Thursday, May 18, 2017


Let's talk about being embarrassed.

We've all goofed off in the past, or done something stupid or had something humiliating happen to us. But I've learned, through the years, that it's how we react to the embarrassing situation that matters the most.

Do we cringe in humiliation? And suffer for ages over what has happened? Do we put a sign on ourselves that says, "Kick me!" because I'm stupid? Do we allow others to bully us and humiliate us with their knowledge of our lapse? Do we lie and pretend it never happened?

Really, people. No one is perfect. EVER! We all screw up, or get caught in unexpected situations. And I've learned that the best way to deal with embarrassment is to laugh at it, to share it with others as a funny situation, to refuse to be put down by others because of it. To admit our stupidity with a shrug and a laugh and move on. And to accept it as just a silly blip in our daily lives.

I've had my share of embarrassments, and perhaps by sharing with you all, I can help others come to grips with the seemingly "terrible" things that have happened to them.

I'm in college. All of 19 or 20. This is 1953. Full petticoats have just come in to fashion. I had a lovely one---stiff pale yellow crinoline (actually, cheesecloth that had been heavily starched---polyester hadn't been invented yet, or at least not in commercial use yet)---fastened with a button at the waist. Smoky blue rayon dress with a velvet collar to wear over it. Both pieces brand new,

College boyfriend---later husband---taking me to Philharmonic concert. Very posh. We usually took a bus downtown from College Hill, but he announced that, because he had sold some books, we would take a cab. I am already feeling beautiful because of my outfit. But a cab, too? Wow!

Get to Philharmonic Hall. Doorman rushes forward to open cab door. I step out in my most royal manner. He rushes ahead to open Philharmonic door. As I sail through grandly, I hear a pop. Button rolls across the floor. And around my ankles? Several yards of pale yellow crinoline. "Oh, my!" I say. I step out of it, throw it over my arm, and race for the ladies' room, where I cry for about two minutes, then get a pin from someone to fasten the waistband of the petticoat.

Because I had moved fast, boyfriend never realized what had happened. But for the next couple of days, I told all my dorm-mates, with great good humor, what had occurred. No one made fun of me, because I preempted them by making fun of myself, and downplaying the "drama" of the situation.

(Loved the story so much that, many years later, my heroine in Forever Wild by Louisa Rawlings, got drunk on her way to her wedding and then, having eaten too much, saw her petticoat button pop and dump the garment at her feet!)

Fairly recent story. I own an old-style, basic flip-top cell phone that my children insisted I have, for emergencies. Still have trouble figuring it out. (And when people ask me for my cell number, I decline to give it, because I can't always figure out how to retrieve a missed call! I DO take the phone with me for friends and doctors, since all my numbers are in it.)

Anyway, I dropped it in my apartment and the battery fell out. Put the battery back in, but the darn thing wouldn't work. Was meeting a friend that afternoon  Stopped by AT &T before I met her to get it fixed. Techie jiggled something, briefly attached it to a gadget in her hand, and it worked again. I mentioned the incident to my friend when we met later.

"Oh, she said. " If the battery comes out, you have to plug it in and recharge it."

Fast forward a few more weeks. Dropped the phone again. Battery fell out again. Put it back in, then, remembering what I had been told, plugged it into the charger. Except that nothing happened  Phone still wouldn't work, though it even flashed it's green light at me! Really pissed now! Was going off to work but stopped at AT & T on the way home to see what was wrong.

Clerk took the phone, did something, and handed it back to me.

"What did you do?" I asked.

She pointed to a button on the phone. "I turned it on."

Did I cringe in embarrassment? Hell, no! I not only told it to my friend, I shared it with my snarky children, who loved twitting me for days over it!

The larger lesson? It was something I DIDN'T KNOW! So what? What's so terrible about admitting that? I have dealt with supervisors/managers at work who felt they had to know EVERYTHING. If they didn't, they felt they had to cover up or even lie, as if saying  "Sorry, I don't know" makes them less important in their own eyes.

I learned through the years that people who  know MORE are more able to admit things they don't know than people who know LESS, who feel the need to bullshit and pretend they know everything. (I suppose it's a matter of insecurity, but beware of the person who comes across as all-knowing---they are probably just covering their deficiencies).

