Tent of Memories

There's a scene in the book where children spy the Night Circus from their tree. Illustration by Dan Park.

I just finished a delightful novel called The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.  It is not the most literary read, but the plot moves forward at an engrossing rate, and the images are lovely.  I recommend it for anyone who needs a little flight of fancy and enjoys going into a dream-world where things like story lines following through to completion are not as important as the feeling of the book.

The main premise of the book is that a competition between two magicians occurs in the circus, with each illusionist creating tents that outdo the other.  The tents they create start off just aiming to dazzle, but as time goes on they get more emotional and personal.  When I finished the book I started to think about what tent I would create if I were in such a competition. 

Perhaps I would make one where when you entered the tent, there were millions of floating umbrellas, and you as you reached for the handle of the one you were most drawn to, it took you to a time in your life you’d like to revisit, and you could choose once you got there whether you’d like to change something, or just watch.

If I were to enter such a tent, I’d choose an umbrella that was a deep blue with sparkling stars and a silver handle.  It would take me back to my early teenage years, when I was really struggling, angsty and stifled in my Connecticut suburban life.  I had aged out of the dinky little dance studio in town, and was having a very difficult time finding positive outlets for expression, so I got into some pretty negative ones, and then later did a 360 and got into some really conservative Christian ones.  Neither were ultimately the best call, but I learned a lot from each and I suppose they have made me much of who I am today.

However.  If I could follow that starry silver-hilted umbrella back, I would tell my young self that the big city was really just a train ride away, and I should just ask my folks to help me find performing arts schools or other arts programs to get involved in.  My parents were very permissive and supportive, but funds and energy were low, so I really had to do my own footwork for these kinds of things, and I just had no idea what was out there.  So, I’d take my little Riot Grrl self to an arts program in Hartford or NYC, and remind her when she got frustrated not to give up, to continue on with technique as well as expression, to seek out role models even when it seems no one understands, and to claim that mantle as an artist early and fiercely, letting nothing steal it from me.

I have spent many daydreams following this out, seeing where pulling the umbrella would take me.  I have tried to contrive it so I would still meet my husband, still move to SF, still have Olive and the friends I’ve met along the way.  It would be tricky, but I think I could do it — perhaps attend The University of the Arts instead of Eastern and show up at my husband’s band’s shows, meeting him there rather than on campus.  Whether I could do it or not, it’s fun to think about, and then ask myself, “What would I gain from this that I can give to myself NOW, a decade and a half later?”  So I am challenging myself in dance classes and with my writing, trying to fit the artist’s life into the one I’ve already got.

Two questions arise for the reader of this post:

1. If you could choose an umbrella from my tent, what would it look like and where would it take you?  Would you change anything from that time, or just re-live a moment?

2. If you could create your own tent in the magical circus, what would it be like?  You don’t have to have read The Night Circus to answer that question, but it can be a fun read as you ponder the question.

Respond in the comments — I’m looking forward to hearing what you come up with…

9 thoughts on “Tent of Memories

  1. I would hang on to a pale pink umbrella, with a cheap but sweet pink plastic handle, and I would be carried to the backyard of my babyhood. I would get some one-on-one time with tiny, pale Me and I would just listen. I would laugh at her jokes, and listen to her grown-up worries, and protect her from reality for a minute. I wouldn’t rewrite anything, I would just add some peace. Lessen the load. She’s going to be fine, more than fine, so it’s not sad at all.

  2. My umbrella would take me back to every time I opened a credit card account and private loan for school. Then it would hit me on the head and foretell the debt that would ensue.

  3. I am drawn to a gold-trimmed umbrella with bright red, orange and purple swirly designs. It’s handle is beautifully crafted from a piece of wood which is smooth to the touch, but retains its many protruding knots. As I grasp it, I feel imbued with the consciousness of the tree from which it has been made. Whoa, here I go, travelling into a different world again.

    I go back to fourth grade. I am sitting in class when a voice comes over the loud speaker in the room, “Mrs. Morgan, please send Jennifer Powell to the office. I walk down the straight hallway and turn into the front lobby of the school which is where the entrance to the principal’s office is. I have no idea why I am being called down there, but I am excited to be singled out in some way, and curious about what adventure might await. Before I get to the office door, I am surprised to see my mother waiting in the lobby holding a brown grocery bag in her arms. She is glowing, bursting with excitement. As I approach her, she bends down to allow me a view inside the bag. It was a Cabbage Patch Kid! This is was the best thing that could have ever happened to me! At that time, these dolls were very hard to find, so it was a really big deal that somehow my mother was able to get one. In my childhood mind, actually getting a Cabbage Patch Kid would be so outragiously good, it was possible only in fantasy–on par with meeting a genie. Well, truth be told, I did kinda believe I would someday find a genie…and if I did, I would use one of my three precious wishes for a Cabbage Patch Kid. In that moment standing in my elementary school’s lobby with my mother, a genie-grade awesome thing was happening!!!

    My mother hugged me and told me to go back to class. I had to wait till I got home from school to actually open the bag and the release Evan Essa from her packaging. What I love about this memory is how excited my mother was to give the doll to me. OMG, she couldn’t contain herself enough to wait a few hours for me to get home. She went to my school, and had them call me out of class!!! I have no idea what reason she had given the principal, but I am pretty sure she didn’t say that I needed to me my new Cabbage Patch Kid.

    So, I would have the umbrella take me back to this moment for the sheer pleasure of experiencing that ecstatic moment.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this amazing memory, Jenn. My favorite part is also yours — that your mom couldn’t wait & had to bring you the doll at school! Too sweet. I loved my Cabbage Patch Doll as well — his name was Clive Mark and he was given to me by my Uncle George and Aunt Bev when I was 5.

  4. I have this book downloaded on my kindle, but haven’t read it yet. I am fascinated by circuses and often write about them myself. But anyway, your tent:

    I’d have to visit it twice.

    The first time, I’d pick a bright red umbrella. I would have it take me back to my 30-year-old self. A self that was jobless, boyfriendless and living with her parents. I wouldn’t change anything about any time in my life, but I would speak to that self. Maybe just whisper in her ear when she was sleeping and tell her that everything is going to be ok. In just six months she’s going to have her own apartment, a job with a wonderful mentor and friend, and, most importantly, she’ll be dating the love of her life.

    The second time I’d have my future self travel back to my present self. My future self would choose a yellow umbrella that’s as bright and cheery and hopeful as the sun. My future self would be holding a happy, healthy baby. And she would tell my present self not to fret because, once again, everything is going to be ok.

  5. Pingback: My Blogiversary: One Year of Thirty Threadbare Mercies! « thirty threadbare mercies

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