Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Nerd humiliation: the gift that keeps on giving

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of being a nerd is the social awkwardness and tendency toward humiliation that often comes with it. This is, of course, a stereotype but one which for me, as you know, has always been true. Cases in point: I've yet to meet a flight of stairs that didn't want to teach me a lesson about gravity. If there's a way to mangle somebody's name or engage in a sweaty palmed handshake with a superior, I'm your girl. There's at least a 90 percent chance that whatever food I eat also will end up somewhere on my person. There are the guffaws that turn into snorts so spectacular I'm lucky my teeth don't end up in my sinus cavities, and then there are the times I just flat out accidentally drool. In short, if there's a way for me to look stupid, I'm gonna grab it with both hands...and then probably fall down.

So why bring this up? Because in the past, whenever I made an ass of myself, I assumed it was just something I'd grow out of. I've assumed that for well-on 20 years now, and yesterday, I finally realized the terrible truth: age does not cure a propensity for humiliation. If anything, age just makes the falling down and drooling sadder.

Yesterday, I spent an hour and a half in an important business meeting, one which I'd been preparing for over the course of several days. I had my papers in order, my outfit selected. I made sure all zippers were zipped and that my clodhoppers were covered in slip-proof shoes. Despite my best preparations, I discovered after the meeting had ended that I'd been sitting there the entire time with a dried flap of make-up hanging off my upper lip. You remember when the Nazis melted in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and their flesh just kind of slid off their faces? Yeah, like that, only worse because IT HAPPENED TO ME. And there wasn't any context. Face melting needs context.

Anyway, I'm sure I'm exaggerating and it wasn't that bad, but sweet fancy Moses, I sat through a whole meeting with that damn thing waggling there on my face like a big flappy dolphin tail. Someone's probably writing a folk song about it right now.

I should be used to this sort of thing by now, but as I said, I'd always hoped that age would rectify these issues. Normal women, no doubt, would have checked their faces before getting out of the car. Me? No, I was preoccupied listening to a song about cricket and thinking about a McGriddle when I stepped out of the car, feeling foolishly confident because I'd managed to accessorize. And then hubris bit my ass!

So, I write this simply to warn others out there. Don't ever be lulled into a sense of complacency, thinking you've conquered that tendency toward misaligning your blouse buttons and showing boob at a funeral. Time heals no nerdy wounds, self-inflicted or otherwise. We're on our own with our social clumsiness. We must be vigilent! Only we can prevent shame...and forest fires...but mostly shame.

34 comments:

crone51 said...

I once took an entire professional exam with my sweater on inside out.

AJ said...

This makes me feel so, so much better about my day-to-day existence. I can fall over flat floor in bare feet, and meals I eat have never met a piece of my clothing that it wasn't immediately attracted to. Most awesome post!

onepinkshoe said...

LOL! I realize it too now at 31 that I'm not going to change and I will never morph into someone who's cool and collected.

I fixed this though by ensuring that I can work from home at all times. So the only witness I have for this stuff is my dog and occasionally my husband (who wouldn't even notice if I was wearing a bear costume).

onepinkshoe said...

Um, not that I wear bear costumes or anything. Wow, I just managed to say something super awkward even from home. Scratch what I just posted!

Liz said...

Onepinkshoe, your comment completely cracked me up. :)

AJ and Crone, you guys make me feel so much better. Thanks for sharing your experiences, too. The minute I posted that today, I started thinking, "Oh jeez, what if I really am the only one this stuff happens to?"

JulieDownUnder said...

I had a panel interview once, in which not one of the 3 interviewers, in 45 minutes, bothered to tell me I had a gigantic smear of lipstick across my front teeth. So it's totally not just you.

(I didn't get the job, and to this day I think the lipstick-on-teeth had something to do with it.)

Becky said...

I once tripped over my own shoe & fell in slow motion, ending up flat on my back, spreadeagled on the sidewalk of a busy street during morning rush hour. There's really no graceful way out of that one.

ktb38 said...

I'm forever tripping over my own feet, spilling things on myself, saying the worst things possible. Like, the other day, I was grocery shopping with my mom and started to talk about the percentage of bugs the FDA allows in food. People were staring. A lot.

BioHzrd said...

Well you can take comfort that you are not alone. I've been a clutz all my life and always bumping and tripping over everything.
Then one day I found out that resistentialism is real, and things are against us.

Leah said...

I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who drools on myself at inopportune moments.

Belinda said...

When I was 12, I won the regional math contest. I was so excited! I went up to collect my award, and walked up the stairs to the stage. Tripped on the top stair and fell flat on my face in front of everyone. In the ensuing 20 years, things have only gotten more embarrassing. Thanks for sharing - I'm not the only one!

