As I've said before, I'm spending some time this Summer in Iowa at an arts project, The Tiny Circus. Although not a circus in the animal training, human acrobat sense of the word, the whole thing still has the same air of childish excitement for me. Ever since I first agreed to go, I've woken up every morning thinking 'god, I'm so lucky to be involved.' It's like I've been given a great big unexpected present.
But that's not my surprise - it's that the publisher of my short stories, Bluechrome have put up a post about the circus today, offering to contribute £4 to the circus funds for every copy of Leading the Dance they sell.
It's so generous I'm forgiving Anthony the quips about my mid-life crisis - after all, he is talking about the woman who has just bicycled down a mountain. Ok, ok, I was hunched over in total terror the whole time and my hands had to be prised off the brakes afterwards, but I still DID IT. Beats my normal daring deed of choosing a different pastry at Carluccios any day.
But first of all, a little circus history about my involvement, which is really much less than I've been credited for. When I was a fellow at vcca last January, one of the other fellows there was Carlos Ferguson, an amazing artist. Despite him creating a scene of me being eaten by lions (worryingly captioned as Dying - Sarah - Very painful)...:
...I still agreed like a shot to join in the arts project he planned for the Summer. Carlos has done up one vintage airstream trailer already, and had a vision of a troop of mini airstreams touring the country putting on shows:
It started off as a collaborative project right from the start. I particularly liked the aims he set out at the beginning:
My aim in general is to create artwork that is free, anonymous, and generous. This might be accomplished by speaking clearly to an audience with goals in mind: to create joy and thought, to entertain, to communicate and share.
I would like to move outside of my own focus on myself and my own work. When I have worked with other artists I have found the collaboration to be transporting, exciting, and inspiring, and a terrific antidote to never-ending questions and doubts about what is important and right in my own artwork. With this in mind, I would like to facilitate and participate in a larger scale collaboration.
To begin with, it felt safe to dream but then, very quickly, it has all become real. There are already a bunch of talented artists based at the circus farm in Iowa working on the first projects and living in tent city:
This is an amazing opportunity for me, but an interesting one too. Because I've been looking and looking at the first video produced on the History of Rain and wondering about the role of text. Coming after the pictures, it seems to me it could work too heavily as the frame for the images, to change the whole feeling of the piece, almost the da-da-da of the horror movie music that tells the viewer how to think. Usually I aim to create pictures with my words, to make people see the things I'm describing so they forget me, the author, completely, and enter the story themselves. There's a quote in Women who Run with Wolves that I really like - If a story is seed, then we are its soil. But it seems to me every time I look at this video, that the seed has flowered already. I've tried various options - fairytale, comic, silent movie drama, end of the world - and I still can't get the balance right between the story the video tells and my words.
It's probably one of the most interesting projects I've been involved in. I keep going back to the original thoughts of the circus that attracted me most -"I would like to move outside the focus of my own work." It brings me back to the need to lose the inhibitions of self-consciousness in my writing process. Because if I'm honest, I am worrying about getting it right at the moment so the others will like it (and possibly me). I don't want to spoil the collaboration I'm only on the outside of at the moment. It feels a bit lonely, and that's something I have to get over too. A puzzle I'm determined to get to the bottom of. It can only be good for me because I NEED to stop worrying about everything. When I actually lose myself in my writing, I can feel all these worries lift. It's magic. It's the hot air balloon feeling that keeps me hurtling back to the page. Self consciousness is just too much of a straitjacket. I'm tired of being scared.
And I'm also trying hard not to think too much about the next one. A History of Popcorn. Hmmm. Don't worry, when I get there the Brits will have a say - A History of Marmite after all is probably one of the most fascinating stories that hasn't yet been told.
So, that's the circus. And I'll be there in just over a week. Another mountain to climb and then to speed down, I'm sure I'll be screaming at least part of the way. Do read the blog and watch the progress - this is an amazing project. If you want to buy my book and contribute that way I'll do a little juggling act especially for you. Or at least sign it for you if you send it to me. Email me.
And we do have an animal too. Meet Marigold, the circus pig. I'm not sure what tricks she can do yet, but I've been growing my fingernails specially for scratching...