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…