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Baltimore School for the Arts graduate Tonya...


Baltimore School for the Arts graduate Tonya O'Dell learned 0) to laugh when things go wrong in the circus

Some of Tonya O'Dell's best friends are clowns, jugglers and trapeze artists.

That's what happens when you spend six years with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, traveling from town to town with the likes of the Human Volcano and the Globe of Death.

But while most people become kids again under the big tent, Ms. O'Dell says the circus has turned her into an adult.

"It's definitely a place where I grew up," says the 25-year-old East Baltimorean. "Something magical happens here. If you have problems, you learn to never let them show."

Some problems, however, are impossible to hide -- like when your headdress with plastic musical notes gets hooked with another dancer's.

"When you're on the floor, it's like an obstacle course," she says. "You have to look out for stilt walkers, clowns, floats and elephants."

But the Baltimore School for the Arts graduate, who will be at the Baltimore Arena with the circus through May 10, never lets that affect her work.

"Things go wrong all the time, but we laugh at it. That's part of being in the circus -- having fun out there," she says.

A strange thing happened to Arnold Medvene on the way t getting his first book published.

He got rejected 15 times.

That would have been fairly common if it hadn't been for his subject: death.

"The paradox was that each rejection letter felt like a death to me," says Dr. Medvene, a 55-year-old psychologist at the University of Maryland at College Park's counseling center.

But in the end, he prevailed. And through his recently self-published book, "Storms & Rainbows: The Many Faces of Death," he hopes to bridge the gap between how society intellectually and emotionally deals with loss. In 12 essays, writers explore grieving -- be it for a murdered son or an aged parent.

"Death," he says, "represents a defeat by nature. We live in such a technocratic culture that not being able to control a situation is a defeat."

The father of three will soon begin work on a book about children and death.

Does he ever worry about earning a reputation as Dr. Death?

"In some ways that would be a compliment," he says and then pauses. "Then in some ways it would be kind of weird."

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