Right now, I’m reading a gem of a book called Mortification, writers’ stories of their public shame. It essentially has 70 or so mini-pieces from a wide variety of writers, at various stages of their careers. These pieces share humiliating anecdotes as it relates to the life of a writer: Here, the liner notes encapsulates it nicely:
Mortification is a collection of writers’ tales of ignominy, a grimly compelling anthology of shame… Anyone who has ever fancied an author’s life would find this book an eye-opener…
Just to give you a sense of the flavour, here is one of the stories from Canada’s very own Margaret Atwood:
Long, long ago, when I was only twenty-nine and my first novel had just been published, I was living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It was 1969. The Woman’s Movement had begun, in New York City, but it had not yet reached Edmonton, Alberta. It was November. It was freezing cold. I was freezing cold, and I went about wearing a secondhand fur coat – muskrat, I think – that I’d bought at the Salvation Army for $25. I also had a fur hat I’d made out of a rabbit shruggie – a shruggie was a sort of fur bolero – by deleting the arms and sewing up the armholes.
My publisher arranged my first-ever book signing. I was very excited. Once I’d peel off the muskrats and rabbits, there I would be, inside the Hudson’s Bay Company Department Store, where it would be cozily warm – this in itself was exciting – with lines of eager, smiling readers waiting to purchase my book and have me scribble on it.
The signing was at a table set up in the Men’s Sock and Underwear Department. I don’t know what the thinking was behind this. There I sat, at lunch hour, smiling away, surrounded by piles of a novel called The Edible Woman. Men in overcoats and galoshes and toe rubbers and scarves and earmuffs passed by my table intent on the purchase of boxer shorts. They looked at me, then at the title of my novel. Subdued panic broke out. There was the sound of muffled stampede as dozens of galoshes and toe rubbers shuffled rapidly in the other direction.
I sold two copies.
Anyway, the book has got me thinking that humiliation is not necessarily something reserved for the writing sect, and so I’m wondering whether anyone else has a great tale of science humiliation to share.
Actually, all of mine are quite lame, since my anecdotes all happened at the early parts of my science career (as in when I was a kid), and as well, none of them are impressive enough to turn into a “piece” per se. Still, I’m cringing a little as I think about one in particular –
Science Fair Typo:
This was in England at my grammar school. I was probably around 13 or so. This, you must realize, was roughly when puberty was about to hit, my voice already wavering slightly. To be honest, I can’t even remember what my science fair project was about – something medical maybe? But I do remember having a really nice looking poster – pretty enough anyway for attracting the right kind of attention.
This was great. I envisioned a high mark, and it seemed that even the cool kids were impressed enough to come over, smile at me, and take a look – even some of the pretty girls in my class.
Unfortunately, it soon became clear that the main reason I was attracting a crowd was not because of my stunning scientific prowess, or because of the attractive aesthetics of my poster layout. really, my suspicions should have been aroused, but I guess when you think you’re on to something good, you ride that feeling for a while. No, the attention wasn’t because of all that, it was because I had misspelled “public” throughout the text. I had, in its place, spelled “pubic.”
Anyway, over to you: Let’s even call this a meme. If you have a science humiliation story to tell, please do and forward the link in the comments.