I blush. A lot. It can strike at any time, anywhere. I blush when i have to speak in front of more than four people. I blush when someone asks me a question and I have to answer them in front of someone else who happens to be eaves-dropping. Even if its freezing out, and I forgot my coat, and I have no hat, I still will feel that familiar flush of heat rise up through my cheeks, feel my arm-pits begin to sweat. It happens when I run into a cute boy, who I had a crush on briefly five years ago, and we’re talking about the weather. It doesn’t matter that i’m not interested in him, and it doesn’t matter that i don’t want him to have the impression that I’m interested. I blush anyways. I blush even at times when I’m on the phone, being interviewed by someone who CAN NOT EVEN SEE ME. I even blush, apparently, at the dentists, reclined on that chair, under that un-godly light, with Dr. Whosywhats forcefully flossing my teeth, as he tells me I have sensitive gums.
It happens when I feel embarrassed, about anything. It also happens when I don’t feel even the slightest bit embarrassed. Which then, undoubtedly, makes me feel embarrassed. I blushed today in fact, in the grocery store, when I ran into a guy who once helped me work on my plumbing in my trailer (I’m talking about my actual plumbing in my literal trailer – relax). We talked as we waited to check-out our groceries. I then realized, when I stepped outside into the brisk afternoon air, I was blushing. And so that we are perfectly clear, I do not, and never have, had a crush on my ex-plumber.
This last summer I was at a dinner with some neighbors and friends. The topic of blushing came up, as one of my friends it turns out, also has a lifetime of blushing experience. She described the years of anguish she experienced through her teens and early twenties. How she used to avoid large groups, speaking in front of people, talking to attractive men. It was only when she became older, and when traveling abroad she came across a series of lovers who considered her blushing not just acceptable, but downright cute, did she begin to accept this part of herself and relax around her body’s untimely demonstrations.
Listening to her struggles made me realize that at some point, long ago, I stopped realizing that I shared her affliction. Even a few minutes of her speaking passed by without me even making the connection between our almost identical symptoms. Because while there was a time that my blushing limited just how many times I was willing to raise my hand in class, that era has long ago passed. Its not that nowadays I’m completely unaware of what’s happening – that a blush is forming – its just that I’m able to hold that awareness more lightly, more of the time. It like in meditation – I don’t ignore the thought, but merely recognize it is there, like a bubble floating above my head, and then i blow it gently away. It works most of the time, and I’m able to proceed forward in whatever it is I am trying to do, instead of crawling into a cold, dark hole (which is what I would prefer to do, were one available).
I was thinking about this whole phenomenon recently while reading the book, “Big Magic,” by Elizabeth Gilbert (For the record, I do actually have a crush on Elizabeth Gilbert). She tells a short story towards the end of the book, a true story recounted to her by a guy at a party, about his little brother’s trip to France to live as an artist for a year. Long story short, this American kid in France meets some cool bohemians one day who take a shining to him and invite him to the party of the year, letting him know that its most definitely a costume party, and also that all the biggest muckety-mucks in Europe were going to be there. So he works the rest of the week on this elaborate and amazing costume, rents a car and drives three hours to this beautiful castle outside Paris, changes in the car, walks up to the door, gets let in by the butler, and enters the great hall. That’s when he freezes. Everyone is indeed in costume, except he quickly realizes that there was a theme which was lost in translation. The theme was “a medieval court,” and so all these famous people are waltzing around wearing period-gowns and heavy brocade vests and glittering jewels and all the finest that renaissance royalty would have worn.
And this American kid is dressed as a lobster.
A full-on, head-to-toe lobster, complete with red spandex and red foam claws. So he has two choices: run or go with it. He chooses the later, because he spent so much energy and creativity on his costume, and he drove this far, and he’s learned from being an artist and continually putting himself out there, that he has little to lose. And he’s right. He sets off across the dance floor. The music stops and everyone stops their conversations and stares, until someone asks him what he is. He bows and says, “I am the court lobster.” Everyone laughs, everyone loves him, and he spends the evening dancing with royalty.
I love this story. I love it because this kid puts himself, and his costume creation, out into the world even when he knows that it may not fit-in and it may not be well-received. He could have easily been criticized, ridiculed, or shamed, and he knew this. You could say that he had no choice at that point, but he did. He could have never accepted the invitation, never created such an elaborate costume, and never even driven out there. And this is kind of how I feel every day. I imagine it is how many of us feel. When I publish something that I’ve written, or stand up in front of a group to speak, or even when I just leave the house and go to the grocery store – I often feel like a lobster. And when I blush, which I do in all of those situations, I actually look like one too.
What i realize about us blushers, is that our vulnerability is more visible than it is for most. We don’t have the luxury of putting ourselves or our work out into the world without looking like lobsters. And so we have learned to go with it. We have learned to stand up at our friend’s wedding and give a toast, dressed as a lobster. We have learned to make conversation in line for the bank, dressed as a lobster. We give farm tours, chat with neighbors, approach shops to sell our photographs, magazines to print our words – all while dressed as a lobster.
But as i get older – spending more and more of my days among farmers, flowers, and bees; and where how you handle a digging fork matters more than your chosen costume – its a vulnerability I’ve come to value. I am glad that I was put on this earth as someone who has a much harder time hiding her feelings. What once felt uncomfortable and unfair has morphed into feeling gratitude for the increased connection and intimacy my blushing affords. I have found that being vulnerable, and the practice I’ve had at it from my blushing, gives me a deeper access not only into my own life, but also into the lives of others. Being vulnerable, whether I intend to or not, is permission for others to be vulnerable as well. I feel as if I was forced, and am now choosing, to living more fully and with less caution. I can spend less time doing the complicated and impossible dance of trying to seem cool, calm, and composed in front of others – and spend more time being creative, adventurous, dorky, and brave. I can go for it, like the kid in the lobster costume. Besides a little discomfort, a slight fear of judgement, there really is no down-side to vulnerability. Life is more fun, more connected, more expansive, and definitely more exhilarating.
Are you a blusher too? Please share in a comment below!