My palpitations could be heard from Key West. Cortisol flowed through my veins faster than a red Ferrari in Miami. My hands were cold. My mouth was dry. I started sweating. My chest was tightening. Judging from the way the conversation was going, I knew the question would come up any time now. I knew somebody at the party would ask me if I had read the latest book by Yuval Harari. These days, you really can’t go to the bathroom without the guy in the next urinal asking if you’ve read Harari’s work, which sends you scrambling to the nearest digital device to purchase his latest book on amazon, lest you are the last person to know that in 2045 Facebook will know the texture of your bowel movements. This pretty much sums up his latest book by the way.
But the questions do not stop with Harari. Have I heard the latest version of the Opera Carmen by Teresa Berganza? Do I know the meaning of floccinaucinihilipilification (fläksəˌnôsəˌnīˌhiləˌpiləfiˈkāSHən), which means the act or habit of estimating something as worthless? Try pronouncing it. Feel worthless yet?
I know my friends and acquaintances mean no harm, but every time I have to say NO, I have not read the latest book by Harari, heard Teresa Berganza, or had any idea what floccinaucinihilipilification meant, another piece of my fragile ego comes tumbling down. These questions remind me that I know less than others, feel less valued than others, and I’m pretty much a worthless person all around. Am I the only one experiencing self-floccinaucinihilipilification?
In 2018 I took a sabbatical to catch up on my reading, but for some reason nobody reads the books I study. Nobody seems to be interested in the defecation patterns of Sub-Saharan rodents, or the etymology of floccinaucinihilipilification. Apparently I’m investing my time in the wrong endeavors. At least a few years ago we did watch Downton Abbey, which enhanced my cocktail party IQ a few notches.
Knowing less, feeling beneath, falling behind, and admitting cluelessness are all too familiar experiences for me. There is no way for me to escape embarrassing questions, especially since elephants have smaller ears than mine. To add insult to injury, not only do I hear the questions clearly, but hearing NO in my girly voice aggravates my insecurities further. It never fails; every time I call someone who doesn’t know me on the phone, the inevitable reply is HOW I CAN HELP YOU MA’AM? These experiences make me aware that I am not only culturally but bodily and vocally deficient as well.
Isaac Prilleltensky is an award-winning academic and humor writer. His latest books, The Laughing Guide to Change, and The Laughing Guide to a Better Life, co-authored with Ora Prilleltensky, combine humor with science.