Tagged: on trying

Destabilize

I step into a baby clothing store on a whim, looking for a gift for a friend who’s just given birth. The shop is cheerful and whimsical, with a fluffy pastel cotton-candy interior. I’m a bit disoriented in this foreign world of cutesy teeny-tiny fashion.

Smelling fresh carrion, two black-clad saleswomen croak “Hello” and descend upon me. They bare their teeth into something resembling a smile.

One of them, an older woman with deep-set eyes, indicates the rack for newborns. I peruse the adorable clothing, realizing a simple onesie costs 55 euros…

I have no time to fake a polite exit before the dark-eyed woman re-materializes in a cloud of heavy perfume and the oppressive stink of 30 years’ worth of cigarettes and red wine. There’s something sinister about this husky-voiced woman with stingy hair and George Washington’s wooden teeth, cooing at me with a saccharine voice.

“How old did you say the baby was?”

“Uhm, about 2 months.”

“So it’s NOT a new baby then!”

“I guess not…”

“Et, c’est dans quel pays?”

My eyes narrow in confusion, and my mouth is parted–I’m breathing discreetly through my mouth.

Quel pays? What country? What kind of trick question is this?

“Pardon?”

She repeats herself, cartoonishly enunciating “Quel PAYS?” Her gray teeth stand out against the spackle caked on her face; she looks like a 20’s vaudeville clown.

“France.”

“No, no, no…” Her colleague joins in behind, and they are now both braying at me, in tandem: “Pays, pays, pays…”  All that’s missing here is an undead barbershop quartet to complete this ghastly spectacle.

What did I do to gain entry to this hellish dog and pony show?

“WHERE?”

“The south of France…?”

“Oh, voilà! You know, we only ask because every region’s weather is different, every season is different, which you must keep in mind when shopping…” Her smarmy response disgusts me, and their logic has me stumped.  I don’t belong here in this farce. I respond with logic that might speak to them:

“Well, this is a travelling baby. You know, the kind of baby that travels all over France with her parents, so any kind of clothing would be fine… At any rate, thanks very much for your help, have a great day!” I chirp and fly out of the store.

The air outside is heavy and oppressive, offering no relief from the burning that stings the back of my throat.  I feel foolish, destabilized, unsettled.  Despite their bizarrely condescending behavior, I still suspect the fault lies with me and my insufficient French.

It’s time to retreat home.  I’ll buy the gift another day.

Deny

No, no no…

 

My class was meant to start 2 minutes ago.

I’m upstairs, fumbling through my bag, ripping through the contents.

Where is it…

I’m aggressively breathing, forcing air through my constricting airway.  I feel flushed, my heart is racing, and hot tears are starting to erupt.

No.

I find my homeopathy tablets and shove some under my tongue.  Breathe, take control.

I feel trapped.  I’m deeply uncomfortable.  I want 5 minutes to go outside and breathe.  I want to walk and keep walking until I get home.  I want to walk straight out of this reality, if it means I can get myself back.  But for now, I have to swallow those needs and do my job.  The only thing I can control right now is my breath.

I crunch through what’s left of the tablets, take a gulp of water, and paste on a smile.  I descend to greet my student, who looks a bit annoyed at being kept waiting.  I’m 5 minutes late.

A thickly sweet voice says, “Thanks for your patience.  Shall we begin our class now?”  A body goes into a classroom.

Me dissolves.  Breath remains.

Mock

“I’m afraid of being made fun of.”

 

How many times have my students confided this fear in me?  Ashamed to struggle, flustered at their mistakes, looking like they want to disappear.

I wonder, What’s the big deal?

Since when do strangers’ opinions matter?  Why are we so ready to give away our confidence to imaginary people who fictionally criticize us?

This mentality seems to speak to the greater idea that unless you’re going to be great at something, it’s not worth trying.  Anything less than excellence is insufficient.  You run the risk of entering the annals of history as a Failure.

 

Is our sense of self-importance that inflated, that our failures, never mind our very existences, will be remembered for more than 5 nanoseconds?

 

Push the logic a bit further, and it falls to pieces.

I screw up, forget things, commit acts of thoughtlessness.
I have a funny accent when I speak foreign languages.
I’m sure my lipstick is never smooth and flawless.
I trip over my feet, my skirts ride up, I get parsley in my teeth.
At times, I have no idea what to say.  I get testy on occasion.
I ruin recipes and often write what I think is garbage.

So what?  We all do.

Criticism from one person is fleeting.  As is the embarrassment of screwing up.

More than fictional criticism that hasn’t happened yet, we should be afraid of leaving this world with regret in our hearts, at not having tried.

Let’s get over ourselves, and just do it.

Aprende!

“I don’t get it.”

Hands up in the air, head shaking, breath hissing in exasperation, body leaning back as far as humanly possible from the table.  Downturned haddock mouth, brow furrowed, head slouching into a temple massage, fingers tense and aggravated.

It never ceases to amaze me, that this behavior comes from grown-ass adults: parents, doctors, lawyers, accountants, managers, generally functioning members of society.

Sometimes, I stare blankly back in response.  No follow-up question, no attempt at clarification.  I see expectancy and hope looking back at me; these are eyes that just want the answer, dammit!

