The dreaded question….


First my throat slightly contracts, then I can’t help but breath out a sigh and my eyes sink towards the floor. “I’m a circus artist” I reply.

I know my body language and tone could easily be misinterpreted as embarrassment, but unfortunately the emotion I’m trying to hide is not embarrassment, not even modesty. If it were, I could hope that the questioner would see my distress and move on to something else. Instead my interrogator jumps at the thread and pulls as hard as they can forcing me to unravel the conversation which is almost as rehearsed and practiced as my act. It’s not their fault, it’s mine. I shouldn’t have a job that sparks off so much interest, seems so wacky and unlikely from the outside and yet so normal to me. Perhaps these encounters are a fresh chance to remind myself how lucky I am to have a job I love.

Instead they just depress me a little. I’m good at opinions, I’m not good at anecdotes or jokes. That’s a hang up I have and one I’m constantly trying to change, but for now this is where I am. It’s hard to get opinion in a conversation about a topic which one half is almost entirely ignorant. That’s not a criticism on them, why on earth should they know about the differences in what I do and what Ronald McDonald or Cirque du Soleil does? It just makes it difficult for someone as socially unskilled as I to connect to someone in this particular conversation in any meaningful way. I know this because I have had this conversation 100’s of times; it either results in an uncomfortable parting or my other tactic – change the subject as soon as possible. I know some artists thrive at the chance to engage in this type of interaction, driving the conversation about themselves and enthralling onlookers, as if the conversation is a performance and a chance for the performer to shine.

I can’t criticize too much, I’m a performer by trade and writing a blog about my experiences and thoughts. However I like to think my ego is slightly different from this type of need for attention. But then everyone always thinks their particular brand of ego is unique. I suspect I just have a bad attitude towards the whole thing, perhaps I should say I’m a chartered accountant when asked, “What do you do for a living?”.

Note: I wrote this in 2009. I recently came across Derren Browns stunning read “Confessions of a Conjuror” in which he also comments on the dilemma of the question (far more eloquently than I). It’s a great read, particularly for any performing artists.