Mariah Proctor is a senior at BYU.
The other day, in a room full of people I have no reason to be self-conscious around, I sat on a chair that I thought was securely stacked upon the chair underneath it and I plummeted 18 inches with a crash as the first chair found it’s actual angle of repose upon its fellow. Everyone in the room looked up at me and I just froze for a moment, my wingspan still desperately outstretched from it’s attempt to maintain my airborne balance. There were very few people in the room and all were people that I trust and love-there was no reason I shouldn’t have been able to laugh it off with everyone else and walk away.
Instead I spent half the day frustrated with how foolish I must’ve looked and hearing the word “stupid” play on the broken record in my head. I was confused at how embarrassed I felt about that incident because it wasn’t even significant enough to be called an ‘incident.’ It was something that everyone likely forgot in seconds and yet managed to plague me for hours.
Though I am not one who takes life too seriously, I do perceive great impact in simple things. That’s why I can write a whole article about green onions or a peacock feather. I appreciate that quality in myself as it allows me to rejoice in small pleasures and value unforgettable moments. An unfortunate side effect of my natural inclination to invest so much based on so little, however, is that at times I misfire and accidentally become haunted by things that don’t even deserve a second glance from me.
I often think about who I’ve been at past eras in my life and how that girl compares to this girl and what life the next me is going to live. That clash of chair on chair left my ears ringing and in the midst of the reverb, I realized that the current me is much more easily embarrassed than I used to be. I remembered this experience I had that I haven’t thought about in years—an experience which truly deserved a kickback of chagrin in me, but which delivered no such thing.
I was in a play in which I played a girl who had abandoned her lover for another and then reenters his life after the life of misery that that other choice brought her. There was a scene in which I come in and tell that former lover about a terrifying dream I’ve had that he was going to kill himself. After I’ve told him, he was to grab me and kiss me before throwing me back from him. I then leave the room, shocked with the knowledge that my dream will probably come true.
The room was set up so that when he pushed me back, a desk behind would catch me. Each time he did it, I would offset my weight so that when I hit the desk it would be with all of me and a much more dramatic moment. One rehearsal as we were running that scene, unbeknownst to me, the desk had been set in different spot in the stage. He kissed me and then as he pushed me, I threw my weight back only the desk wasn’t there. So instead of being caught by something, I just went sailing backwards, arms pumping wildly and feet doing their job. I essentially ran backwards completely outside of my own control like a cartoon until 20 feet later a chair finally stopped my momentum and I fell to sitting on top of a vegetarian bagel sandwich my parents had dropped off me.
That was truly ridiculous. In that moment, I must truly have appeared the fool, the flapping, cartoonish fool, but I was not humiliated. I thought it was hilarious. We all did, and after giving the appropriate “pause for laughs,” my unmoved spectators went on with their days and I went on with my life.
What changed? When did I grow this extra circulatory system of mortification that pulses through my whole being and undeservingly bears so much sway? I’ve always felt that one of my major areas of progression since high school is in the area of self-confidence and better knowledge of my own abilities, so that should mean I’m less embarrassed than I ever was.
Maybe the difference is that in adolescence, embarrassing things happen, but there’s always some benchmark in the distance that will change all of that. This moment is the worst, but ‘when I’m a senior’ or ‘once I’m in college’ —life seems like it will automatically improve and you will obviously be smoother and more desirable and more successful when you cross that bridge.
Humiliation didn’t matter in high school because you know that you’re just in high school and that’s not who you really are and life hasn’t even begun yet. College still reeks of security blanket, but now you’ve found out that those benchmarks that you thought would transform you, did no such thing. You realize now that the business of transformation is not automatic at all, but totally manual. Now you are becoming who you’re going to be forever and though that is, for the most part, a rewarding process, there’s some terrible frustration in still falling victim to accidental silliness when you’re in the accountable, defining part of your life.
I guess what I’m trying to say is there’s new and unexpected self-consciousness that comes with this crossroads of life where decision making is king and the king’s subjects are going to affect the rest of my life. Life just has more weight these days and mishaps and slipups are vivid illustrations that the attempt at a striking, deliberate, successful exterior isn’t 100% victorious. But slipping on the ice and snorting over the pulpit and going a whole day with a strawberry seed in your teeth are the experiences that make being a human so fun and being able to laugh it up and then let it go is a mark of success as much as a day of perfect poise would be. Here’s to throwing away that broken record in your head that plays ‘stupid’ on repeat and a glorious return to laughter.