When I see my adult students react poorly to frustration, I think back to my childhood.  When my father spoke to me in Spanish and I didn’t understand, or when I had a difficult homework assignment, he’d nod his head in exasperation and exclaim:  “Aprende!”  Learn!

If only those were the magic words.  “I don’t get it,” and instantly, you’re exonerated from the responsibility of mental exertion.

In a perfect world, I just give the damn answer, and we can all move on!

In the world of language learning, that just doesn’t cut it.

The moments of frustration, mental blanks, forgetting what we’ve seen dozens of times before… Years of experience have taught me that that is where true language acquisition happens.  Learning to navigate through those difficult moments, to roll with them, not allowing them to completely block us:  these skills differentiate between those who will succeed, and those who will not.

Alleviating a short moment of frustration by giving the easy way out does a disservice to the student.  They are freed from the obligation to try, and thereby cheated out of an opportunity to learn.  I want to echo my dad’s simple, yet timeless nugget of truth:  Aprende!

 

Mortify

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Onstage, seated cross-legged in front of a full audience.  I paint on my most charming smile, and begin speaking into the mic.  In the midst of the first wave of applause, I realize:  my script is missing.  The auditorium hushes, and I’m nervously fluttering through my binders.  I hear spectators growing restless, shifting from one buttcheek to the other in their seats, and I’m feeling panicked.  I look over my shoulder, and am sickened to see that offstage, she’s got my script.  Smiling, her face says, “How you like me now?”
I wake up with the same tight stomach.
§
Mortification is a word that’s followed me closely in my journey through life, like a pathetically faithful three-legged dog with fleas.
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I think back to my first teaching job, and the little black nob protruding from the ceiling in every classroom:  CCTV.
I knew that classes were recorded, for evaluation purposes…  it wasn’t until a couple years in, that I realized everything was being recorded.  Whether there was a class or not, the cameras were rolling.  I instinctively cringe recalling the things I did while on camera.

I broke down crying at my desk before class.

I shook my booty to reggaeton music.

I bit my nails.

I had private telephone conversations.

I did unladylike things.

Those shining moments were captured, in addition to my horrific first forays into teaching:  kids scribbling on the walls, scooting around the classroom, slinging various objects, and stupefied Me in the eye of the pandemonium, pulling my hair out.

I can imagine the wide-eyed bewildered look of whatthef*ck on my supervisors’ faces when they sat down to replay and evaluate my classes.  I imagine they learned much more about me than they bargained for.
Now, looking back on that time, I wonder if there wasn’t a shred of pity in their eyes when they spoke to me.
I shudder, and come zooming back to the Present.  I could chastise myself for ever being that foolish.  But, knowing that Mortification will eventually come back to me, I prefer to laugh at myself.  It may not be pleasant, but it’s there to teach me a lesson.

Center

I’m not a spotlight reveler.  I’m the one reveling in anonymity and dancing in the negative space around the spotlight.  Like an escaped prison convict, I tend to go wide-eyed and freeze up in the blinding light of attention.
But when you get married, it’s kinda the point to be the center of attention.
Dress shopping and decision-making are turning things a bit sideways, as I learned yesterday.
Wedding dress shopping, first stop.  The bridal shop saleswoman is a mousy woman with wire-rimmed glasses and short dark hair.  She listens expectantly as I describe what I’d like, hoping to end the choreographed dance around the Price Question as soon as urbanely possible.  Finally, I name my budget, and the woman curtly responds, “No, madam, that just isn’t possible.  For what you want, you’re looking at X.”
X is several hundred euros more than I had imagined.
There are three people watching me fidget, and make a snap decision.  The potency of my French turns from espresso to dishwater.  I feel hot, and my throat starts to tighten.  I’m looking blankly into the seller’s eyes, and noticing that despite her calm mask, her skin is flushing.  My skin flushes in tandem, and my tongue swells.  The silence is oppressive, and I suddenly feel like a foolish girl.  I step outside my skin and envision how I must look, slack-jawed and cloddish, with my simple thumbs curled through the belt loops in my careworn jeans, surrounded by pristine white gowns.  I feel so inadequate.
“Well, then, I suppose it’ll have to be that much, but no more.”
“It’s you who decides, madam, not me!”
I can feel the eyes of my mother- and sister-in-law on my back, silently sharing this clumsy moment with me.  I want to evaporate.
My heart sinks as I try on several gorgeous wedding dresses.  I let my hair loose, and I admit to myself that I do look very nice.  My throat is still tight, and I manage to squeak out that, indeed, they flatter my figure.  I purse my lips, and as six eyes expectantly wait for a definitive “yes,” and that signature bride-to-be’s squeal of glee at finding The Dress, I feel myself crumbling inside.  I feel like a hollow doll, slathered in pretense and lace.
What’s the tactful way to say that this doesn’t feel right?  That I’m not cut out for this ostentatious charade?  How would Emily Post orchestrate my exit strategy?
“Well, this is a big decision that I’m not ready to make right now.  I think I’d like to sleep on it.”
I take the woman’s business card, slide it into my bag, and smile as I show myself the door.  Damn, that was rough.  But I’m happy that I listened to my gut instinct and did what was right, albeit uncomfortable:  I said no.
Even if I stumbled and scraped a knee back there, I think Emily would be happy with my (somewhat) diplomatic retreat.