Monday, May 6, 2013

Embarrassing Moments

If there is one thing that binds us together, not just as humans, but across species it is the tendency to become embarrassed when we do something noticeably and incredibly wrong.

My cat regularly misjudges the height of the table and kitchen counters and ends up hanging from the edge by her paws looking around for a way to regain her dignity before dropping to the floor in embarrassment. If I am looking she will slink off to recover her self-esteem elsewhere. If she thinks I didn't see she will just try again and make it with no problem.

When she first came to live with me she was entranced by everything around her as she memorized her new home. One day I was sitting on the toilet as she walked across the edge of the sink. She was looking around so much that she walked straight off the edge of the sink. Man was it hard not to laugh at her as she ran off to sulk in the living room for awhile.

Of course I have had my own moments to feel like dying. When I was a kid I was sight seeing with my father in San Francisco. I was trying to take in all the sights and sounds of Fisherman's Wharf when I did a full-body smack into a parking meter. My father just about died laughing and said, "You know you are supposed to leave those where they are!" It took a sizable portion of shrimp from a street vendor to improve my spirits again.

A few years later, when I was in college, I was taking a tap dancing class. Let me make it perfectly clear that, though I enjoy dancing, I am terrible at it. As a final requirement for the course we all had to perform in the spring dance concert. The teacher had worked out a routine for all of us to dance in a chorus line to "That's Entertainment." I was certainly entertaining when, during one performance, I spaced a couple of bars of music and started dancing the wrong part. I did recover and get back with the team, but I was horrified. I asked one of my friends "Do you know what I did?" He looked at me and said, "Did I see what you did? Yes. Do I know what you were doing? NO!" All these years later I still cringe at the memory.

Then there was the time I locked my keys in the car. Okay, I didn't just lock them in the car. I REALLY locked them in the car. I was babysitting a little girl at the time and had taken her with me to the grocery store. We had gotten back to my house and taken the groceries inside. I shut the trunk of my car and discovered that I was stuck fast to the back of my car. Then end of my tunic had stuck fast in the trunk.

I hollered for Erin to find my keys. She came out of the house a couple of minutes later saying that she couldn't find them. In the meantime I HAD found the keys. They were inside the pocket of my tunic which was now locked inside the trunk of the car. What to do?

I had Erin grab my coat from inside the car (naturally the rest of the car was unlocked). As discreetly as I could I slipped out of the tunic and into my coat. I went inside to call a locksmith to come and release my keys from the trunk. I told him my tale and he still insisted on asking, "How will I know which car is yours?" Duh. "It's the car with the blouse hanging off the back."

Some of the funniest things I have ever seen involve animals. Like the poor man who was cleaning out the elephants' pen and has an embarrassing accident:

There was also the elephant who demonstrated that you don't have to be human (or live with humans) to be embarrassed:

Granted, humans are more easily embarrassed than other creatures. We seem to be the only ones with some level of modesty regarding farting. And we get terribly embarrassed about delivering a load of air biscuits at an inopportune moment. We've all done it. We will all do it again. I don't have a specific story for this one even though I know I've done it. Like most people I either excuse myself or, more often, pretend it never happened.

A few weeks ago I was ago I was at my favorite Mexican restaurant with my friend Randi. The place has the best refried beans in the world and I had ordered an extra portion. I made an off-hand comment that I was now likely to blow the cat right off the bed that night. Randi laughed so hard she almost choked to death on her chimichanga.

For writers embarrassing moments are, like so many other moments, the stuff of creativity. They are pure gold. To make characters real they need to have truly human moments and embarrassment is one of the ways our egos are humbled when we get too full of ourselves.

My first book is humor, so the embarrassing is a huge part of what happens to people. It is not just embarrassment, but the way you tell it that makes it funny. Making it funny takes the sting out of it. Making it insulting just makes it nasty. So it depends on your story and your character just which way you are going to go with it.

So, how human are you?

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