The Most Interesting Person in the World

Author Archive

It has been a bit of a hiatus. Over the past month, whenever I was on the subway, it was my only time to eat or my attempt to catch up on reading assignments. My schedule went into hyperventilation. As a result, I wanted to avoid going out and I drove whenever possible.

It’s been so long, the season has changed. It’s now the season of Cold. Before leaving the house, I had an instinct to wear colourful clothes, until I remembered that now I wear a coat. Which is all the more perfect, because I have rainbow-coloured hat and gloves.

So today was a sweet return. Well, an awkward sweet return. People on the platform acknowledged me briefly, then returned to their urgent floor-staring, or said something like, “Nice nose.” It was meant as a conversation closer.

It’s interesting how many people have asked me when I’ll be on my next mission, because they want to see me in action. Yet here I am, world-travelling performer in front of your very eyes, and the people in the room don’t know what to do with me. They don’t appreciate this opportunity.

On the subway, I sat across from a woman who was interested in watching me. I felt the awkwardness of not having done this in a while, and not having a group of fellow clowns as I had on my clown trip. Thank Goddess I had brought a mini-bottle of bubbles. I blew some, and she was amused and said something to her husband in their language. I got her to blow bubbles. I got her uninterested husband to blow bubbles, too. Then I attempted to put the bubbles-necklace over my head, but my hat prevented that. I tried to hang it over my nose, and it worked until I looked down. It was a good long bout of silent clowning.

I ran out of ways to entertain this woman by the next stop (four minutes.) I walked down the train and found two women who looked at me receptively. I blew bubbles at them and got them to blow bubbles, too. One was on her way to feed the homeless, where she volunteers. How wonderful! I asked if anybody ever blows bubbles there. She said no but that would be a good idea. The two women did not know each other, but I’m glad we both got to learn about this. She told me I could come to the seniors home where she also volunteers. They have clowns. I told her to tell the organizers I’d be happy to. Just come find me. I’m on the subway.

Transferring at Yonge and Bloor, I sang “Sunrise, Sunset” down the stairs. One woman appreciated it. She told me on the train she wanted to join me, but she felt self-conscious. I told her to be other-conscious and think of the riders who would also appreciate it (thanks to Scotty Watson for this idea.)

On my final train, I walked down the aisle blowing bubbles. I started out offering “Free bubbles! Free bubbles for all!” Then I added a reason for it, like “Happy Tuesday! Happy it’s cold outside! Happy December! Happy 2 p.m.! Happy 2 on a Tuesday on the two’th of the month!”

When I got to the hospital, I kept the nose on and continued the smiles on the ground floor.

Today’s tally: I got five people to blow bubbles; I created a new catchphrase; I discovered a volunteer in our community; and a conversation was struck up with someone I know, though we didn’t know how we knew each other until we kept talking. Turns out she and I frequent the same monthly improv jam, and she told me the next one is this Friday, so am I glad that I ran into her!

October 28

I almost didn’t clown today. I have a lot of school reading to catch up on. I’m having a really bitter month. But then, perhaps for that very reason, a voice inside was telling me, “I need this!

One woman on the platform smiled at me.

A man held onto luggage with the tag “World Traveller.” I asked if he was travelling the world on this subway. It turns out he was — he just arrived in Toronto after 4 days on a train from 4 days spent in Vancouver. A taxi was supposed to take him to Carlton, but here he was at York Mills station, lost. This is the first time he’s ever been on a subway. I was honoured to accompany him on such a trip. It turns out he’s from the very city in Australia where I performed for the Fringe Festival, Adelaide. “Small world,” he said. “Big city,” I said, after explaining how far he is from his destination, and about the Megacity that is our sprawling Toronto, not to mention the Greater Toronto Area. He was taken aback by how many people there are. When our train filled up at Bloor station, he said, “That’s half the population of Adelaide right there!” We compared notes on things like high rises (Adelaide: none) and it comes in handy that I’m a former tour guide, so I know a lot about Toronto that I can welcome a newcomer with.

Today I used the clown nose as an opportunity to engage someone for my entire subway ride. I made a friend — he even offered me a place to stay next time I visit Oz.

Today I used clowning as therapy for myself. And it worked! When I got to my hospital practicum, two elevators arrived. One was empty and took me directly to my floor. Note that this has never happened in my year of working there, and this process usually takes 10-15 minutes to wait and stop at every floor in a crowded, airless elevator.

How can I use encounters like this one as an opportunity to engage riders with each other? Is that a necessary part of this project, or pressure I’m giving myself to legitimize this community project? After all, most therapy sessions only engage one person.

