Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Ever-Renewed Spiral Into Embarrassment Oblivion

It seems only appropriate to follow up my last post with one about embarrassing myself.

I get REALLY embarrassed, humorously so, because my reaction to a remembered embarrassment is to physically cringe, compulsively mumble or hum, or clench whatever I happen to be holding. So it's a gift that keeps on giving, because when you do that shit spontaneously alone in public, guess what? It's effin' EMBARRASSING. New fodder for the twitchfest!

It doesn't actually happen all that often, thankfully -- maybe every other month or so -- when I remember what a TOTAL RETARD I was that one time, and how they probably still get a kick out of remembering how ass-stupid I was, off I go again with the good ol' twitch-and-mumble, usually voicing aloud whatever words were floating nearby in my consciousness. My stomach clenches, and my diaphragm just seems to pump straight into my voice box, and verbal diarrhea comes dribbling out, the first word with force and the rest sort of trailing behind like a comet's tail. It's not intentional and therefore not planned, which means these aren't the most coherent pearls of bon mot...usually something along the lines "WELL I guess so, guess so, did my best..."

I once went completely critical, remembering something embarrassing while on an escalator. This made me mumble and squirm while passing a stranger going past on the opposing escalator. This made me so embarrassed I keened and involuntarily shut my eyes. This caused me to fall out the end of the escalator and into a support column. Fortunately at this point I decided to flee the scene,  made a break for the Walden Books and broke the vicious cycle before I spontaneously combusted.

Fortunately, I don't usually get that bad, and just hum a little hum that no one notices in the noise of TV, dishwashers and other conversations. A lot of people have it worse, especially in cultures that have the concept of latah, where acting out when flustered can be exacerbated to extremes. I heard about a European colonial case of manslaughter where the defendant was exonerated because their extreme latah condition made them susceptible to orders given by others -- to prove the point (ha!) a board driven through with nails was placed points-up in front of the defendant and they were "set off", and told to hit the board while in that impressionable state. When they did so with force, the colonialists ruled that the latah was a truly involuntary condition, and that the sufferer was without guilt, while the one who told them to harm the victim was held accountable for the act itself.

I'm not latah myself, but I think that's just because my society didn't allow me the mental or emotional space to become one, and that I probably would have become one if I'd grown up in any of the several places around the world where the custom is found.

PS - I recommend checking out hyperekplexi, or a really strong embarrassment/startle reflex? Please share!

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