Liz said...

I'm so clumsy and accident-prone that my friends refer to me as Gimpy. Not only do I fall down stairs, I also tend to trip up them. I am incapable of eating anything with a condiment without the condiment ending up on me; I tend to dress for the occasion. I wear red to Italian restaurants, brown to steakhouses, etc. I also believe my one preternatural talent is the ability to increase the awkwardness in any and all situations. I didn't know it was a nerd thing...I just thought it was a me thing. Thanks for sharing :Dade

Nightfall said...

My now fiance tripped up the stairs on our first date, it was so endearing. We're getting married in 6 months!

Also, walked around all day once in college with the size sticker on the leg of my jeans.

Had to file an accident report two weeks into my current job... fell down the stairs.

I have found limited success in always wearing the same pair of shoes, same brand, size, etc. This seems to help with the tripping up the stairs. As soon as I switch shoes, down I go.

motorharp said...

Yeah, it really doesn't get any better with age. I now sport a bathroom-drawer-handle-pull-shaped tramp-stamp scar from a fateful bathtub cleaning episode. I did that a couple months ago. I'm in my late 30s. Yep.

Michele said...

I've nearly fallen off my chair, I'm laughing so hard. But it's the laughter of recognition and empathy...

JusticeRobin said...

I love this post and comment thread-- I may be horribly awkward but at least I'm not alone!

I seem to do not so bad in professional settings (I say, blatantly asking for the universe to punish me during my thesis committee meeting next week), it's social stuff that kills me. A couple years ago at my lab holiday party at my advisor's house I managed to kick a glass of red wine over onto his white carpet, then step in his plate of food while backing away and trying not to make anything worse.

It was about then that he started believing me when I told him I'm clumsy. Before that it was always "but you took ballet, you must be graceful!" Yeah, no. I was put in ballet at age 3 *because* I was so clumsy my pre-school teacher said I needed to learn "where my body is."

Stephanie said...

I thought it was just me! I can't wear heels higher than 1" because I fall off my feet. My sister refuses to let me cross a snow-covered surface unattended. And it's physically impossible to eat a meal without some part of it ending up either in my lap or on my chest.

I love this blog. It's like returning to the mother ship.

The Postulant said...

I thought I was the only one who felt proud of the rare occasions when accessorising had occurred. One day I may straighten my hair properly, rather than achieving the usual unruly frizz ball look and not get a blob of mascara on my skin at random too.

Jo said...

I do so love well-timed blog posts. Just yesterday, I was doing a presentation for a group of middle schoolers (a part of my job that I loath, partly due to my own memories of middle school). I walked out, though, feeling like I'd done quite well, only to discover upon returning to my office that my fly had been down the whole time. *sigh*

Liz said...

I feel very close to all of you right now. :) These stories are fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing them with your fellow clumsy people. I think we're all feeling better for it.

Sarah W said...

Liz, you have saved a really crappy morning--thank you!

Unfortunately, the only thing age has done for me is to prove that relentless, daily humiliation isn't actual fatal.

This is both comforting and . . . not.

The Modern Gal said...

In the movies, this is where some fairy godmother would make you over into a beautiful princess and some prince charming would then sweep you off your feet.

But I prefer reality instead. Our nerdy tendencies keep the mood light :)

Ms. Meg said...

Last Christmas I managed to look fabulous all the way through the celebration at my boyfriend's house, church with his family, drove 2 hrs to my parents' house in a fancy dress and then, upon doffing my coat in the entrance of my parents' house and hugging a good family friend, my dress split open. Right down the middle of my sternum. Exposing my belly and bra.

Anonymous said...

Goddess be praised, I seem not to have inherited the Hopeless Klutz gene from my mother.

Mostly.

I did, however, inherit the "slobber food all over yourself" gene. The chances of slobbering depend a lot on how recently the garment I'm wearing has been dry-cleaned. I eat a lot of food with olive oil, and that's the thing I'm most likely to get on myself, mostly because of its tendency to drip everywhere.

I also love to draw on myself with black ink, even more than I love to spill food on myself. Especially if it's a new pair of light-colored summer trousers. Especially if it's a gel ink pen, the kind of ink that doesn't wash out for love or money.

The absolute best was when I was writing a story on my way into the office (you know you're a big fat nerd when you use train-travel time as an opportunity for creative writing instead of sleeping or gabbing with other people). I stood up to let someone sit next to me, stupidly WITHOUT putting the cap on my damn gel ink pen. I sat back down and realized to my horror that I'd managed to draw a lovely black ink circle around my left breast. Yes, I love my boobs so much I draw circles around them to remind myself where they are!

