When the circus came to town, kids dreamed of running away to join it and its ever-changing roster of stars: the sad-faced clown, Emmitt Kelly; the daredevil trapeze act, the Flying Wallendas; Gunther Gabel-Williams, blond-maned and fearless in the ring with the big cats.
Georgie, who is now retired and living quietly in a remote rural setting, lived and worked in the Circus World all her life. She was raised by an aunt, who preceded her as the Popess, after her mother, a famous sword swallower, affectionately known as the ‘Human Volcano’, died during a performance.
Georgie, who retired when the Circus she had spent her life working in folded, met me in her home to discuss how she might begin to write her memoir. She said that while she had learned to write some essays, which involved beginnings, middles and ends, she didn’t know where to start. She didn’t know if she should begin at birth or if she should go back further and consider what was happening when she was conceived.
I explained that, when I work with people who want to write memoirs, I describe the process as being similar to putting a jigsaw puzzle together. I went on to explain that since, at this stage, we don’t have any pieces, our challenge is to make some. I said that only after we have done could we examine the pieces and figure out how it will all fit together to form a general picture.
Georgie was very excited when she heard this and said that she thought it sounded like fun and that it all seemed so much more manageable, and far less intimidating.
To begin I asked her to pull the Tower and out of her old Rider Waite deck and asked her to talk to me about Tower moments that came to mind. She looked at the card for quite awhile and was silent. But then, quite suddenly she started to tell me how there were so many factors which contributed to the demise of the circus. Increased railroad costs, costly court battles with animal rights activists, which saw the end of the elephant acts, were just some of the things that killed the Circus as she had known it. “People didn’t want to see a show without elephants” she explained and “in an era of Pokemon Go, online role playing games and YouTube celebrities, the “Greatest Show on Earth” suddenly didn’t seem so great”.
I laughed and told her to choose one element, such as the impact of railroad costs, set a timer for twenty minutes and then start to write all about what happened when the costs went through the roof, without worrying about writing the greatest memoir ever told.
When she finished I smiled and told her we had our first jigsaw piece. I said that we would put this aside and that I would keep providing her with activities to help make more pieces.
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