Writers get it. Whether it is a blank piece of paper in a typewriter (remember those?), a flashing yellow cursor on a black screen, or thin blue lines on a piece of notebook paper, the feeling of writer’s block is terrifying. I’ve lived through all of the variations of writing I’ve described above and suffered for it.

And even now, when I'm staring at a blinking black vertical cursor on a white screen version of paper, it still grabs hold of my shoulders, makes my fingers rigid, and my mind small.

Writer’s block.

All weekend long I’ve been playing with ideas about Albuquerque. I’ve got half a dozen blogs half written, and none wanted to come to fruition.

So I asked my teenage daughter, a budding writer herself, what I should write about.

Her answers were delivered rapid-fire.

You should write about fall, how the mornings are nice and cool and the nasty hot weather is finally gone. You should write about how it is almost time for hot soup and hot chocolate, and warm things to eat and drink. You should write about how soon there will be balloons in the sky and green chile roasting will end and so will the tomatoes from the garden.

And then she paused.

Or you could write about the “State Fair” – finger quotes in the sky and just enough supercilious attitude to make me think this is a topic worth exploring.

And she ranted about the lack of healthy food, and the animals in cages, and the general absence of good art, and the fact that you have to sign a liability waiver for the bungee cord jump – just like signing a waiver for your death.

And then she paused and said, “Plus, there are no freak shows. Albuquerque needs more freak shows.”

And I realized she was right.

At some point, the freak shows stopped. When she was young, I remember entering the fair and seeing brightly colored trailers housing a bearded lady, and maybe a human serpent with a woman’s head – or was it a goat with a man’s head?

The paintings were lurid, the marketing sensational. When I was a child, my mother would not give me money to see the freaks. I did the same with my own children – I was not about to pay a penny of my hard earned graduate assistant's salary so they could peep at freaks. But it goes deeper than that.

I was one of those kids who went to the library every week and checked out a stack of books that I could barely see over. I went through the fiction section of the children’s library, and graduated to adult fiction (not that kind) at a precocious age. One day, I wandered across the aisle to adult nonfiction. And I stumbled across a book about by Ashley Montagu about Joseph Merrick – years before the movie was made. Right next to it were other books about freaks.

Now maybe it was because I felt like a freak myself, wearing a hearing aid the size of a cigarette pack in a body harness; maybe it was because I was predisposed to reach out to the underdog; or maybe it was just because I was a sensitive girl who worried if it hurt the flowers when you picked them.

I checked out those books on freaks and read them in one night, huddled under the covers with my hot pink alarm clock with a built in nightlight that changed colors from blue to green to yellow to orange every sixty seconds. (Why use a flashlight that requires replacing batteries and explaining to mom why the batteries keep dying before their time?)

I cried at the Elephant Man’s life, rejoiced at the marriage of General Tom Thumb’s marriage to Lavinia, and wondered if the ‘mustache’ my mother bleached every month would ever turn her into the bearded lady.

I gaped at the size of the giant Big Joe Grimes’ feet, wondered if the pygmy living at the Bronx zoo ever missed his family, and tried to figure out how Chang and Eng could stand all that togetherness, when my own brother and I couldn’t even sit next to each other on a road trip without some sort of shenanigans erupting.

Years later, I started reading up on Disability Studies. And “the Other”. And “normalcy”. And objectification. And what it means to use someone as a means to an end.

I connected it to those freaks I had read about long ago and later saw in Diane Arbus' images.

And when I took my kids to the State Fair, I just couldn’t bring myself to give them money so they could gape at the freaks.

Something took.

Last week my daughter asked if I was aware of a psychology experiment that recruited actors to act as “primitive people” housed in a zoo. The purpose of the experiment was to record the reactions of the gawkers. Suffice it to say this did not capture the finest moments of humanity.

This week she is toting around a novel written by a friend of mine who sometimes leaves her new home in the City Different to get a fix of Albuquerque’s vibrant creative scene.

It’s about the inner lives of freaks.

Image from the Damn Cool Pics blog. Click on the photo for more public domain images.

Views: 59

Comment by Barelas Babe on September 20, 2010 at 11:46am
Eeep - lots of little typos today! Edits now made.
Comment by cathyray on September 20, 2010 at 7:21pm
I'm with Granjero. Freaks are fascinating. All of us are freaks.
Comment by cc on September 20, 2010 at 7:33pm
I'm glad to hear this subject discussed. Mainly I would be/have been worried that these people who travel as objects of freak shows have a choice in being paraded about, gawked at. Do they have a choice, or were they comandeered at a young age and made to do someone else's bidding? Is there any camaradery in their lives? I would hope yes to the last question.

And yes, Cathyray - I agree. I wish more were as open-minded as you!
Comment by Edith Grove on September 20, 2010 at 11:33pm
The last one I ever saw at the fair here was the snake lady. It was a pretty funny little mirror trick. The kind that impresses you more with the cleverness at parting you from your dollar than at the freak aspect.
Comment by Barelas Babe on September 20, 2010 at 11:38pm
Do you remember when that was, EG? I seem to remember my young son begging to see her!
Comment by Edith Grove on September 20, 2010 at 11:53pm
It was at least three or four years ago. Maybe even five or six. Back when I was in high school, the Arkansas State Fair had some impressive freak show entries, but I never actually went in to see them.
Comment by Phil_0 on September 21, 2010 at 12:15am
The snake lady is back this year. As are the world's smallest horse and the world's smallest woman, who sounds like the same woman who was here three or four years ago.
Comment by J. Paul Lanier on September 21, 2010 at 2:44pm
I am kind of comforted that a writer I respect immensely has the occasional creative roadblock! I suppose it's possible that Great Ideas are percolating just below the conscious surface. What a relief when an idea seems to arrive, more-or-less fully developed, from out of the blue!
Comment by peggo on September 21, 2010 at 6:08pm
Greetings and salutations,
This is Peggo The Leggo from The 999 Eyes Freak Show. where our show rolled aound your area around 2 years ago.
The Freaks we use in our show are not tattooed from head to toe, or bang things in there nose, NO We use in our show only generic freaks. like the lobster girl the tripod girl. and i was born with neurofribatosis what they believed to be what Joseph Merric had so i am the modern day elephant man,
you a have a beautiful city I only wish we had more time there.


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