Naturally, the sweater was white. Naturally, the ink couldn't be removed either via washing or dry-cleaning. Naturally, the sweater ended up being tossed in the garbage. The only amazing thing is that it wasn't a new sweater, nor was it one I'd only just purchased. It was just an old workaday cotton sweater, not brand-new cashmere or somehting. What am I saying??? I don't WEAR cashmere. It would be like throwing money down the toilet.

I'm also 5'10". In bare feet. The only heels I "do" are on boots and clogs (and they have to be the big "stacked" heels that have a wide base, nothing pointy). Me in high heels is basically a comedy routine waiting for a place to happen.

God, this is so cathartic. : )

crone51 said...

This *is* incredibly cathartic. I must direct my nerdy ,klutzy (albeit gorgeous and perfect) daughter here.
Also, a question- do any or all of you have lousy handwriting? It amazes me to this day that I am able to play fairly complex patterns on the guitar and piano and yet can't write my name legibly. This has gotten worse with age and I am older than dirt so no one can read my writing now. I can't even read my writing now.

Michele said...

crone51 - when I was younger, I was told my handwriting looked like a spider had got into the ink bottle, then wandered across page - in part because my handwriting's so small. I can still read it, though.

Michele said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RedCochina said...

I once tried to close my back in the car door. My back. In the car door. My husband was there and still can't explain to this day how I managed it. I sported a red, angry scrape across my shoulder blades for three days.
And my SN, Cochina, is "pig" in Spanish. Hubby gave me that moniker after watching me spill food on myself virtually everytime we eat.

Kelly said...

Every morning on my way to work, I have to sit in my car and ask myself, "Okay, did I put on pants today?". Then promptly look down and HOPE the response will be, "Yes. Good, I'm wearing pants."

This may seem like a silly question to ask yourself, unless of course you are like me and have shown-up somewhere without said pants.

I was in grade school at the time and somehow I managed to miss a very important step somewhere between breakfast, put on snowsuit, and be dropped off at school by mother. I went about my pants-less business until Ms. Smith pulled me aside and frantically asked, "Where are your pants??!?"

"Uh..duh..I'm wearing...(looks down)..OH NO...I forgot to put my pants on this morning!!!". I was sent to the office to call my mom and had to wait sheepishly for her to bring me suitable attire to change into.

Needless to say, the rest of the day was awkward. Probably not as awkward as if I hadn't put pants on, but still... awkward nonetheless..

GB (formerly JD) said...

I don't think there is a doorframe this side of the Murray (River that is, for you non-Aussies) that I've not walked into. There are a couple in Perth, and even one in Adelaide that now bear some of my epithelials.

Other people claim patience, grace or knowledge as their superpower. I walk into doorframes...

And I thought the food on my person thing was just me because I'm, shall we say, rather endowed and therefore have a balcony on which to collect any errant food. Either a lot of the amazing women who read this blog have huge norks too, or is a common affliction among the intelligent. I'm leaning toward the latter.

JusticeRobin said...

@crone51: I was once told it looked like my pen had thrown up on my paper. It's not *that* bad... but given that I can write four lines of text on the top of a 1.5ml test tube cap and manipulate mere microliters of solutions it's pretty sad that even I can barely read my own lab notebook some days.

Pam said...

This past Labor Day I managed to drop a full drink on the floor where it promptly displaced its contents onto nearby 6-year old. Within a half hour I tripped up the stairs and threw the majority of the replacement drink on my boyfriend's back. And no, I wasn't drunk. None of the alcohol stayed in glass long enough for me to drink it.

Victoria said...

When I was in high school, I used to drop my pencil case so often my classmates would count how many times a day I would drop it.

I also used to fall up stairs all the time...always during the homeroom rush.

When I was 21, my parents banned me back to plastic glasses cause I took out four drinking glasses in a week, including two at one time. The last one was actually the cat's fault, but since I was the only witness, no one believed me.

When I was 24, I fractured my elbow ice skating...understandable...except I was standing still when I fell over.

Thank you for this. It makes moments like walking into town hall to report on a meeting with a giant SALE sticker on the back of my new white jacket (thankfully, the top cop in the town noticed before I was in the chamber and I got it off before the councillors could see me) so much better. Really.

Anonymous said...

If I had read this post and the comments earlier maybe I could have saved myself.
The other day I went to work with two different shoes on.... not two of the same type of shoes in different colors... no two completely different shoes. One was a shiny black patent leather pointy ballet shoe and the other was a red tennis shoe.
Since I was wearing blue and work in a high school, I really couldn't pull off the look.
I'm still not sure how that happened.