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Saturday, April 06, 2013

Embarrassment like the smell of crayons



A friend used to keep a box of crayons in his office. He'd heard that a deep inhale of that crayon smelling could offer a little break from the stress of the day because it so fiercely whisks you back to childhood. And it really does. If you haven't tried sniffing crayons, give it a go. It's astonishing how deeply connected that scent is to the feeling of being a kid.

Embarrassing memories have that same power to transport us through time. The page here started out as sketchbook play, and while I can't explain all the imagery -- it doesn't have a one-to-one relationship with the story, and I was never a skinny curly-haired kid -- it did put me in mind of this one memory from childhood.

For a long time, I experienced the memory only from my own point of view. Later, I started to wonder how my mother experienced this tiny little incident, and I could kind of get a glimpse of what it must've been like to have a weird kid like me. (Then again, I think all kids are weird up to a point, and that part of what adults to, for better and for worse, is attempt to pound the weird out of them so they can get along in society.)

But no matter how many times I think about it, I'm never quite able to NOT feel the shame of the moment. It's like a box of crayons gone bad.

Do you have a moment like this? Sure you do. Everyone does.

And now, here's the story typed out, so you don't have to squint. Even when you click to enlarge the illustration, it's difficult to read.

I was perhaps nine or ten. It was a sunny morning, probably spring, and I wanted to go outside just to test the air. There didn't seem to be a reason to let the fact that I was in my bathrobe stop me, especially because I had seen a commercial on TV that showed a woman going outside in the morning in her robe and stretching and smiling and taking in the fresh air.

I wanted to do that. So I did.

I pushed open the screen door and stepped onto our front porch and stretched in the luxuriating way of the woman on the commercial. I stretched and smiled and tried to feel the sensation she clearly had felt -- you could see it on her face! -- and the air and sun really were quite nice.

And then suddenly Mom was at the door and she said, in what I recall as a sharp, hushed voice, "Karen, what are you doing? Get inside!"

Naturally, I was embarrassed, but not because I'd been on the porch in my bathrobe imitating a TV commercial. It was that I had embarrassed my mom.


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