One of my fellow doc students – and it’s one I adore – was faux proposing yesterday (can we call it faux-prosing?) and she was extremely nervous. Like, looking green and sweating nervous. “Teacher Lady,” she said, “You don’t really seem to get nervous when you present, do you?” I was trying to enter some quiz scores into my electronic gradebook, “Mmm . . . no, not really,” I said distractedly. Clearly she was looking for more support beyond what crumbs I was giving her. “Why not?” she pleaded. I had to think about this for a minute. “Honestly?” I asked. “I have publicly humiliated myself so many times in so many ways, I think I must be used to it. Hell, it could be some kind of new mathematical equation: Me + any public setting + lots of people = complete and total utter humiliation with an alpha level of .05 and a .25 likelihood of physical comedy.
Now she was looking much more interested and much less green. “Like how?” she asked brightly. “Oh, Allison. I’ve had so many ‘cringe-worthy’ moments, we could stay here for hours and you’d never hear all of them.” She begged me for just a quick few humiliating moments to keep her distracted until her faux-prosal and after all, what are friends for?
I told her of the time in undergrad when I was presenting at a local conference for the student version of a professional organization. I was truly nervous and I (still) have the habit of running my hand through my hair when especially jittery. During this presentation, in front of about 50 or so of my fellow undergrads (some from my school, most from other schools within the state) I ran my hand through my hair. I forgot that I was wearing a lovely cuff bracelet that had a hinge. A hinge that got stuck in my hair. And not in a subtle, “Oh, let me wander off quietly and you’ll never see me pull this thing out of the back of my hairline” kind of way. Oh, no. My life doesn’t work that way. It was stuck on the top of my head, about in the middle. Sticking. Straight. Up. And it actually kind of hurt. Pulling it out would have resulted in my ripping out a good portion of hair and probably some of the skin on my scalp. For about 5 seconds there was a collective horrified inhale and then everyone burst out laughing. And laughed and laughed while I tried to pretend nothing was happening and careened ahead with the end of my presentation. Have you ever tried to give a presentation while having a large gold bracelet stuck to the top of your head? (Never thought you’d get ask that question, did you?) After that, pretty much anything else feels like a rip-roaring success.
I must have been strolling down undergrad lane because then I launched into the story of the day at the end of my freshmen year when I was returning from some business-y networking type event. I had a long walk across campus on a lovely spring evening and I passed at least 100 people. Almost all of them smiled at me brightly and said, “Hi Teacher!” and “Well, hello, Teacher!” and as each additional person greeted me by name I started feeling better and better about myself. “Well,” I thought, “This might be a fairly big campus, but clearly I’ve made quite an impression over the past year. People really know me!” The trek took about 20 minutes and by the time I got home, I’d never felt more confident or proud of my 18-year-old self. And then I walked in the door and my roommates fell on the floor shrieking with laughter. “Please,” one of them said, laughing so hard she was bright red, “Tell me you did NOT walk across campus like that.” I turned around, expecting to see my skirt tucked into my underwear or some such humiliation. No. I checked the bottom of both shoes for toilet paper or small children. Nothing. What? They both pointed at my chest. I was wearing an ENORMOUS name tag with “TEACHER LADY” written on it in bright. Red. Marker. And all caps. Of course. Even worse? I wasn’t so much humiliated as I was sad that I didn’t have all the new friends I thought I did.
I regaled her with the tale from my corporate days about my videotaping a training class. This was back in the day when I was terrified of anything faintly stinking of technology and when a video camera lived on a tri-pod. I was taping people who were much higher up the ladder than I was. And it was the first time I was conducting this particular class. My nerves weren’t so much jumping as they were having epileptic fits. While trying to look cool, I announced to the training class that I would start the camera and begin taping their presentations. Then I walked the step and a half up to the camera, sort of leaning forward to put my eye into the lens (thing? Eye hole? View finder?) and tripped over the cord, lost my balance, fell forward and hit my eye on the camera. Not only did it hurt but then I had a wee bit of a black eye for about a day and a half. Classy.
Allison felt much better after that and did a bang-up job on her faux-prosal. I was glad I could help. And I realized it’s probably very dangerous for me to leave the house.