Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Preferred by Discreet Women Everywhere!

On our latest California Adventure, from which we returned last night, I had a profound revelation: I am embarrassed. I am always embarrassed.

Let me set the scene: We are near Mt. Lassen on the second night of our trip. I am in the tiny bathroom of a borderline derelict motel room, not renovated since its construction in the middle of the last century. As I start to change my bloody maxi pad, it occurs to me that the elderly woman--clearly the proprietor--who checked us in likely will also be the one who cleans up after us when we check out. This is not a motel with employees; it's a one-woman show.

I picture her changing the lightly-used sheets, tossing our empty water bottles, wiping down the table...and emptying the bathroom trash. I am suddenly acutely embarrassed by the fact that she will have to toss the large pad-and-toilet paper cocoon I must leave behind. Now, don't get me wrong: I have left many of these behind, in hotel bathrooms across the world, without giving any thought to the anonymous housekeepers. My problem here is that I have come face-to-face with the woman whose job it will be: she talked about the weather (cold at night; there's an extra blanket in the closet if you need it), John Kerry (what a man; a real hero) and forcefully brought to mind my late maternal grandmother, a tough woman with a generous heart and a very hard life.

I've had issues with embarrassment all my life, though I've never really thought it about it in exactly that way. There were always other words: shy, introverted, distant, uncomfortable, self-critical. But what it comes down to, really, is embarrassment. Embarrassment at what I do have, what I don't have, what I like, what I want.

I am embarrassed that I dropped out of high school. That I never finished a college degree. That I hate Camus. I am embarrassed of my writing, refuse to let anybody I know see it. I find myself, on sleepless nights, revisiting embarrassing moments from my past, over and over. Things I cannot change.

I am irrationally embarrassed of admitting my infertility, embarrassed of the steps I'll need to take, the fact that I waited so long.

I am embarrassed of my person: Oh, god, nobody has ever had thighs this ugly, zits this big, hair this crazy. Is my breath OK? Do I have spinach in my teeth? I backed out of the bedroom every morning for the first three years with J. so he wouldn't get a full view of my cellulite. (Of course he's myopic, so it was unnecessary in, um, hindsight.)

I am suffused with the embarrassment of privilege. Liberal Guilt. Whatever. This is the one that causes me to grossly overtip waitresses. To bag my own groceries in Trader Joe's. To flee my house every other Wednesday when the cleaning people come: I just feel guilty that someone else should tidy up after me. Today I hid out in the car after running errands until their little white Civic finally left so I wouldn't have to face the fact that they had just scrubbed behind my toilet.

I am socially embarrassed: At times I get so flustered talking with strangers that I fail to hear anything they're saying because I'm trying to figure out something to say next so I won't stand there, mute and agape, deer in the headlights. And then I may come up with a desperate non-sequitur. I can hear myself sounding dim or eccentric and cringe inside. Sometimes it takes the form of indiscreetly saying something too personal in an attempt not to sound cold and robotic. And then I want to slap myself. I've often thought that I should have been sent off to some sort of finishing school for shy girls, someplace that promises to teach young ladies how to converse, to listen, to be composed, to be approachable but poised.

Which brings me back to the shabby motel and my maxi pad. As I was sitting there, considering this sad situation, I looked up and had to giggle. There was a small dispenser on the wall, featuring a stylized drawing of a nurse circa 1958 and the words, "For All Your Sanitary Needs. Preferred by Discreet Women Everywhere!"

I guess if it's good enough for discreet women, it's good enough for me.


Blogger Katie said...

I understand your embarrasment in that one-woman show motel. I'd be the same way. Glad to see that there was that discreet little dispenser to save you. Would hate to hear that you had to take your used pad with you out of there! He...he...he

My biggest embarrasment is doing #2 when there's other people in the restroom (not including my husband). I.JUST.CANT.DO.THAT! I'm too embarrassed - I have to wait until everyone leaves or go use another restroom. My husband thinks I'm a total nut for feeling this way. He always tells me, "No one knows you and you'll never see them again." Well, this may be true but I just can't do that in public.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Alana said...

Life is pretty embarassing, basically!

I am excited to see you have an RE lined up. I am working on my referral too. I hope you get some good options soon!

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can relate. I think I'm somewhat of a shame-whore - never quite letting go of those moments I am not so proud of. Don't know why I punish myself in this way.

Let me please say that your writing is, quite frankly, excellent. You are witty, funny and deep. Nothin' to be embarrassed about here, my dear.

Fractured Fairytale

9:12 PM  
Blogger Dee said...

Well said, bugs. I don't think you have anything to be embarrassed about but I know that doesn't make it any less so for you. I am also one of those who is almost always embarrassed. It's so strange what we put ourselves through, how the mind works. But I still don't think you have anything to be embarrassed about; you're a wonderful person, with a wonderful partner, who's worked hard to get where you are.

5:26 AM  
Blogger Barren Mare said...

I used to be embarrassed a lot too. Then I read this book about a polar explorer called Ranulph Fiennes, who is as mad as a bag of hammers and does stuff like chop off his own frostbitten fingers. And somewhere he wrote that he never gets embarrassed. Ever. At anything. And I thought this was the most wonderful idea. To just live like nothing could ever possibly embarrass me. How freeing. For some reason, it kind of helped, though I still have my magic moments (speaking in public, recently). I wish I could always be as unembarrassed as Mr Fiennes.

Anyway. My view of you is that both you are a discreet woman everywhere, and an amazing, kick-ass writer. Truly. You are.

11:41 AM  

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