Local woman clowns her way into a good life

By Trina Trice

Some clowns are happy and good, some clowns are sad and bad, but Lori Penix is a love clown.

Penix performs as a clown for children during special events.

"I'm a love clown," she said. "I just love everybody. I have a lot of love. I'm very gentle. I take my time with the children, ?cause a lot of children are afraid of clowns. But a lot of them come up to me and say, ?Miss Clown, I love you.'"

Miss Clown, as she calls herself, doesn't just spend her time cheering up children and making them smile, she also writes poetry and "makes" poodles.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Pa., Penix moved to Clayton County a year and half ago to be closer to family.

The 46-year-old poet and artisan has lived with bipolar disorder for most of her life. It is through her creative endeavors that she is able to express herself and share the strength she's developed while living with a mental illness.

Penix wrote her first poem when she was in the fifth grade, she said.

The last line of her first poem read, "When I wake up and find myself, which I probably never will."

"But I did," Penix said while dressed in a colorful, turquoise dress and head wrap Thursday morning at the Clayton County Headquarters Library. "Back then I was a very confused, little girl. I had a lot of questions. I didn't understand the world. Now, I think I'm very confident. I consider myself successful. I love the Lord and I believe that he is the head of my life. That made the difference for me n I found God."

Along the way, she also found support from friends.

Mary Kelly ran a beauty salon 20 years ago in Pittsburgh, that's when and where the two met.

"I encouraged her to take the classes," Kelly said. "She became a cosmetologist. I thought she did well."

Penix calls Kelly her mentor. While working in Kelly's salon Penix, then, considered herself a hindrance.

"She was very patient with me ?cause I was slow," Penix said. "She always took her time with me."

But it's friendship that has kept the two in church.

"We've always been able to get along," Kelly said. "I moved to Maryland 12 years ago, so we kept in touch. It's a blessing. She has not let her illness keep her down. I'm inspired by her and the strength in her. She inspires others to get up and do something."

Penix keeps busy by knitting her signature poodles, a craft her mother taught her 25 years ago, she said.

Her love for making poodles has spurred her to add her own touches, such as adding hats, crocheted bows and booties.

"During my free time I'm constantly making poodles," Penix said. "I love them. I don't have any children and it's part of my creativity that makes me do it."

In addition to clowning, writing poetry and making poodles, which she sells and donates to charitable causes, Penix is training to become a peer support specialist at the Clayton Center where she receives treatment.

"I'm like a role model to most people with mental illness," she said. "I'm a messenger. I want to get my message across and get it across anyway I can, whether it be through poetry or through clowning. I could sit around and say, ?Oh, I have a mental illness', but I refuse to do that."