April 10, 2014 | 2 Comments | Betsy Woodman
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us– you know!
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
Well, Emily wasn’t an athlete, but if she had been one, she certainly wouldn’t have gone into triumphant leaps and high fives after winning an event.
In contrast to Emily’s attitude, here’s a snippet from a piece called “Top 10 Tips for Acing Your Next Job Interview.”
“You’ll probably feel the need to be humble, but don’t. Shameless self-promotion is a good thing in job interviews. In fact, it’s the only thing you can really do to showcase your good qualities.”
Before my first novel, Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes, appeared, the publicity folks at my publisher, Henry Holt and Co., briefed me on my role in getting the news out. “You may be a modest and retiring person,” they said, “But FORGET ABOUT THAT!”
At Woodstock School in Mussoorie, India, in the early 1960s, we all knew the Biblical injunction not to hide your light under a bushel. It was also clear that it was in bad taste to toot your own horn.
Well! How was one to reconcile these two ideas? How could you draw attention to something good about yourself without appearing conceited?
One way was by soliciting compliments with self-denigrating comments. Example: “My face is all broken out!” The other person was supposed to come back with praise: “Don’t be ridiculous. Your complexion is perfect.”
Or: “I’m going to fail this math test.”
Response: “Oh, come on, you always get an A.”
If it was too obvious that you were fishing for compliments, the response might be “Seeker! Seeker!” (delivered in a singsong voice.)
Hmm. Did Emily Dickinson really think she was nobody? If she’d bounced this feeling off a friend, would they have had an exchange like this?
Emily: I’m nobody.
Emily’s friend: Oh, good grief. Seeker! Seeker! You know very well that you’re a genius.
To get back to Woodstock: Competition (acknowledged or not) was very much present in our lives. Look at the intensity in these runners.
Winning was rewarded, too, in sports, academics, the arts, and extracurricular activities. There were prizes, lots of them—cups, shields, pins, certificates.
Here’s my pal Barbara Garber winning a creative writing prize.
We also performed frequent rituals awarding social honors, such as the crowning of a May Queen.
No matter what the context, the winner was supposed to look humble, perhaps even a little surprised. (Who me? What am I doing up here on this victory stand? I was just running around the track and suddenly a tape broke over my chest.)
A smile was permitted, however. Congratulations again after all these years to classmate Phil Jones on winning the 880-yard dash at the Mussoorie Olympics.