Stage fright

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

For those who don’t know me, I’ll let you in on a little secret.

I’m terrible at small talk.

The thing is, I’m actually quite shy, plus, I misunderstand people. Constantly. It’s not so much that my hearing is poor, but more the fact that my fear of talking to others often manifests itself in an outrageously short attention span. The words I hear, and the words I comprehend don’t often meet up in the middle of the diving board that is my brain.

Someone will begin talking to me and in an effort to try to stay focused; my mind will do the opposite.

This is what’s going on inside my head during a conversation with a stranger at a dinner party:

Ok Andrea, relax. Smile. Good. Now pay attention. Wow, her eyes are blue. Are my eyes blue? No, my eyes are hazel. Who came up with the word hazel? It’s a weird word. Hazel. Haze. El. I wonder why witches are named Hazel? Do witches really exist? They must. People can’t be making that shit up. Hey, who’s that guy over there? I’ve seen him before. He looks like my 4th grade teacher. Wait, wasn’t my 4th grade teacher a woman? What was her name again?


HER: “I stubbed my toe the other night.”

ME (filling in the blanks hoping I heard what I think I heard): “I know, it was beautiful, wasn’t it?”

What I thought I heard: ("I loved that rainbow the other night").

You can see the problem. Trust me, it’s embarrassing for all involved.

The trouble is, I’m not at all fast on my feet and on-the-spot chitchat allows no time for preparation. No time to draft a plan. No time to create an air of confidence. Stick me up in front of a big crowd with a prepared speech, and I’ll be fine, but if you ever want to torture me, throw me in a room with another human being, and ask me to repeat every word they say.

But it’s not just conversations I misunderstand. It’s gestures.

Because I’m like an old, half-blind horse wearing itchy blinders, I rarely see people I pass by on the sidewalk. They think I’m ignoring them. I’m just uncomfortable, and therefore - oblivious.

It’s how I got the nickname: That Snobby Bitch.

Sadly, when I consciously try to unleash the friendly, I inevitably go overboard. For example, I wave back at anyone waving at me. Whether they are actually waving at ME, or not. This creates a good deal of confusion in stores, the post office and on the sidewalk. I’m a bit of a freak show.

Recently, I took my confusing behavior to the next level. The results were predictable.

At a musical event the other week, I was asked by the conductor (a friend) to place the evening’s sheet music on the music stand. The orchestra was already seated, as was the audience. It was just a few minutes to show time.

Because my memory is as short as a piece of hamster poo, I was wearing the same one-piece, lightweight fabric pantsuit I had worn the year before – to the same event, forgetting entirely that I had made a mental note to not do that again. Visualize an outfit designed to be worn only by women with personal trainers or Shapewear. I was also in high-heeled shoes.

Once again, I made a mental note not to do that again.

As I stepped carefully into the auditorium, the loud and boisterous crowd instantly grew silent. The only sound was the click, click, click of my poor choice of footwear.

I walked over to the conductor’s stand, smiled at the orchestra, placed the pages carefully and turned to walk out of the room… away from the uncomfortable silence.

That’s when it happened.

The applause started softly but grew loud, quickly. I looked to the doorway, expecting to see someone important entering the space. But there was no one. I looked behind me to see if the orchestra was doing something interesting. They were, as before, still seated.

Then it occurred to me. The crowd was applauding for ME.

Maybe this is a thing, I thought. Maybe people clap when the sheet music arrives. Nevertheless, there was no good excuse for what I did next. Except anxiety.

I turned to the mob and bowed. Or curtseyed. Or maybe I just lifted my arms up like I had just belted out an aria. I really can’t remember which humiliating enactment I performed.

What I do remember is what happened next.

My flailing arms nearly hit the sound guy who was right behind me, heading to his post. I hadn’t seen him entering the auditorium. He looked at me – confused - and smiled. It was the kind of smile one normally reserves for toddlers, just after they pee their pants in excitement at a birthday party.

My mind raced:

Oh shit. They weren’t clapping for me. They were clapping for him. Were they clapping for him? Who is he? Is he important? He must be more important than me. I’m just a girl in a pantsuit, acting like a freaking diva. What is wrong with me? Wait, they’ve stopped clapping.

Once the silence hit, I did the only thing I could do.

I ran, full speed, out of the auditorium. Clickety, clickety, clickety, click.

Which is how I got my new nickname: Jiggles.

No, really.


  1. OH MY GOD.

    We are such kindreds. This embarrassed me just reading it!

    1. Ha ha! Stuff like this has become such commonplace, it's a wonder I even leave the house anymore.


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