It’s fitting that I should start this column in a state of nervous anticipation. In five days’ time I will pack up my life (again) and quite literally run away to join the circus. A real-life circus with clowns and acrobats and a big top I will help assemble every week when we move to a new pitch. I’ve left my retail job, packed enough waterproofs to sustain a small army (this is the English summer, after all), and arranged my transport to our first location. What I haven’t done is told people that I am going.
Obviously, my long-suffering-yet-endlessly-supportive family knows, and I’ve had ‘What If’ discussions with friends (‘Hey, so I was kind of thinking about maybe leaving my stable job with ample opportunities for advancement and moving away from the city where we all live to go work for a travelling circus in rural Somerset…’), but that’s as far as it goes. Lately, whenever anyone asks about my plans for the summer or how things are going on the job front, I find myself shrugging in a non-committal way or mumbling vaguely about a ‘theatre internship’.
Now, I was the one who contacted the circus, actively asking to work for them. This was a very conscious decision of mine, and I knew exactly what I was getting in to. I’m also no stranger to making what could be deemed unusual life choices. I skipped out on my college graduation to fly to Hawaii for a job interview (not an offer, just an interview) and chose to do my study abroad year in New Orleans based solely on the fact that I’d picked out an ornamental Mardi Gras shoe for my ninth birthday present. So what’s my problem? Why am I finding it so hard to stand up and claim this decision?
When working for a travelling circus first became a plausible possibility (after I’d been for an interview and seen with my own eyes that it was, in fact, a real, breathing, functioning thing), I could hardly wait to tell everyone. Surely this is everyone’s ideal job, I thought. Surely I will be living everyone’s dream. At first people laughed and rolled their eyes, thinking it was another one of my half-baked ideas, but once they realised I was seriously considering it, something shifted.
“Why?” they said nervously. “Why on earth would you want to do that?”
And in all honesty, I struggled to answer them. Why did I want to run away and join the circus? My current life was ticking along in a sensible if somewhat predictable way. To the outside world I was doing everything right. My friends were doing the same things, and they seemed happy enough. But happy enough isn’t enough for me. Things seemed to be settling down without my knowledge or consent. I could feel the cogs turning and me caught up inside them, and here comes the circus with its romance and magic and constant motion. The circus is not where you go to settle; it’s where you go to escape.
I will be turning twenty-three this year, already an adult in the eyes of many. I’m very conscious of time running out, running away from me before I get the chance to use it wisely. But I can run too, run to the places where time is relative and taking a risk is considered a leap of faith, not a childish impulse. I can hide myself amongst other brave souls who have turned from societal expectations and followed their hearts all the way to the Big Top.
I’ll be posting about my experiences once a month, so be sure to check back!