Let's talk about shame

So, here's a topic to make most of us cringe, shame. I was taking kickboxing this morning and suddenly remembered one of the nastier comments I recently received after my first and probably last experience teaching a graduate literacy class for future teachers here in Chicago. Never mind I had never taught the class before, I had no guidelines, no text, no support, a core of negative students, many of them thought I was a terrible teacher and said so and I am ashamed. As I recalled this comment all the strength drained out of my body, I missed a step and felt myself actually cringing.

This is shame, I thought, this is a direct descendant from my grandmother's comments about my weight, my father's derision when I wanted to be a writer, the catcalls on the street when men wanted to slow my step and comment on their desire to rape me, the negative, sad, soul sapping fear that you have failed on some cosmic level and deserve to be teased and belittled. I believe my father's cruelty was completely inadvertent in the sense that he loved me dearly and had been abused by terrible nuns and he didn't know how to tell me he loved me and he was afraid so he said I was a loser.

I feel shame about my career. I wonder how I didn't become more successful, why I left a secure teaching job, all the missed opportunities and poor decisions I made. Why didn't they make a movie out of my book? Why doesn't Yaddo want me? Was that Amazon reviewer accurate when he said my writing was pathetic? Was the New York Times reviewer wrong when she said my book was wonderful? Will I ever get published again and if I don't, is it my fault because I'm stupid? Am I the worst teacher in the world? What's the criteria?

When that well runs empty, I check into my body. Why can't I stay thin? Why didn't I wear more sun protection? Why do I look so old? My mothering, why didn't I give him a perfect childhood, why did I divorce his father, why didn't I make sure every day of his life was like those annoying commercials with everyone making pancakes in their pajamas? My family, why can't I make my surviving sister want to talk to me, why haven't I been a better daughter? Why are my parents so unhappy? What happened to all my friends? Why didn't I keep more pets alive? Are my cats happy? Do my neighbors like me?

I'm whining to my husband about these horrible teaching evaluations and he says, "Shh. Don't tell anyone." Right. Cover it up, pretend nothing happened, ignore the screaming in the middle of the night and the fact that I once tried to drink and drug myself to death. I was the child who opened her mouth and said, "But he's not wearing any clothes." This did not make for an easy time but it's kept shame and guilt at bay. I love my parents, my sister, my son, husband and friends. I don't necessarily love all my neighbors. I love my cats and teaching. Everyone is allowed to fail. I am not the worst teacher in the world. I had one and I'm not even in that league. No one knows if I'll get another book published but if I don't finish kickboxing and go write I probably won't.


  1. I really admire your honesty in your writing. Takes guts. DM


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