Too many people today think they have to be perfect, and so they set themselves up to fail, to be mocked, to be bullied.

My advice? Roll with it. Get over it. Laugh about it. DON'T cringe or look vulnerable---in this day of vicious social media, there will be someone who tries to humiliate, "shame" or  embarrass you,.

Only you can fend that off, by ignoring it or laughing about it.

A couple more silly anecdotes.

I am a young mother, after several pregnancies. My "bosom" was slightly deficient at a time when you were supposed to look like Marilyn Monroe, and the close-together pregnancies hadn't helped me! (Two raisins on an ironing board was my self description!)

Need new bras after latest pregnancy. Decided to go to a Corsetorium  (specialty shops that were popular when older women were still wearing full-control garments). Perhaps they could make adjustments in the bras for my woefully sagging breasts.

Mind you, I am still a young, shy woman from Massachusetts and clerk is a tough Brooklyn battleaxe  of unknown age. After showing me half a dozen bras, while I timidly suggested they could take in a  few stitches here and there, she vanished for a very long moment.

Then she reappeared with an armload of padded bras. (The '50s kinds---thick, padded foam-rubber cones.) Mind you, I am standing there stripped to the waist when she appeared again.

"Oh, do you think I really need them?" I asked tentatively.

She gestured in disgust at my sagging breasts.

"What? With those rags?"

So I bought them!

(And laughed and told the story for years!)

I could have been embarrassed over my rather flat chest, but I would have given other people power over me, the power to bully or humiliate me.

My final anecdote is only tangentially attached to the theme of embarrassment, but I love it!

It was many years ago. My daughter was 8, and had begun taking ballet lessons. Baryshnikov had just defected from the Soviet Union and had come to New York to dance.

 My daughter and I saw him in "Giselle", with Gelsey Kirkland.

Very excited, my little daughter wrote to him the next day and said that she was a dancer and that, someday, she would dance with him! (Just to creep you all out---she wound up dancing professionally with the Erick Hawkins Company and, nineteen years later, Baryshnikov DID dance with them for their Gala!)

Anyway, when she didn't get an answer back, she wrote again. I wish that, in those days, we mothers thought to make copies of things like our children's letters, because hers was a doozy---and definitely intended to embarrass Baryshnikov!

Basically, what she said was, "Didn't your mother raise you to be polite? I wrote to you and you never answered!"

I don't know whether the great dancer himself was embarrassed (I suspect he didn't speak enough English in those days to have even seen her letter!) but his entourage was!

She got an autographed photo of him by return mail!


  1. Love this! Really - you are so right. You have to roll with the embarrassments, and in true writer fashion make a story out of them - whether to your friends and family or in a book. I have a friend whose mom had a similar experience, only it was her underwear elastic that snapped and they ended up on the sidewalk. She walked right out of them, scooped them up, put them in her pocket, and kept on going.

    1. Wow! At least mine was just a petticoat!

  2. I love this post! Embarrassing things happen to all of us. We build character by figuring out how to make it through--I keep trying to teach my teenaged daughters this, but I've not yet been successful.

  3. Sometimes I stare at the ceiling of a night as I remember stupid things I have done. I keep thinking that somehow, someway, people are going to find out and be terribly hurt by my actions. I don't sleep much.

    1. That's sad. Why are you so hard on yourself?

  4. Honestly, I'm just glad you didn't mention my running to the neighbor's pool with nothing on.... ;-)

  5. Are you someone I know? Because I know someone that happened to!

  6. I remember one vivid night in college when a bunch of girls, newly-met, got together over a bowl of popcorn and cheap beer and tried to out-do one another with true embarrassment stories. We laughed to the point of tears---and bonded like glue. Thanks for bringing back that lovely memory!

  7. And then there was the time I was dancing in a show and my wig came off. Nothing but my wig cap on my head. I looked like a conehead! At first I kept dancing and just scooped up wig and flung it offstage. Then I realized what I must look like up there and danced myself right offstage. In the immediate aftermath I was horrified and crying. But not long after that it became the great laugh of the whole cast and everyone relished the retelling of my wig disaster.

  8. Love it, Julia! Never heard that story before!