When giving and receiving feedback it helps to focus on what you like about the way your partner works - what we put our attention on grows and expands, after all. This was easy today as Igor is a sensitive, embodied and creative clown. We find we have a good foundation to build on - we read each room in the same way and have a similar sense of when to leave. We both feel supported - any ridiculous offer would be taken wholeheartedly by the other and built on, and a happy bonus - we find each other very funny.
Igor reflected that I make clear offers, quickly. This was a compliment, but I know that it is something that plays against me too. Visits would also benefit from me allowing more time to let things emerge. An example from this morning was when a grandmother had specifically requested a visit for her grandchild who had been crying.
I don’t think I had fully let go of an internal pressure to ‘fix the crying’ before I entered - a recipe for an offer that comes from the brain's intellect rather than the bodies. The girl was right at the end of the room, sitting on her mum’s lap. There were three older girls in beds around her. I brought out my tortoise puppet immediately, thinking this could be an indirect game that might end with the girl playing with it. Cuckoo faithfully jumped on board, and while he and the other girls in the room engaged happily, the small girl remained unsure. And the more unsure she was, the more invested the grandmother became. As it turned out, my indirect offer wasn’t indirect at all. In her desire to cheer up her grandchild, the grandmother signposted the game in neon, ‘THIS IS FOR YOU AND WE WANT YOU TO LIKE IT!’ We needed to retreat and try something else but I wasn’t sure what. At this moment I looked at Cuckoo as he brought out an orange scarf and simply threw it into the air. As it floated down, everyone's eyes lifted, their faces softened and their hands reached out for it instinctively. The purposelessness of the game and the softness of the image shifted the mood. The grandmother’s attention was on the scarf so the child relaxed. The scarf was gently passed around the room and the pressure released. Tomato was safely returned to my pocket without anyone noticing or caring and we floated out of a room full of smiling, relaxed faces.
Without a robust reflective practice, I may have internalised this experience as a failure on my part, rather than being able to see the bigger picture - an example of good, supportive partnership in action. I am struck by how generosity, respect and responsiveness defined our morning and held us in a state of open playfulness and flow.
Walking down through the park back into the city with Evgeniia after our shift, I am still a bit giddy. She describes a government initiative to make Lviv a more desirable tourist destination by cleaning up the city’s beautiful old doorways. She gestures to one with intricately carved handles and brass details bathed in sunlight and I wholeheartedly agree that Lviv should be a tourist hot spot. And then I catch her eye and she holds it for a moment and there is nothing more to say. I continue to experience a kind of emotional whiplash as we walk. We pass a vibrant book market. A huge statue celebrating Ivan Fedorov (father of Eastern Slavonic printing). Sandbags. A beautifully ornate church. A poster advertising ‘ShelterFest’. Sun dappled, cobbled streets. A dad in army fatigues. An absurd statue of a fish with hands coming out of it. My heart is beating between so many different sensations that I have no choice but to surrender.
How do you feel? I don’t know, but I feel all of it, all the way to the edges.
I’m aware that in an hour or so we will be delivering a 7 hour workshop to a group of Ukrainian healthcare clowns who have travelled across the country to be together and work with us.
We arrive at an Armenian coffee house where, instead of the balanced and sensible lunch we had been planning on sustaining us through the afternoon, we drink rocket fuel prepared in hot sand by the most serious of baristas, and eat cake.
Our workshop is hosted at the Lviv Regional Academic Puppet Theatre - a huge and grand building in the middle of the old town. Marishka welcomes us and is exhausted after hosting a weekend of concerts there - the busiest she has ever organised.
After drying our sweaty costumes on a bench in the hot sun, we settle into our room.
Our first clown arrives, 20 years old, not-so-fresh off the train from Dnipro. She explains that the journey took 20 hours and that she is exhausted - the train has to go slowly in case of rocket fire. Not your average commute. The responsibility we have to hold this space with just the right balance of pastoral care, professional respect and playfulness drops into my chest. I connect to my centre, ground myself, make eye contact with Igor and breathe.
The workshop we have planned is something that feels brand new for both of us and somehow simple and radical all at once. We will be taking a risk, but neither of us has the stomach not to try. These clowns' courage deserves to be met with courage;
“Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future. To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.”
David Whyte, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words
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.