Monday, May 4, 2009

First of May

(Okay, I know it's the fourth of May, but I tend to run about three days behind the rest of the world.)

First of May is one of my favorite circus/carnival terms, perhaps because it sounds so pleasant when, in fact, it's more of an affectionate insult. I guess it's like newbie/noob/n00b or green, as it refers to someone in their first season with the circus.

I can't find much about the term other than its definition, so I'm not sure of the origins or applications. I have an impression that it is used for workers and performers alike, though I'm basing that only on Feiler's Under the Big Top, in which he explains that he, working as a clown (which seems to fall somewhere in the hierarchy between worker and performer), was called a First of May. I was surprised to find no listing for it in James Taylor's "Carny Lingo," which leads me to believe this is more of a circus term than a carnival term. (I'm guessing, but Taylor's list is otherwise so thorough that I am relatively comfortable with this guess.)

Monday, April 27, 2009


This summer, my mom (bless her heart) and I are going to Milwaukee for the Great Circus Parade Festival, and, of course, a few days in Baraboo to visit the Circus World Museum. The geek is me is most excited about the Library and Research Center, where I hope to get my hands on some visuals as well as some accounts of circus train wrecks (as my novel will feature one!). I am thrilled about the festival and parade itself, as I feel like I kind of need to learn more about contemporary circus culture as well as history.

Still, the more I read about and experience the modern circus, the more I'm faced with the fact that the freak show, for all of its modernization and reappropriation, is still highly marginal. It's in a different margin now, yes, functioning less as a side show and more as an independent, main attraction, but detached from the tradition of the circus (voluntarily?). While the fact that it can stand alone speaks to the empowerment afforded by the contemporary freak show, it means that it is excluded from "circus" events, festivals, etc., and stuck into its own category. I'm sure that circuses still bearing the names, and the stigmas, of old shows feel some sense of guilt or shame for the way freaks were treated, much as descendents of slave-owners feel guilt for the sins of their forefathers, but what better way to assuage the guilt than to include, and thereby acknowledge the validity of, the wronged and marginalized group?

Perhaps I'm talking out of my ass here? I won't really know until I get to the festival and the museum and see for myself if/how the freak show is addresssed.

On a lighter note, we're also headed to Chicago for a few days, where I'm hoping to get a souvenir in the form of a tattoo, a circus ticket, most likely on the inside of my right forearm, from an artist who specializes in traditional American design (read: sailor tattoos).

Friday, April 24, 2009

To illustrate or not to illustrate? (Because who couldn't use a Shakespearean cliche?)

I've written a passable short story about a tattooed man who joins a sideshow and has all kinds of crazy fun.* I love graphic novels, and I think this would make an amazing one, but I can barely draw a recognizable stick figure. This means finding someone who can draw, who is willing to collaborate, and who I can get a long with (I'm a total pain in the ass).

It wouldn't hurt to find someone who knows a thing or two about graphic novels and comic books. I've only just started studying them, and the design elements are overwhelming. (I recommend Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art and Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels, as well as Will Eisner's Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative.)

This also has me wondering whether the novel I'm working on would be better as a comic series. It's very episodic. Hmm.

*Self-hatred, sex, pain... the usual fun.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Serious Weekend: Part II

I met my mom and my brother in Concord, NC, today to go the the National Tattoo Association's 2009 convention. I felt under-inked for the first time in a while, which of course made me want to get more work done (the sun coming up makes me want to get more tattoos, so this is not a novel experience). I got a few ideas and solidified my plan to get something nautical/traditional (Sailor Jerry style) on my feet, which will hopefully involve some reference to my grandfather or the ships he was on (he was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese came for a visit).

Seeing so many tattoos on so many different parts of the body got my brain going overtime, so I have a few more plans in the works, including a vacation* tattoo for this summer (a small circus/freak-related image that I'll get in Milwaukee or Chicago) and one big piece which I won't let myself get until my novel is finished.

So, fun times, and more to come.

*More about vacation in a future post.

Serious Weekend: Part I

Saturday night, I went to the Cole Bros. Circus in Wilson, NC. It was charmingly low-tech, and I enjoyed watching the setup as much as I enjoyed watching the acts. I'm almost finished reading Under the Big Top, Bruce Feiler's chronicle of his season with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, and I'm amazed at how much has changed in 14 years: no more band (perhaps the only high-tech accoutrement was the sound system), fewer acts (no trapeze!), no more Clyde Beatty (I've yet to research the split, though Feiler explains the merger quite well).

The hair suspension act and the human cannonball were impressive. The former reminds me of the pain endured when perfecting the tight, tight ponytail that I had to sport at some point in middle school, though I do not pretend that this self-inflicted hair-pulling is anything compared to the strain of holding the weight of an, albeit waifish, human body-- and spinning like a little human helicopter. The latter was exciting perhaps more because I've read so much about it (Feiler, who had a friendship with the human cannonball of hi season, describes the cannon and the background of the act in great detail); still, the cannon (the World's Largest Cannon) was a phallic wonder, and were positioned right next to it.

I was also amazed, if not a little disturbed, by the youngest member of the Colombian family of tight-rope walkers, a fearless 10-year old who did a handstand atop a seven-man pyramid (itself, of course, atop the tight-rope). I was relieved that he wore a harness, and it detracted not at all from his feat. I'm also thrilled to see that there are still family acts (if the Ringmaster's hype is to be believed), and that these talents are being taught to younger generations. Perhaps when his old enough to have his own act, he can play Wii 100 feet in the air instead of jumping rope or sitting on a chair?

(The friend who bravely accompanied me to the middle of nowhere for the show asked of the women who suspend and twirled around ceiling-to-floor lengths of billowy white fabric, "How do you figure out that you can do things like this?" I replied, "Because your grandmother and your mother could, and they start teaching you as soon as you can walk.")

I must also mention the Big Top: BEAUTIFUL, even under the visible grime that coated it. I've never seen a big top before, so I was mesmerized. The outside was almost stereotypical: wide red and yellow stripes, points punctuated with flags.

I figured it was the same inside, but I was surprised to discover that inside the tent was a story-book night sky: dark blue (well, kind of a dust-coated dark blue) background with fat white stars, and bigger bursts of white where each "pole" (it was really more like narrow scaffolding) pierced the top.

I was disappointed that the crowd wasn't bigger, but most of the people there seemed geniunely awed and amazed, so the show accomplished what it is meant to accomplish. The only person who didn't seem smitten was the creepy old man in front of me who laughed at my gasps and sighs of relief during some of the more tense performances. When he asked me what I would have done if he had grabbed my knee, I replied, "I probably would have kicked you." He shut up and let me enjoy the rest of the show.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


So, I moved, as promised. Then some jackass hacked into my gmail account, which resulted in that account being suspended, which meant I could not get back into my original blog.

Then life kept happening and I let this slide.

I've copied the posts from the old blog into this one so everything is in one place, and I'll work on keeping this regularly updated from now own. I promise!

Geek Love

[Originally posted 19 October 2008, 7:07 pm.]

I'm only a few pages in and I'm smitten. No surprises there. I haven't picked up an academic text or my own manuscript in about a week now, and it's killing me. If I could quit my job and quit my life to get this done, I would, though I'll never really be "done."

Perhaps I should join the circus...