sing and tell jokes at parties. Sometimes I did it out of a sense of fun and jest, but more often I had my eyes on someone and wanted to impress them. When someone did express an interest in me, I would go on about countries and interesting places I had visited, and things I had done. I listened to them talk too, but really was not much interested in hearing about their lives. It was painful but I finally had to admit that I was a self centered egotist. I had my moments of doing good deeds and kind acts. Most egotists have their moments here and there. But they were far too few compared to the ones where I was looking out for “number one” as the saying goes.
Egotism has a price. I think every egotist suffers from a deep sense of insecurity and low self esteem; otherwise they would not be so selfish. Beneath the cool veneers and facades, I think they are quite lonely and sad. I know I certainly was. I think This was what “the voice” meant when he said “When they looked at him they saw smiles. In the mirror he saw sorrow and tears.” When people would ask me how I was, I’d say fine, or doing great when Sometimes I was far from fine. But I could not let them see that. They’d think me weak, insecure and somber. I could not have that. I heard the line again, “In the mirror he saw sorrow and tears.”. Oh yes, that is me I thought.
As long as no one else saw the tears and sorrow I was safe. “yes, all a part of your costume and painted face,” I heard in my mind. “All part of hiding your true self from others and even yourself.”
Mary told me one time that when people would ask her how she was doing, she would get close to their face and say “Do you really want to know?” Sometimes before she could even answer, they’d say, that’s good then walk away. That was her way of screening out the superficial ones, and it worked. People would be a little taken aback when she’d say “Do you really want to know?” I had also been guilty of that very superficiality many times.
I did a lot of more self analysis and soul searching after writing “The Clown”. I had come to like and was learning from "the writings", but the clown affected me the most. It was also my favorite one. The “Voice” had a mentor feel to it and a paternal quality about it that appealed to me very much. Lord knows I had been longing and searching for a father figure all of my life to make up for my real father never being there for me in childhood. For my muse to speak to me as a clown made a very big impression on me and actually caused me to take her more seriously than I had been doing. She probably knew that and referred to me as a clown for that very reason. I recalled fantasies of running off to the circus as a kid, and one of my favorite personas when I had my singing telegram business was “Pip the Clown”. My friend Priscilla would put on the make up, the nose, wig and help me with Pip’s costume. Every moment of transformation was magical and special. Funny it may be, as Pip I felt I could be more myself.
The voice in “The Clown” helped me to see that I was not fulfilled being the perpetual clown. A part of me desperately longed to cease hiding behind words and to be able to show my true self to others. The “ Voice” expressed faith in me. “You will take the chance. You will be alive. Risks you will take.” it had said. I had known for years that risking was vital to success and happiness. I knew I had to stop worrying about what people would think about me, and instead give them a chance to accept and love me. How could I do that if I insisted on always being the clown? Yes, it was time to make more effort to be myself. Time to nurture myself more. It was also time to come out of my shell and take risks as “The Voice” had said I would do. I needed to reach out to people again. This “The Clown” helped me to realize.
I began making concrete efforts to be less superficial and to show more caring and concern to others. One day Mary was really down. Instead of trying to analyze her feelings and situation, I just started singing “All good gifts” from the musical God spell to her and then some love songs. She said that meant so much because Sometimes you don’t need to talk about your hurts. Sometimes you just need a friend to do something meaningful and thoughtful. One day when I was feeling particularly sad, instead of staying home and wallowing in self pity, I decided to visit a local nursing home. There I talked to the folks and played some games with them. Awhile later old Sally Wally, as they called her, began playing the piano and we all burst into singing “Harvest Moon”, “Bye bye Blackbird” and other oldies. When I left the nursing home, my sadness was gone. On the way home I thought of the words from “Messenger of Love,” “Any time you feel alone or discouraged, someone is in need of love.” Reach out to another. Extend a helping hand. When you embrace another you embrace yourself. I will freely give to others and more so when I am sad”.
I stood in front of the mirror and recalled old Sally Wally giving me a big bear hug before I left and then I wound up hugging all the others. Then alone in front of my mirror, I hugged myself and said, “Good job, fellow. You did a good thing today.” I knew that every time I was sad I could not muster up the excitement, mood or energy to go out and be with others. But I could do it Sometimes and maybe This was part of learning the lesson to freely give; expecting nothing to come back. Maybe doing things like This would help me become love as the Lady had put it. I sang the line from the Beatles song “All we need is love” and felt better the rest of that day.
We all put on a face and facade and become a clown at times. It might even be necessary and healthy. We have all known or seen someone who makes it an almost full time task to hide behind this or that facade, and it is a sad sight indeed to behold. I recalled the time my friend Daniel and I were visiting a small town in Indiana. In the restaurant line I insisted on speaking only French and as usual I was talking loudly.
“Do you have to speak French here?“ he said, looking embarrassed. “Why do you have to always stand out in a crowd?”
Another time I was meeting Chris at the bus station in New Jersey. While rushing down the long aisle, I burst out in full dramatic voice speaking in French, with arms swinging and the whole works. After we said our hellos, he softly said, “Michael, you don’t have to always be on stage where everyone notices you. Can’t you just be yourself sometimes?” I had blown him off, but recalling such incidences reminded me that much of my behavior back then was superficial. It saddened me that it took this long to realize it.
“The Clown” helped me begin to see that it is unhealthy and unnecessary to don the wig and costume and play the clown all the time. As the clown I had stated “From these chains I wish to be free. Listening to you brings me hope that Love will come to me.“ I know that change and healing take time so I would often remind myself that Rome was not built overnight, neither was she destroyed overnight. I knew it would take time to follow “the Voice’s and “the Lady’s” advice to learn to give that freely which I desired, and to learn to let my guard down and be vulnerable and take risks. A spark of faith and hope had been ignited. That was what counted. I was now willing to take the steps forward to bring this new me into being, even though I knew it would involve sometimes taking a few steps backwards and what I like to refer to as “goofing up” and “blowing it” or put another way “screwing up.” Emotional healing and change take time and effort, but "the writings have convinced me that the time, effort and work are well worth it.