I have insomnia. I’ve had it for years. A few years ago I used to use a thunderstorm CD to help me fall asleep. Then I joined the circus. Thunderstorms ( and rain in general) now give me panic attacks. I’m not joking.
When you live in a circus you are basically living outside. The only thing that stands between you and the elements is a bit of fibreglass, a layer of insulation and some tacky wallpaper or woodeffect wall covering. Also, most RVs and house trailers are made to be driven on highways to a campground and parked a few times a year. Driving an RV over almost every road condition known to man and off-roading on a daily basis and parking on unlevel and unstable surfaces is not the way to maintain the vehicle. Also, these vehicles are meant to be in used in pleasurable weather and stored away from the elements in the not so great weather. This is not possible when in the circus.
In my few months on the circus, my motorhome and I experienced snow and freezing temperatures, blazing hot temperatures, high winds and tornado warnings, and lots and lots and lots of rain. In my first weeks I woke to a sopping wet couch and carpet more than once. I slept on my couch because my bed was wet from a new leak numerous times and on days when the rain was relentless and I was stuck in my house all day, I would
exhaust entertain myself by wringing out dish towels and calculating leak rates.
Eventually, I became a bit better at preparing for and dealing with precipitation. After setting up each morning, it was not unusually to see me on my roof with a silicon gun patching leaking seals. By the time I left the road, every window on my house had been re-sealed with silicon at least twice. I became obsessed with weather forecasts (like everyone else on the show) and finally found a practical use for all those cloud quizzes from my undergrad meteorology course. On days which rain was predicted I took precautionary measures by levelling my house in such a way to direct water runoff toward the strongest seals and away from problem areas and positioning towels under particularly stubborn leaks.
However, no matter how prepared I was for the actual water, I could never prepare for or eliminate the sound. For some reason, no one has yet to be able to explain it to me, rain hitting a motorhome is deafening. The incessant sound of pounding rain would drive me crazy. On the rare occasions that I had no leaks and could escape to a friends’ house, I would be amazed at their acoustics. If not for the inescapable dampness, you would never had known it was raining.
In our current flat, when it rains, it sounds like being back in the motorhome and I suddenly go into leak anxiety mode. I race around checking for leaking windows and straining to hear the distinct plop, plop of an indoor leak. The fact that our gutters are crap and send sheets of water flowing down the walls and windows doesn’t help. My skin gets that weird electric feeling like before you do something terrifying (like say zip-lining when you aren’t that comfortable with heights) and I can’t relax or concentrate. I literally pace the house continually checking.
It’s the antidote to the romantic memories and feelings about the circus. It’s remembering that it can be a b***h of a hard life that requires skill, endurance and commitment that is only gained through perseverance. It’s a reminder that the show will go on despite the mud and the rain and that means you need to find a way to go on as well or get left behind.
There is a bit of a life lesson there I think.
I started writing this post as a pithy way to ignore the storm and my leak anxiety and pass along a little personal experience but I find it has led me to something I have been thinking about and struggling with in the last few weeks (oh who am I kidding, the last year). Yesterday marked a year since I finished my PhD. A year gone, with nothing much to show for it except two new titles (with accompanying paperwork) and few more recipes and a few less pounds.
In my worst days on the circus, days when I only went a few hours without crying, days when I was wet and cold and out-of-range and truly on my own, I found the strength to keep driving and showing up every morning to a new lot and a new day knowing full well that it was going to be another day full of tears and doubt and, inevitably, mud. I remember two days in particular that presented me with an easy opportunity to turn off the route and head back to Cleveland and a flight home. But I didn’t. I kept showing up and it turned into one of the best experiences of my life.
At the risk of cueing a music swell in the background, it’s time to start showing up again.
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t find any leaks in the house (not surprising) but wouldn’t it have been a great end to the story if I did? Living and learning and all that? Oh well, maybe in the movie I do. Because, let’s be honest, we all imagine our life could be a movie one day, right?