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Baraboo woman lays out life's challenges, trauma and how to find joy in 'Life is a Circus'
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Baraboo woman lays out life's challenges, trauma and how to find joy in 'Life is a Circus'

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Angela Witczak doesn’t mind sharing intimate details of her life with the public, and she thinks women in particular might benefit from her experiences, described in her new book, “Life is a Circus: Enjoy the Show.”

“By the time I was 21 years old, I had lived more life than most people live in a lifetime,” Witczak said.

The longtime Baraboo resident, who grew up in Portage, had been married and divorced, had three children and gave another up for adoption before she could legally drink alcohol.

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Angela Witczak holds a copy of her new book, “Life is a Circus: Enjoy the Show,” April 27 in her office in downtown Baraboo. It was released Saturday.

Now 41, she’s at two divorces, three marriages and eight children, two of whom she adopted from foster care. Witczak said she’s been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, once settled for an emotionally abusive relationships and learned how to cope with the murder of her younger brother.

“I talk about all of that (in the book), and I talk about how you can move through all of those things, finding joy in your life no matter the circumstances,” she said.

The book, which she describes as a memoir/self-help book for “women who have experienced tragedy and chaos and crazy,” combines stories from her own life with those of circus history. Published by Author Academy Elite, it was officially released Saturday and will be available for purchase soon from Baraboo shops Cornerstone Gallery, The Village Booksmith and Wild Bird Barn, Witczak said.

It’s also available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. More than 400 copies sold through pre-orders, according to Witczak.

Her inspiration came from hearing people use the titular phrase in a negative way, meaning their life is chaotic or frustrating, she said, when circuses are meant to bring joy, laughter, wonder and entertainment. Witczak said she’s loved the circus ever since she was a child visiting her grandparents in Baraboo. Every summer, they would go to Circus World, she said.

As an adult, she started taking her own children on frequent visits, especially with her youngest, who’s now 7.

WATCH NOW: Baraboo's Circus World to bring back live performers from its past this summer

“What I fell in love with was the circus is a place for everyone. And it is where they embrace the misfit, they embrace the sideshow, they embrace the side of us that we don’t like because we don’t think anybody understands it, and that is what the circus is about. There is no one that doesn’t belong there,” Witczak said. “It’s a place of acceptance and belonging and family.”

One of the circus stories she tells in her book is about Dolly Dimples, known for being a circus “fat lady” and an accomplished singer. Dolly was ridiculed for her weight, but eventually earned a world record for weight loss.

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“I have struggled with self-esteem for most of my life,” Witczak said. “It wasn’t until I was 32 years old that I even thought I was a valuable person or worthy. It took a lot of work on myself, and so I talk about Dolly Dimples … I talk about how she never gave up in her life.”

Witczak said she realized her second marriage had been a toxic relationship only after it ended. When her ex-husband first told her he no longer wanted their life together, they were six months away from formally adopting two foster children who had been living with them for years, she said. She asked him to stay until they signed the adoption papers to ensure it went through.

“After he left was when I really hit this rock-bottom state of trying to figure out who I was, what I was, what my value was,” she said, adding that her life felt like a circus — “and not the good kind.” That experience launched her path to personal growth through therapy, life coaches and self-help books, which helped her realize “every day is a choice.”

She started writing the book in 2019, but then took several months off after her parents broke the news on a Monday afternoon that her brother had been shot in the head.

“Those words change you, because you don’t wake up expecting tragedy. Nobody wakes up expecting tragedy. … You just wake up living your life and then you have to deal with the fallout afterwards, and you have to figure out a way for the show to go on,” she said.

The chapter dealing with his death is about finding peace through forgiveness, Witczak said, because she had to learn to forgive herself for not saying the things to him she wished she had, and she had to forgive the woman who killed him.

“I had to make peace with that, that if I carried around hatred and bitterness and anger towards this person that killed my brother, it would eat me alive,” Witczak said.

Despite the challenging, heavy topics, Witczak makes them readable and entertaining, said Laura Hulleman of Merrimac, a friend of Witczak. She’s read excerpts from Witczak’s book, which she said were “outstanding.”

“She is an excellent storyteller and can tell her story in a way that allows other people to see their reflection in that story. The excerpts out of the book that I read have done just that,” Hulleman said.

Hulleman said Witczak’s stories make her readers feel less alone in their struggles and gives them advice they can act on.

“It’s like that life preserver that they throw off the boat and you can get your head above water for the first time,” she said. “I think this book is going to be like a life preserver for a lot of overwhelmed, feeling-not-enough moms out there.”

The two friends, both of whom bill themselves as life coaches in addition to other work, are now starting a project together, an anthology of women’s stories, tentatively titled “Walk a Mile in My Own Shoes” and expected to publish in early 2022.

Witczak said she has been marketing “Life is a Circus” herself and will be appearing as a guest on several podcasts this month, including This Fat Girl Life, Living Self Podcast and We Are Not So Different.

She currently runs Labrador Deliveries in Baraboo but is trying to sell the business. She also serves on the Baraboo Park and Recreation Commission and the Baraboo Area Homeless Shelter Board.

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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