October 10

I’m surprised by how exhilarating it felt to say, “Goodbye, everyone!” before I got off at Queen’s Park. Someone wished me a happy Thanksgiving.

The best thing to do when you or someone else is racing and you almost collide at the top of the escalator is to be wearing a clown nose. It caught one rushed woman off guard and made her smile.

I talked to one guy from Lawrence to Queen. In response to seeing that I am a Clown, he told me that he is a Sagittarius and a Monkey. Those are like the same thing, right? I like that neither of us felt the need to ask, “Is this Halloween?” Because it’s not, it’s just a day on the subway and us being who we are.

The first bus on my journey is westbound, and on average three buses pass eastbound before the first one comes my way. But on this day, three buses went west and only one east. This was the best ever!

October 1

Today I forced myself not to clown, as I have reading for school. I was disappointed. In fact, I’m surprised at how disappointed I was, given what I wrote in Day 3. When walking from one platform to another, I slipped my nose on just to savour a few moments of it. I saw a film crew and went with my clown mentality, asking them what they were doing. A big shift from my usual instinct to let people work without being interrupted.

I want to interact with people. I am surrounded by all this humanity, stimulus, and amusing situations, and here I must pretend it doesn’t exist! A woman leaned against the glass where I sat, and it looked like her butt was smushed up next to my book. A man caught up in sleep or headphones lay his bag out where I asked to sit, which another guy noticed and was amused. Instead of playing with any of this, I kept to my book, which was increasingly hard to read as the car lurched, announcements were made, I transferred several times, etc.

Something I’m noticing in my life is that I am taking my lightness a little more seriously. Some of my friends told me that thinking of me reminds them to lighten up, and some have even asked me to text them one-liners or give them tips on how to be more playful. I was on the phone with one friend last night who was stressed and wanted to hang up and get back to working. I offered one joke before we did. She laughed and, to my surprise, was really appreciative for it.

Suddenly, things I have heard and conversations I’m having are all coming together…

  • Patch said he has seen patients who told him, “If I walk down the street one more time and not a single person looks at me, I’ll kill myself.” He’s heard this from more than one person. You don’t know the impact every smile has on someone’s life.
  • At check-in, my teacher said that getting around is the worst part of living in Toronto. He’s not the only person who feels that way. Transportation is actually one of the biggest issues in this month’s mayoral race.
  • When I told my boyfriend about this project, he said I should find out which stations people are most often committing suicide, and clown there. I’d forgotten that this is one of the huge problems for the TTC: people regularly jump in front of a train to commit suicide. And this is the reason for many of the delays.
  • My friend reported being late for something because a station had flooded. When the announcement was made, it was the first time people actually spoke to each other. She was grateful for the experience, wishing people talked to each other more often.
  • My classmate is a professional party clown. Often she will find herself going to stores and running other errands still in clown gear. She told me one story of buying a serious card for a friend at a drug store. One customer appreciated the situation and followed her around. Later, as she moved through the check-out line, their conversation picked up energy and she had everybody in stitches.

September 25

Bayview to St. George, 10:30 – 11:30 am

On the Sheppard line were a woman with a baby in a stroller. My first young customer. They both appreciated the clowning, especially when I blew bubbles. The mother thanked me as we got off.

On the Yonge line I encountered another mother and baby in a stroller. The mother was more amused than the baby, who could barely keep eye contact (like most commuters.)

After this string of babies, I encountered a string of chatty women. One woman on the platform had big earphones around her neck, and it turns out she loves listening to audiobooks. Another woman on the subway, who appreciated what I was doing, had just read a book about happiness. Her resolve is that she wants to express herself more, maybe through art.

An elderly lady had really unique hair, dyed blonde at the top and in a small clip (like a Dr. Seuss character.) I told her I liked it. She thanked me, even though she kept to herself otherwise. A woman sitting nearby was very friendly. She told me she likes watching people on the subway.

When I got to the turnstiles exiting St. George station, the latter woman caught up to me. She told me she’d been watching that lady with the hair I liked, who had a sour face from the moment she got on the subway. But when I walked away after our encounter, she had the biggest grin.

Tip: Know when to end an encounter. When they let me go. This is a great way to practice that social skill, which is important in an EXAT session for knowing when to switch topics, transition to another phase, or make an intermodal transfer.

For this day I wore a red bow tie on my white shirt, and a green feathered headband. Simple additions to the nose. When I bought tokens, the man in the booth enthusiastically told me he’d seen a girl dressed like an angel this morning, and he loves when people dress up like that. I’m finding TTC employees among the most receptive to all this.

