Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why Clowns Aren't Scary!

Ugh … that Pennywise! Thanks to great writers like @Stephen King, an entire generation of readers and movie watchers remain petrified of clowns. Admittedly, coulrophobia or fear of clowns did not originate because of the prolific Mr. King. A surprising number of people seem put off, even freaked out by painted people or someone with a “hidden identity.” I get it … I do. I was creeped out by the clown doll in “Amityville Horror” too. It's powerful when something that is supposed to be innocent turns sinister. Look how often children and even babies (painted too pale or with disturbing posture) are used to scare the stuffing out of us.

The stereotype for clowns has shifted. The beloved bumbling jester in too-large shoes and too-small car is too often portrayed as a talon-toothed distortion peeping thru windows or stalking folks thru the woods. Those distorted creatures do not possess the pure nature of the kind of clowns which seek only to bring joy not fear. As with angels and demons, they are the same type of being but with two very different motivations.

In my guise as Miss Pickles, I am clown-esque in minimized make-up with attire that offers a different silhouette from the baggy, big-buttoned onesie. But I have the heart of the fun-loving, goofball clown whose sole purpose is to make a child smile. Sappy sweet? Perhaps. But in a time when children are often injured or mistreated, couldn't the world use a little more of that sentiment?

I still love you, Stephen King. On Writing is life-changing … or, at least, craft-changing. Will somebody please hug a clown today?
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Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Balloon Secret

People often ask me what's my favorite balloon. On any given day, my favorite may be the ram, the ray gun, the swan, the frog, or the monkey in a tree. But on a fairly consistent basis, it is the bow & arrow. Simple and easy to make, it requires only two balloons and a short piece of yarn (to tie on each end of the bow). The arrow is not fully inflated; I leave about three inches at the tip, which helps steer the balloon during flight. That's right, you can actually shoot the arrow! See why it's my favorite?

The other best part is it's secret. I begin my dramatic spiel by asking, “Do you know the secret of the bow & arrow?” Wide-eyed, the child inevitably shakes his or her head, so I continue my demonstration. “You take the finger that you point with … which finger is that?” I wait 'til they stick it out, and then push my pointer into the arrow to prepare it for takeoff. “I poke into the balloon as far as I can go and hold my finger and thumb together,” I do so, lift the arrow beside the bow, choose a target, and take a stance like ol' girl in The Hunger Games. Then I turn to the child and say in a whisper loud enough for parents to hear, “Now, you don't really use the bow, but nobody needs to know that. And when I open my fingers ...” I never finish this sentence because I've opened my fingers and, amidst gasps from the crowd, the arrow has already grazed some tall passerby in the back or boinked harmlessly off the noggin of an infant. My arrows really love babies.

Well, that's it … my fav with secret revealed. But words are flat; they cannot fully convey the mystery and wonder of this experience in real life. So, if you ever get the opportunity to request a bow & arrow from Miss Pickles, perhaps at my next public event, take a few steps back; I'll aim for you. Probably won't hit you, but I'll still aim. Those who pay attention might even catch the arrow. Just don't stand by a baby.
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Saturday, May 24, 2014


Miss Pickles holds soldier (l) and pirate swords.
Like people, balloons exhibit different behaviors depending on their circumstances. For instance, balloons are surprisingly weather-sensitive. In cold temperatures, anything below about 62 degrees, they inflate reluctantly and practically wither during the twisting process. They also appear slightly smaller once inflated, as if the air molecules are huddling together inside the balloon to keep warm.

In warmer weather, balloons inflate easily and fully, but one must be mindful of exposure (nope, I don't mean sunscreen). While balloons share Miss Pickles' legendary love for heat, they do not behave well in direct sunlight, exploding with alarming frequency. That's why I typically request an awning or shady spot for outdoor events. At one festival in Tennessee, with temps at a sizzling 94 degrees, I twisted contentedly beneath my awning with few to no pops. See, like me, balloons dig heat.

In addition, like most of us, balloons prefer careful handling. Excessive or rough twisting (yes, there is such a thing) or handling a balloon with sharp nails or craggy fingers will usually not produce desired results. Smooth hands and gentle twisting, pulling balloon segments apart slightly while twisting (this also lessens that squeaky scrapey sound that makes people flinch) leads to beautiful creations more than poppage. (Is that a word? Well, it is now.)

Last weird tidbit, I find that balloons fare better when blown up by mouth versus the hand pump. Now, I'm an avid hand pump user myself, but I've witnessed that there's something about those moist saliva molecules that increases a balloon's chance of survival. Strange but true. Perhaps my science friends at Big Thinkers could explain why … stay tuned and keep twisting!

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Culture Club

Some of my best Miss Pickles memories come from what the children say to me. I recently did a double-header, two gigs in one day, both birthday parties for little boys. The first event was held in the clubhouse of a nice subdivision; my clients, a stunning young family from India. I say stunning because they were lavishly adorned in rich silks and vibrant emerald, turquoise, and magenta fabrics, often trimmed in gold or sequins or gems. And not just the husband and wife … everyone from the children to the grandparents looked absolutely beautiful. Most of the men wore ornate silk tunics, the women, with glorious black hair, glowed in cultural garb, some with gems on their foreheads. The little girls wore bright dresses and such adorable shoes, I wondered where they shopped.

While many of the children seemed shy and hid behind their mother or father as I twisted a balloon for them, one surprisingly tall four-year-old came boldly. She smiled her magnificent smile and asked for a swan. She began helping me by staging the clubhouse with the flower, the heart pole, the teddy bear I just made. I painted a pretty butterfly on her cheek, to match her emerald outfit, and kept making balloons for her little brother, who enjoyed squeezing the life out of them. After the first hour, when I had a lull in shy customers wanting balloons or body art, my little friend sat with me for a chat. Flat out, she asked, “Do you know that we're from India?” I told her, “Yes,” waiting for her to ask how I knew, but she never did. She simply smiled, satisfied that I knew. I marveled at her inherent pride in her heritage, love for her family, and generosity of heart. She demonstrated a quality that reminded me of what Jesus said in Matthew 19:14--“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Miss Pickles on Moving to GA

Sometimes the most unexpected occurrences can be blessings in disguise. Moving to Georgia last summer, although quite unexpected, brought me closer to family and into the company of friends I treasure. It also kicked off a boon for Miss Pickles, my beloved clown character, who has twisted balloons and painted faces for more than 40 clients since September 2013.

As a child, I never aspired to becoming a clown. For children, it isn't a life goal like fireman or teacher because they often do not see clowns or other costumed characters as 'real' people. This surprises me since children typically live out their days in a fantasy of one sort or another. It seems the caped, tutu-wearing masses could easily slip into the role of clown if they so desired. But how many children see their parents as clowns? How many have wacky clothes, painted faces, and balloon-twisting skills modeled to them?The comments and questions I get are priceless. "Are you a real clown?"  "Can I take a picture with you?" Usually adults ask that. "You are the coolest person I've ever seen at IKEA." Ok, yes, I sometimes shop as Miss Pickles, but I'll discuss those adventures in a future blog. Suffice it to say, I enjoy interacting with children (and adults) as Miss Pickles because, even after 20 years of clowning, I can never predict what someone's going to say to me. It's kind of awesome.

All that to say, moving to Georgia, while an adjustment, has kept me busier than Miss Pickles has ever been. The location, great weather, and beautiful venues offer me more opportunities than imaginable. So, after nine months here, I believe I can finally call Georgia home. Thanks for the grand welcome, y'all!

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