Sunday, September 1, 2013

Irony In Red

Each year on this day, I like to share online my annual chapel talk that I give to the students.  Since the subject matter this year is pretty school-specific, I thought I might comment on the circumstances of giving a talk instead:

A few years ago during a visit to a dermatologist, I was diagnosed with Rosacea, that facial condition that can make a person's face redder than normal.  Though doctors don't really know what causes some people to contract it, they are pretty settled on what the popular "triggers" are that can cause flare-ups--coffee, alcohol, hot foods, spicy foods.  In other words, to quote the song, "these are a few of my favorite things," things that, unfortunately, cause the blood to rush to the surface.

Oh yeah, and blushing.

And that's when I just had to laugh out loud, especially when the article I was reading said that I should try to avoid work situations that would make me blush.  That's funny.

I have spent my entire life blushing.  I blush easily and I blush often.  Though I promise you that I have made it one of the main missions of my life to do whatever is necessary to avoid embarassments, to avoid blushing, that has not gone so well.  Short of living in complete isolation, I don't know how I could prevent my face turning some shade of red in an instant, and even then, I know full well that I can even blush in private when I recall some shame or gaffe or failed verbal risk or joke that died on the vine.  That's just me.

As a child in school, I was one of those who were absolutely mortified by having to give a speech or an oral report.  I remember, in particular, a project I did on the Gal├ípagos Islands in the 4th or 5th grade that included a ten-minute oral presentation.  Because of time constraints, I spent one entire day in a light red glow because I thought I had to give the talk, but didn't, and then I feverishly worried all night because the next day had become a certainty.  With shaking hands and a dry mouth, I stumbled through the presentation.  My face was on fire.  When I sat down, the kid next to me said, "Hey, your face is really red."  Which, of course, only made it redder.

So how do life's ironies work?  Let me remind you.  The person who is terrified to speak in front of people chooses a profession that puts him in front of groups, speaking to them each and every work day.

It would be nice to say that after three decades I have gotten used to it, and to some extent that is true.  Armed with wit, sarcasm, a wealth of popular culture, and a cup of coffee, I can joke and divert and tease and challenge my way through class after class, only turning red when things go badly wrong, as they sometimes do.

But stepping onto a chapel stage in front of hundreds is still a more challenging proposition.  I'd be surprised if even the most seasoned, extroverted "performer" doesn't grapple with at least minor bouts of self-doubt and panic before heading out into an arena, a stadium, a New York City stage, or even a high school auditorium.  If you don't give those kinds of talks, then you probably think that trying to get the audience to laugh is to draw that audience in.  Maybe, but not for me.  I try to do it to put myself at ease.

Reining in the blushing, though? Not a chance.  And that's why I laugh, now that the additional layer of irony is upon me that I supposedly must do all in my power to keep the blood from rushing to my face.  I'm doing really well with avoiding the intense exercise that might exacerbate it.  I quit coffee for a few days, but then I thought, what the heck, I like coffee and I'm going to drink it.

But avoiding situations that cause me to blush?  I've spent a lifetime trying to do that and now I have doctors suggesting that I remove myself from those occasions as easily as one might cross the street? If that isn't funny, then I don't know what is.

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