Today the hospital corridor is like a river and the side rooms are eddies, pools and tributaries, each with their own current and rhythm. Wallop and Maybee are pure instinct and emotion and play, flowing from one room to the next. Each visit changes us, informs us, energises and pulls us along. We are in it, we are of it, we are it…I feel exhilarated.
One of the most important ingredients to this state of flow is our full bodied awareness of and commitment to the moment and everything that the moment holds.
This is the point where presence and technique meet. The technique; recognising the game and seeing how and when to move it on, sculpting the rhythms within it. Presence; awareness of our bodies, the bodies around us, the totality of the space and the honest emotions and sensations that arise in us as a result.
As we glide down the corridor a strong current pulls us into our first pool of the day. A boy, aged around 5, immediately makes a request:
‘Play that song the man played yesterday.’
I have no idea what this song is.
‘Yes! Of course’
Maybee is delighted to get the chance to show her skills and strikes up her uke with brillo and the optimistic belief that the 3 chords she knows will be the same ones the man played yesterday. He looks her in the eye, frowning;
He is the OG clown teacher.
Crestfallen for a moment, but rallying quickly, Maybee replies,
‘Right! yes!..the other one…’
The same 3 chords...
‘No. The one about the granny.’
‘Aaah! The Granny!'
Confident she has it this time, she plays the same 3 chords again and begins to sing,
‘No. The granny and the bus…’
The frown grows deeper as an involuntary smile curls on his lips,
‘Oh Grannnyyy drives a bussss…’
Maybee looks at Wallop as she sings…she is out of her depth and panic is setting in…
A game is established, but we need to stay ahead or his frustration at Maybee’s ineptitude will overcome his desire to engage. Wallop makes an offer that opens up the room, and crosses us over the threshold into play.
‘The one about shoving yer granny!’
Wallop says brightly, and she shoves Maybee by way of demonstration. Maybee spins across the room and slumps in the far corner, shocked.
Wallop has acted out the boy's frustration at Maybee getting it wrong, validating his feelings, and now he is laughing for the first time.
Maybe makes her way back to the starting position and whispers loudly to Wallop, fully panicking;
‘But wallop…i…don’t…know that one…’
‘Yes you do! The shoving one!’
Once again, she is shoved across the room and finds herself slumped in the corner. She looks at Wallop, then at the boy who is giggling.
As clowns, everything is real and everything is important. We feel it all.
Maybee sees him laughing and realises the extent of her failure. She has humiliated herself, she is a laughing stock. She begins to cry. Softly at first, but as the boy points and laughs at her vulnerability, the crying gets louder and more emphatic. Distraught that she didn’t know the right song, she is inconsolable. The more Maybee cries, the more the boy laughs, full bodied belly laughs, pointing at Maybee the whole time. Wallop encourages them to calm down, and breathe, and they do… until they both erupt again, laughing and crying together.
Our last little pool of the day was an echo of this, somehow. We heard her from the corridor first, crying. We opened the door. A baby had her head buried in her pillow, bum in the air, tiny chest heaving as she cried Oww Owww Owwww at the top of her voice, over and over again. It seemed like she had been like that for a while. Her mum looked exhausted.
My reflex as we opened the door was to somehow distract her, to sing her name, to cheer her up. But when I saw her,I took a breath and remembered the work I do with dementia and the importance (for all of us) of being heard and so I gently strummed my uke in time with her cries, and we began to harmonise with her voice. Gradually, her Owwws became quieter and softer, and her breathing relaxed. Her mum softly stroked her back. The waters had calmed and we gently drifted out into the flow of the corridor.
Presence and technique allowed us to meet these moments with openness and vulnerability, without expectation or a plan. Presence allowed Maybee to express her humiliation, and our technique made sure it was funny. Presence allowed us to be aware of the pain and sadness of that baby, and our technique (intensive interaction) helped to soothe her. This balance is so crucial and delicate that when it happens in partnership like it did today it feels like a gift. Wallop and Maybee flowed through the day, fully alive, without doubt or hesitation, and this allowed us, in wildly different ways, to fully validate the emotionally complex experience of being a child in hospital with a cancer diagnosis.
I am a therapeutic clown and performer. Writing here is part of my wider practice and maybe some of my thoughts will trigger some thoughts of your own and I hope that helps.