September 23

Outside of York Mills station a woman sat reading The Rosie Project, a book that I read this time last year and absolutely fell in love with. I wanted to tell her what an amazing book it is and ask what she thinks of it, since she was near the end. But without my nose on, I didn’t want to interrupt her. I let her read and walked inside.

So today my theme is about connecting with people. The nose is what gives me the excuse, nay, the irrepressible desire, to do that.

Coming up the escalator as I went down, two guys who work for the TTC were chatting. One of them said to me, “Something’s different about you today…” The girl with the red nose? What could it be? “It’s your hair, isn’t it?”

I love that clowning gives other people the opportunity to make wisecracks. They seem so much less self-conscious in a “heckling”-type role than if I were to ask them to improvise a scene.

I’m going to follow Patch’s advice about hugs as it applies to eye contact. When I make eye contact with someone, don’t break until they do. (This is something I have struggled with a lot–when can I look away? When is it awkward?)

Some days I forget whether I’m wearing the nose. Even when I don’t, it feels like more people are looking at me. Do they remember me? Are they hoping I’ll do something? When I am wearing the nose, people do smile when they notice.

Most of this day I walked along the subway, reading posters and looking for people looking at me. Direct contact works better than when I perform something on my own. Like when I played with the glass divider and mimed a box around me.

A man holding a bike acknowledged me during my walkabout, so I went over and talked to him. He’s an electrical engineer from Persia. In Tehran, subways get built much faster than in Toronto. Their entire system was built in the past 15 years. He and I decided to build a tram high above ground here in Toronto.

Note to self: Bring props next time. eg. bubbles, inflatable microphone

September 16

My second day of clowning begins with my ducking behind the shelter to put on my nose + glasses, which causes the bus to pass me by without seeing me.

I consider this day of clowning part of a series called, “Clown Lives Her Life.” It is not to be confused with, “Clown Performing.” This day is called “Clown rides the bus.” The question being investigated is, “What happens when a clown goes about her day?” Everything is normal, but she happens to be wearing a red nose and connecting with people.

The impetus behind this experiment is, What happens when I’m tired? How do I clown and still preserve my energy?

Confession time. I talk about Torontonians living in their own bubbles, ignoring everybody they walk past, eyeballs glued to their screens. I’m not talking about these foreign entities who I intend to change. I was born and raised in Toronto. Despite extensive travel, I’ve lived here all my life. So this mindset I’m describing is completely my mindset. I tune out subway announcements, even when relevant, just out of instinct. I avoid eye contact, mostly because I can’t see people without my glasses. I love my Subway Alone Time, as it is my regular opportunity to retreat into my own world, read my book or listen to my music or collect my thoughts. Swimming in this sea of humanity, I treasure this anonymity as my time to accomplish what I need to. My down time.

This being the case, it’s a struggle for me to embark on this (self-imposed) mission. Sacrifice my reading time? The thought causes my throat to constrict. But I’m writing a thesis! I have so much to read, and this is the only time I can do it!

So why am I doing this? Well, one thing I notice about myself is how rude and pushy I get when crossing the street, or walking on the sidewalk and someone slow is in front of me. Get out of my way! I’m in a rush! Okay… I’m not always in a rush. Sometimes (lately) I’ve found myself with free time. Unaccustomed to a leisurely stroll, I still brisk past people as if they don’t exist. When did I get so rude? So mean-spirited? I have road rage even when I’m not driving.

Another question around this is: Do I have to be “on” all the time? I want to be more present in general, but do I want to be more present every minute of the day?

The yes side: Sometimes I look around me and think, there are so many people here, so many stimulating things, how can I sit here and ignore it all? It goes against my human instincts to pretend that the world around me doesn’t exist.

The no side: Other times I think about my fellow commuters and wonder, Is this their down time too? Maybe they really need to relax after a stressful day at work and before a stressful day with family. Maybe the last thing they need is someone getting in their face and making them pay attention when all they want is to zone out and refresh their overworked brains.

Then again, many people turn on TV when they get home for that very purpose. What part of me entertaining you in person, as long as I don’t expect you to interact, is different from that?

Back to my series. “Clown rides the subway.” I saw an ad for an upcoming Psychic Fair, which sounds exciting and makes me want to ask people if they’re going. (Maybe if they go, I will too.) The first person I asked was an older woman who was not. I was blocking the seats nearest the ad, so an older gentleman who boarded the subway sat next to her. I asked him about it, but he replied in French that he doesn’t understand English. I found out he is from France, and then realised I have exhausted the extent of my command of his language. But apparently the woman is fluent, and they engaged in a conversation about Paris.

Two strangers, neither of whom wanted to connect with me, were given the opportunity to connect with each other. And that never would have happened if I didn’t interfere with people on the subway.