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4th March 2010 - Tails

I have been a clown for fifteen days. This thought was initially cheering: then I remembered the twenty-five days still to go. I am determined not to count anymore.

Walking out of the house this morning I was greeted by workmen.
'Cheer up' they shouted.
It's another day in the office though, so I'm happy to be sad.

I told Felicity about the owner of the garage ruffling my hair. She suggested that my face de-sexualised me. It's an interesting thought.

Another night at Loughton Youth Theatre, but no screaming this time. Instead everyone rushed to see my face. It was like being a celebrity. They were delighted with my sad expression, and particularly liked the glittery tear. If I am completely honest this is my favourite bit too. It's like compensation for everything else and I save it until last.

5th March 2010 - Tails

My face painting has become a ritual. First white, then blue, then black, then red. Next pink cheeks for happy or a glittery tear (hurrar) for sad. I take a strange comfort in this order now that it is established.

My flatmates are the only people who see me without my face. They are my privileged husbands, or the keepers of my key... This morning Fran tried to work out why I looked different. Fresher-faced, she said. Then she realised she was seeing me without my make up.

My natural face is starting to look odd to me too. It feels like looking from the outside. But now I'm trapped in the middle because my clown face also looks odd. I still haven't got used to catching sight of my reflection, and I still have the same thought,
'How ridiculous'.
I long for a world without mirrors.

I had to interview someone at work. It was a group interview and I was caught off-guard by the introduction from my co-worker beginning,
'Helen, explain your face'.
It felt brutal and humiliating. The interviewee was unperturbed though, and carried off the whole interview perfectly. We gave her the job.

6th March 2010 - Tails

I met another attractive man today. This makes three in as many weeks, which is both unusual and ironic. It's causing me to have superstitious thoughts regarding my clown face.

Peter is a German artist, who spotted me in a gallery looking at his work and asked if he could photograph me. I was torn between feeling flattered and feeling panicked. When he showed me the picture he had taken, the panic won. It was unfortunate that my nose had run, leaving a neat channel of pink flesh above my upper lip which bore an uncanny resemblance to a moustache.

My face has a tendency to disintegrate from the nose area outwards. I'm not sure if this is because I have an allergy to the paint or just a perpetually runny nose. At the age of five, my elder sister refused to let me play with Kathryn Harding because of her snot-encrusted nostrils. I wondered if Kathryn would want to be my friend now.

I have been thinking about the effect of my face on my friends. Lauren said she thought we were going to get attacked. Fran said she felt proud to be walking next to me. Jen refused to catch a train with me, then heard herself and said,
'On no, does that make me un-Christian?'
It occurs to me that I have been quite selfish about this. It didn't consider that my friends might find the clown face difficult to deal with. I have been too busy coping myself. I am ashamed at how introverted it has made me.

On the train into town Lauren and I found a nearly empty carriage. Half way down the isle we heard the tinny music of an i phone being played too loudly and saw half a dozen teenagers hanging out. Too late we understood the empty seats.

The comments started almost as soon as they saw me. I caught words like 'freak' and 'scary', coupled by screams and 'look - look at her'.
But something was different this time. I just didn't care as much. It was all a bit familiar and besides, Lauren was saying something interesting that I wanted to hear.

But ignoring them seemed to make it worse. The comments persisted, and after a while two of the boys came across to the seats directly in front of us and peered over.
'Why is you face like that?' one of them asked.
I explained and, to my surprise, he looked really interested.
'You mean you're like that until Easter?' he asked.
'Do you sleep in it?'
And so began the usual questions which got us talking about the project in more depth. In the background one of the girls persisted in screaming and yelling 'it's scary', but the boys were no longer listening to her.

After I had answered all their questions they went back to their seats. As they walked away I heard one say to the girl,
'Shut up. She must think we're right idiots'.
Given that I was the one with the clown face I found this quite touching. I also felt very bad for assuming their response would be a negative one.

