Noilly Prattle: Who are the clowns?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Who are the clowns?

Vesti la jubba -- Luciano Pavarotti

Send in the Clowns -- Sarah Vaughn

CAUTION: This post may seem incoherent and confused. People of unsound mind should stop at this point and just listen to the songs. 

     Once in a while in this mad confusion we call our short time to preen and strut upon the stage of life, things seem to fit like the final piece of a difficult jigsaw puzzle. In a gestalten flash your life makes some sense as the final piece fits into place and the picture emerges. You are stripped to the core, without pretensions, and you must put your complete trust in someone else's hands. Your very life is in the hands and skills of other people, most especially the surgeon and the anesthetist.

      I consider myself an independent and self reliant person. I am said to be arrogant and aloof by friend and foe alike. The former understand that aloofness is a mask I wear to disguise a rather shy introverted fellow and they accept me as I am. The latter don't matter. It is easy to be self reliant and independent when your path runs smoothly (a phenomenon I call the 'Good Time Charlie' syndrome), but when, through accident, or carelessness, or taking things and people for granted your path is sundered as if it ran across the direct path of an earthquake, then you must drop the I-don't-need-anybody mask and accept unconditionally the help that you do, in fact, need to survive a crisis. Knowing this is both humbling and oddly liberating.

       Openly accepting and acknowledging your vulnerability has the obverse effect, contradictory as it may seem, of making you stronger since you are multiplying the number of people in your corner. It goes from the strength of one to the potential strength of an infinity of others, beginning with your partner and expanding out from there. You no longer have to be Atlas bearing the weight of the world on your own shoulders alone. This, I believe, is the most important lesson I learned from my recent brush with loss of mobility due to an accident in which I broke my leg in a city that isn't where I usually live and a language I don't speak. I had to trust in the goodwill and competence of other people and temporarily relinquish control of my own life to them. Having no choice I made the decision without hesitation.

So, what about the clowns?

       We all wear different masks in our interactions with the other (the not I). This is, up to a point, normal. We don't behave the same way in bed with a lover as we do in the barber's chair getting a haircut. Should we do so, our behavior would be considered inappropriate and we would be labeled as, perhaps, socially incompetent at the very least, insane in the worst case. So we learn early in life to wear masks. The consequence, in too many cases, is that we ourselves no longer are aware that we are wearing a mask and loose touch with the core of our own being. We no longer know who we really are. We are the clowns.

       The night after my release from the hospital for broken femur surgery, we were scheduled to go to the opera to see Mascagni's Cavaleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. I was looking forward to it, but, during supper at our apartment I began feeling nervous and apprehensive about venturing out in public the day after my release from the refuge and safety of the hospital. My normal, pre-epiphany, stance would be to say nothing and wear the mask of I'm-fine-and-raring-to-go. I definitely wanted to go, but I didn't want to bear the burden of pretending, so I told road buddy the truth of what I was feeling. She simply gave me a nod and pat on the arm of sympathy and understanding and thus took some of the burden from me and I actually stopped worrying and felt more confident that I would be able to enjoy the performances. They were both excellent productions (with a slight edge in favor of Cavaleria); I was just enthralled by the acting and voice of the mezzo-soprano who sang the role of Santuzza in Cavaleria Rusticana. But it was I Pagliacci that started the train (confusion) of thought that is ending in this post.

       I Pagliacci, (translates as The Comedians or The Clowns) and depicts how the stage and life blend into tragedy because of the necessity to wear the mask and put on the show. The main aria Vesti la jubba, (by Luciano Pavarotti linked above) entraps the man into wearing the mask rendering him unable to deal with a love triangle provoked by a jealous Iago type character.

      On a more happy ending note, I was also reminded of another allusion to the masking phenomenon. A Stephen Sondheim song that exemplifies and amplifies the missed and/or crossed signals that pass, out of reach, between, usually, people who belong together but don't realize it until some crisis or crises occur, and they realize that they have been the fools themselves. I refer to Send in the Clowns. One of my favorite versions is by Sarah Vaughn linked above.


Anonymous said...


I consider myself your friend. I can't tell you how much I have learned about you, however, from your blog. And now...I know that you are shy and appreciate the insight.

A man that has humility and self examines is sexy, indeed.


Noilly Prattle said...

Didn't somebody once say "the unexamined life isn't worth living"?

Yes. It was the Greek philosopher Socrates in fact.

I guess I must have internalized his advice and followed it ever since I was in my twenties. I usually tend to dissect searing experiences in my mind to see how they fit into the pattern of my own life. And that process is what led to this post.

Anonymous said...

Love this post!

I too have learned so much about you since we sort of reconnected a couple years ago. I guess knowing you as a fellow adult is different than how I knew you when I was a kid. In any case, aloof and arrogant aren't words that ever come to mind now or in my past memories of you.

I can relate well to your idea of wearing different faces and feel that I did a lot of that earlier in life. I always bit my tongue to keep the peace. I felt uncomfortable in certain social situations, like if I wasn't dressed the way other people thought was appropriate for an occasion. Let's face it, I'm no girly girl but I've embraced that now and don't give so much of a shit what other people think any longer. I say what I feel and I am who I am. I feel more comfortable in my own skin as a 40-something than ever before. It took a few bouts of serious depression (not just sadness, real clinical depression for which I will take meds for the rest of my life) to get here but, I'm happy with me and I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only one who ever wore a "clown face" to get through some of life's challenges.

I hope you're healing well and feeling better. Sending a big hug to you and one for "road buddy" too!


Noilly Prattle said...

Nothing I like better than to realize that another was touched by my experiences raised, I hope, to a universal level, i.e., we're all in this nuthouse together--except that some of us have the keys (something I learned through experience by the way).