Embarrassment

Is everyone like that? “I don’t know how long to look, or what to say,” said the man in the art gallery. Look if you are captivated, look away if you are uninterested, “say what you feel, not what you ought to say”. I imagine him trying to think what others who knew more than he would say, getting it wrong, and being laughed at. If you say what you feel, it is not wrong- at least, not in a gallery. “Normal is what everyone else is and you are not.” It’s hard to imagine other people trying to think what the cognoscenti would say, and trying to imitate it, and failing. It’s only me that could possibly do that. It’s only me, that anyone would ever laugh at.

And yet, there he is, saying he does not know, and pride has stopped him learning. Or self-effacement. His wife’s an artist! Would she never have told him what she saw in art? The horror at appearing not to know, that embarrassment, stopped him asking. Perhaps she never thought he would listen to her, because that would mean appearing not to know.

I went to art galleries because I knew that was the cultured thing to do, and it was good to appear cultured, then more and more I went to galleries because I love them. I don’t care what to say. Sometimes, “Wow” does. Possibly, “That smile looks enigmatic because the eyes and the mouth are expressing different emotions”. I have ticked off the Mona Lisa from my list, while I was going round galleries from an idea that I ought to, that that was the cultured thing to do.

Needing to appear to know makes doing the work to know unbearable. Curators know the power of some images, and will give a vista: you look through an opening, it catches your eye on the far wall of the next gallery, and you have to go and look- a bit like love at first sight. Art galleries can do that. You know so little about art you don’t even know what you like, and then you are captivated.

It’s easier to write this post when I think- other people might be like that too. Not everyone, around every situation- sailors know ships, artists know art, parliamentarians know parliament- but around most situations where there might be expertise, some people will know, and some will be uneasy, because they don’t, and imagine everyone else does. I’ve tried bluffing and been caught out.

There must be a sensible thing to do in this situation and I don’t know what it is, and when I do something else, people will laugh at me, or despise me, or exploit me. Who? Well, the Normal people, that is every single other person. But if only I felt like that there would be no word for it, and there is. It’s called embarrassment. I understand the oldest use of the word is for a debtor, who is embarrassed when they cannot pay. Pause to look it up. No, apparently: that use is “L19” and the play “Embarras de richesse” was performed in 1753. But the definition “perplexed” does not capture the harsh pain of it. “I will be found out!”

Embarrassment is the obverse of false pride, never wanting to be seen wanting. If I can admit ignorance many will be willing to teach me. I might give an exchange, teaching them something, or might accept the gift.

Fear of Embarrassment is one reason I fear to go out. The normal people- everyone else- will see me, and despise me. Pride, shame, stop me taking action, for fear of embarrassment. I think I inherit it from my mother, with her fear of her weird sexuality being found out.

That thing I could do is good enough. No-one will see it and despise it, because they won’t know the details or care enough to try to puzzle them out. What if it does not work? It will work well enough. It will be over soon enough.

I know a bit about art, enough to bother reading that Paolo Caliari, painting in Venice, was known as Veronese, the man from Verona. But who could not look up at this and see drama in it? It may help to know the cherub with a bow is Cupid, not necessarily to know it was commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II for Prague Castle. If your response is simply, “Wow”, your friends will not feel the scorn you fear from them, and no-one else will care.

I have been wrestling with the thought of this post all day. How can I express the pain of embarrassment, and not write something which is unbearable to read? By dancing round the pain, and making a joke of it.

Self-knowledge, accepted or declined

My name is Clare, and I am agoraphobic.

I attend several zoom groups a week where speaking authentically is valued, and wearing a mask is pointless. Making this AA-like declaration- actually I said I am “a functional agoraphobic” but now would drop the adjective- helps me. I admit it to others, and thereby admit it to myself. It is now part of my self-understanding.

Then on Monday I needed to go to Swanston, and sat, and didn’t. I could go on Wednesday, I thought. Aye, right. I would just put it off again. I still could not motivate myself to go. I had a shower, had a cry about getting kicked out of local Quakers in January, and then wanted to write. I wrote my pronouns poem straight out, and changed two words. It got 33 likes, seven hearts, nine cares and one cry.

Then I joined a zoom with a professional musician and an aspiring singer/songwriter, who both loved it. I was in heaven. Profoundly affirmed, I cycled into Swanston.

I would need an enabler to buy groceries, etc, to be a perfect agoraphobic.

A pitfall around spiritual lessons is that I can imagine I have learned them once I acknowledge their truth, and thereby avoid the hard work of taking them into my heart, but also any benefit they might bring. And, it seems to me that admitting I am agoraphobic has dented my agoraphobia. I find agoraphobia shameful, and I dealt with the shame by denial. How else? The pretence, “Of course I could go out if I wanted to,” would not fool anyone else who cared enough to form a view, and it did not really fool me, but accepting the word makes the idea concrete for me. It feels like a positive step.

It is frightening- what can I do about it? All this stuff seems insurmountable! And positive, as I am making progress. “What do I feel, now?” is a good question. I should ask myself that more often. Now I am enjoying the writing and analysis even if it is tiring. I don’t want to excuse agoraphobia. I know the reasons, but what to do about it now is more important.

Do you want to cure it?

Not necessarily. Going out, I would not necessarily be in a more comfortable position. I would like more control of it. How to control it I don’t know. Admitting I do not want to go out mitigates it.

Two years ago I identified fully with the “ego” that needs to cajole the Real Self into action. Now I identify with the Real Self. What might remain in the “ego”? The outdated “what will people think?” I inherited from my mother may have been jettisoned.

All this is in one brain, but it might be worthwhile developing Captain Sensible. The Captain thinks about things like “What will people think?” He knows that people think a lot of different things, most not centred on me, and some things disgust or delight some people. It is my own judgment I want to develop, not what I inherited, or adopted in a panic as a child. I would try to see real people, rather than my inflexible condemning judgment, and the hacks I used to get round it, finding things forgiveable where others might not.

Captain Sensible might consider medium term plans, leaving the Real Self to sing. That part of me which seeks self-improvement is only a bad thing when it starts beating me and screaming at me to Go Faster, however hard I am working. That would be a healthier ego, in balance with the Real Me.

Where’s the monster?

The image that comes to mind is of Sulley from Monsters Inc, an unfrightening monster who much preferred provoking laughter. Sulley becomes friendly and caring in the film. Again, I don’t want to imagine I have done the spiritual work if I haven’t, and The Monster could be biding its time, but right now it feels defanged, like the Woodlouse. The monster’s power resided in an ego it could terrify, that would slam the door on the Real Me and hide me in the dark.

Slamming the door is an extended metaphor. I don’t want to rely on it as a perfect map. “Fightings and fears, within, without” are not so easily overcome. Yet the monster seems less powerful.

It did not want me to be-
it is hard to get the word out. There are inner voices challenging that. I want to notice when I can’t say something, and overcome the refusal. The word is “feminine”. The inner voices say “feminine” is not a coherent concept. It means something to me. Possibly those inner voices still resist that.

Then the monster would be diffused. I would not panic and shut down-

yes. “I”. There is one brain.

I would not panic and shut down, but might still avoid places my old programming finds dangerous, which could be liberating.

And then, there’s the actual experience of other people, like getting bullied at Newport. I have told this story without weeping before. Now I want to get it out in limited time, and remember other details of the chaos of it, and weep. And I can say “I was bullied” without The Evidence, those facts that show it was bullying and not reasonable management of a recalcitrant worker- and I have to tell The Evidence as well.

I have really bad experiences of other people, over and over again, and great distress thinking of them or my situation now.