On the bus I noticed a grubby-looking man in top hat and tails. His fingernails were black and he smelt terrible. Beneath his evening attire he wore his everyday clothes, causing his suit to stretch fit to bust. Rightly or wrongly I immediately felt an affinity with him and blessed London as home of freaks and miss-fits.

Some way into the journey the suited man came around asking for money to buy a hot drink. I gave him a pound - partly because I felt a connection between us and partly because avoiding eye contact and blending into the background didn't seem like an option. In return he told me the story of his suit.
'I went to church on Sunday to pray to God', he said, 'but he was having a tea break, so instead I met a woman. She bought me this thousand pound suit', (he showed me the label), 'this hat for two hundred pounds and these shoes for six hundred. I thought this must be my lucky day!'
Despite a bit of dirt, the outfit looked expensive. Yet I couldn't fathom why buying a top hat and tails would be a priority. Perhaps I fit the category of people who don't ask about my clown face, though, because I didn't push the matter further and the gentleman got off at the next stop.

Later in the day the friend of a friend spotted me in town. The chances of this are pretty slim, but he had been following the blog.
'That's one thing about having a distinctive face', he said.

7th March 2010 - Tails

I have thrown a run of sad expressions, but inside I am happier. For the first time yesterday evening I forgot, I mean completely forgot, about my face. I was at the theatre buying a ticket for Fran's show. The lady at the box-office asked all the usual questions; did I apply for concessions, was I from the local borough? Etc. Finally she said,
'And what have you been up to today?'
It struck me as an odd question and I must have looked puzzled because she smiled apologetically and said,
'Sorry, but I have to ask'.
Assuming it was market research I informed her I had been looking around art galleries in East London. I even went into some detail about the shows I had seen, although she didn't write anything down. It was only in the toilets, looking in the mirror, that I remembered my face and realised why she was asking.

A depressing thing happened yesterday evening too. Leaving the tube station I passed a group of young men. As I walked by one of them shouted after me,
'I think you're got a bit too much make up on luv'.
This was the first time since the project began that some one has heckled me for being a woman rather than a clown.

Another tube story. I was sat quietly reading my book on a Northern Line train, when a young woman approached me.
'Are you on your way back from work? Why is your face like that?'
It was a direct enquiry so I told her. In return she told me about her quest for work. Since coming over from Cuba, she said, she had looked continually and unsuccessfully for a job. One day she was travelling on the tube and feeling depressed about her unemployment when she began to look around. What she thought was this,
'There are so many people in this city. Imagine how many of them must be looking to employ someone. If only I knew who they were, and they knew who I was, I would have a job in no time.'
That day she went home and made herself a sandwich board. On it she wrote in big letters,
Beneath this she wrote a list of all her qualifications. Going through her daily life as a walking CV she met a lot of different people and found she was offered all sorts jobs. In the end she took a tutoring role, teaching Spanish privately to a ten-year-old girl. It was the highlight of her week, she said.

8th March 2010 - Heads

There has been a problem with my face at work. Someone has felt strongly enough to speak to their boss about it. It seems they have a clown phobia, and even the idea of seeing me makes them feel physically sick. Work have to take action as they can't be seen to be upsetting people. I found this quite upsetting.

9th March 2010 - Tails

The situation at work is pending. I am trying to deal with it rationally. I have been attempting to make contact with the person involved directly. Well, not in person obviously. It is hard to know how to deal with the situation, without knowing more about what I'm dealing with.

On a more general level it has raised some interesting questions for me:

1) What is a phobia?
2) What are the differences between phobia and prejudice?
3) What happens if the two things overlap, for example, what if
someone's phobia also happens to be prejudice?
4) How is a phobia dealt with if it impacts on the lives of others?
6) How is an artwork dealt with if it impacts on the lives of others?
7) How do we attribute value to contemporary art?

On a more personal level, despite throwing a heads yesterday I accidentally painted a sad mouth. I had to wash it off and start again.

10th March 2010 - Tails

The situation at work is still pending.

I am shocked at the strength of my emotional response regarding this threat to the project. For the first time since the work began I have felt aggression towards other people's reactions.

Walking to the local shops was no different to any other clown day - the stares, the laughter and the kids out of school shouting clown-related remarks. But today, just when I thought I'd reached a point where it all bounced off me, I wanted to give something back. When the man at the supermarket shouted down the queue,
'Can you speak?'
I wanted to snap,
'Of course I f**king can'
When he asked about my face (still shouting down the queue) I no longer wanted to explain and there was no enthusiasm in my answer. It all seemed pointless anyway. I wanted to tell him to mind his own business.

Apparently unconcerned, he persisted in telling me his response 'for my blog' which was this,
'I think you look like the Joker'
Then, to the lady next to me,
'Don't you think she looks like the joker?'
And back to me,
'You will put that on your blog, won't you?'
I was ashamed of the edge to my voice as I replied,
'Funny, that's exactly the same response as the kids at Loughton Youth Theatre had'.

In the post office my emotions alarmed me further. An unrecognisable inner monologue started pointing at anyone who looked at me, listing his or her ludicrous attributes. Something along the lines of,
'I don't know why you're staring at me, have you seen yourself?'
Followed by a torrent of personal insults.

I was deeply shocked at these thoughts and profoundly relieved that they remained internal.

11th March 2010 - Tails

Situation at work still pending. I am not due in the office until tomorrow.

I have come to Oxford to visit my sister. Baby sitting my nephew I questioned my sanity for the first time this project. It was something to do with the fact that I was a lone women in a park, pushing a baby in a pram, with a clown face.

The woman part is important because I was aware that I was being read as a mother as well as a clown. Somehow the juxtaposition of this labelling felt bizarre.

In the evening my brother-in-law asked about the lost man at the Rivoli Ballrooms.
'I don't suppose it ever occurred to you to take the make up off?' he said.
I was surprised to find that I had never once considered this an option.

11th March 2010 - Tails

The situation at work has been resolved. I have exchanged emails with the person involved and we have an avoidance strategy. This is a great relief.

12th March 2010 - Heads

I was speaking with Claire and Melissa about the project. They told me about the negative remarks they encounter if they walk down the street holding hands. Claire said they were lucky because all they had to do was stop holding hands and the remarks would stop. For a couple of newly weds, this struck me as a pretty unfair trade-off.

On the evening of Fran's show I got talking to a woman in a bar. She asked directly about my face, so I told her. She said she had been hoping my explanation would be more rational. She could have coped if I had come straight from a children's party, or been involved in a performance, she said. But the idea that I would voluntarily chose to look like a clown made her nervous because of mirror identity. I asked her to explain.
'Well I know I'm tall because the person next to me is short, and I know I'm a woman because over there is a man: but if I recognise you as a clown, what does that then make me?' She asked.

Julian said that this was the problem with appropriation; of course it made people feel uneasy.

Luckily it didn't seem to worry anyone at my Jive class.

13th March 2010 - Tails

I have met another person with clown phobia, or Coulrophobia as I've found it is called. The situation was a social one, so there was no threat to the project, and the girl was very nice about it and asked me not to take it personally. Her boyfriend on the other hand seemed genuinely angry.
'No, DO take it personally', he said.

I wonder if I should feel responsible for situations like this. I understand the image of a clown can be unsettling. In some of the photos taken during this project I unsettle myself I appear so alien. But representation within media is different to interaction with a real person.

Here is what Wikipedia says about Coulrophobia:

'Coulrophobia is abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns. The term is common, but it does not appear to be used in psychology.[1][1] The condition is common among children, but is also sometimes found in teenagers and adults.[citation needed] Sufferers sometimes acquire a fear of clowns after a bad experience with one personally. It can also be caused by seeing a sinister portrayal of a clown in the media,[citation needed] such as the monster that took on the disguise of a clown in Stephen King's novel and film It.

Coulrophobia can also be said to extend to a fear of covering up one's face with paint—the idea of hiding recognisable features under a layer of face paint can also unsettle coulrophobia sufferers.[1]

Symptoms of coulrophobia can include shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating or nausea after exposure to clowns or clown-related media.[2]

In July 2006 the Bestival, a three-day music festival held in England, had to withdraw a request to festival goers to come dressed as clowns due to the unexpectedly high rate of coulrophobia among the potential audience.[3]'

The bit about hiding recognisable features is interesting, and fits well with Peggy Phelan's writing on a visually representable real.

A girl who had seen me in a performance prior to this project did not recognise me with my clown face. For the first time I wonder what I could get away with if people judge me on my face alone.

The festival situation is interesting too. The organisers must have felt a certain level of responsibility. Is the accepting of responsibility recognition of empowerment?

14th March 2010 - Tails

Tails again. I don't mind. I am starting to feel a preference for the sad face. It generates sympathy, which I find easier to handle than fear or aggression. These days I don't even mind the shouts of 'Cheer Up'. In fact I feel mildly dissappointed if I don't get this reaction at least once per sad day.

It is exactly three weeks until Easter Sunday. This seems like a long time. Like running in a marathon for three hours and still having twelve miles to go. Wei commented on the sadistic nature of the project. This is one reason I chose Lent for my time frame: it is all about self-denial.

Joe read the blog and we talked about my desire for a world without mirrors. Joe told me about Mikhail who has just got back from Ethiopia where there are next to no mirrors. Mikhail was inundated with people requesting photographs of themselves, just so they could see their own image. He heard a story of a man who laid hands on a mirror and travelled across Ethiopia charging people for a look. Although the amount he charged was tiny, he became a millionaire in less than a year.

I had never considered my reflection a privilege. Joe reminded me of my clown face and of our image obsessed society.
'A privilege or a curse?' she asked.

Today is mother's day. My mother is the only person to tell me I look pretty with my happy clown face. I asked her if this was because I was her child and she was obliged to be protective of me: a kind of ugly duckling syndrome. She told me no, it was because she recognised the features as my features, but bigger. She said I had a lovely smile and crinkly eyes and that being a clown just emphasised them.
'It's hard not to smile back at you when your smile lights up your whole face' she said.
I remain unconvinced.

It is lovely spring weather. I had the window of my car open as I sat in traffic on my way to the studio. I was pulled out of my reverie by a voice. The voice was shouting out of a van heading in the opposite direction.
'Cheer Up', it cried.

15th March 2010 - Heads

I broke our bathroom light switch by pulling the cord too hard. Having a clown face I've noticed I don't mind about things like this because it feels legitimate to make silly mistakes. I'm conforming to stereotype. I no longer feel embarrassed if I trip up in public either.

At the theatre Aaron asked if I felt I was wearing my face with more confidence now. I think I am. If I look back over this blog I know I am.

16th March 2010 - Heads

A break through. I have been for my first run in London as a clown. Having done it I question why I put it off for so long. What was I afraid would happen?

Training in Greenwich park was part of my weekly routine until this project began. Somehow running in public with a clown face seemed impossible. It did not seem like Kung Fu, where I am in a room full of people I know.

But the spring day was so perfect and Sheena wanted to exercise. Also I have started to put on weight due to not running or swimming. (Swimming is another weekly activity I have had to forego). The sunshine and the fear of becoming a weeble were too strong an incentive. I set off with Sheena. And it felt amazing.

To run, to jump, to stretch out my limbs, to focus my mind, to kick, to punch the air and laugh out loud! Doing these things my face is irrelevant.

(nb - For the next instalment of this blog, please visit the sub-menu 'Life is Ludicrous - Weeks 5&6')