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by Rose Madeline Mula

Last week I attended a digital photography class — a free perk earned when I bought a new camera a few months ago.

When I purchased my camera, I loved it. It has lots of bells and whistles — a powerful zoom; a bright three-inch display of the pictures it takes; a warning message that pops up asks, “Did somebody blink?” if, indeed, someone did; and much, much more. But just as important (to me, at least) was the fact that it’s adorable — red, sleek and tiny enough to fit into a shirt pocket. What’s not to love?

Actually, its “adorableness,” as it turns out.

When I arrived at the class, I took a seat at the U-shaped table where sixteen people were already ensconced. Gradually six more arrived, followed by the instructor who asked us all to put our cameras on the table. My classmates hauled mammoth canvas bags from the floor and pulled out gigantic, black, ugly monstrosities with impressive lenses that looked capable of taking close-ups of the Arctic ice cap from where we sat in Massachusetts. My cute, little point-and-shoot looked so puny and pitiful. I had never been so embarrassed.

Actually, that’s not true.

I flashed back to earlier experiences that fueled my innate inferiority complex, starting in my toddler years when the big kids (the three-year-olds) wouldn’t let me play with them because my diaper was leaking.

Fortunately, I was potty trained by the time I went to kindergarten so I did make some friends there — at least for a while. However, because I was such a goody-goody, I quickly became teacher’s pet, which did not endear me to the other kids. Neither did my tendency to cry whenever anyone teased me, which they did often once they found how easily they could reduce me to tears. In fact, one of the favorite games at recess was a competition to see who could be the first to make me blubber.

Eventually I became less inclined to cry — at least in public — but even more prone to painful shyness. Standing in front of the class to deliver an oral book review in the sixth grade was excruciating. I hated my unruly curly hair, the glasses I had to wear in that pre-contact-lens age, and the dress I had chosen — and loved — that morning, but which suddenly seemed all wrong. (Yes, I said “dress.” Jeans, or even tailored pants, were taboo school attire for girls in those days.) If twenty kids listened to my report with interest (or at least without expression) and only one sniggered, I would focus on the sniggerer and convince myself that they were all making fun of me. Even my usual “A” didn’t compensate for my anxiety.

Later, when I was in my teens, I went with three girlfriends to my first dance. Remember, it was a different era. Back then, kicking up your heels as a group was unheard of; and girls would rather be seen shopping with their mothers than dancing with each other. And no way was it acceptable to ask a boy to dance. So we stood there like marked-down dresses on a clearance rack waiting to be approached by buyers. Though I desperately wanted a boy to ask me, at the same time I was terrified that one would because I really didn’t know how to dance. As it turned out, I didn’t have to worry about my two left feet. The first of my friends who was invited to boogie thrust her pocketbook at me to hold before she sashayed away. The next two did the same thing. And, incredibly, I let them! So there I stood, wretched and alone, clutching my own purse and three others. I might as well have had a sign around my neck that said REJECT in large, bold letters. Not even the biggest loser on the stag line would come anywhere near me now. I was almost glad to be the keeper of the bags. At least it gave me an excuse for hugging the wall, which I did for the entire miserable evening.

Other such incidents, distressing to a greater or lesser degree, punctuated my adolescence. Fortunately, however, as I grew older, my social life and self-confidence soared. Reminiscing about my childhood with my mother one day long ago, I grumbled that I could not believe how I used to let everything and everyone intimidate me. “Don’t worry, Honey,” she replied, “You’ve more than made up for it.”

She was right. Yet, as demonstrated by my recent chagrin in my photography class, my old insecurities still manage to surface from time to time, often (cruelly) when I’m really feeling good about myself — like when my first book of humorous essays, If These Are Laugh Lines, I’m Having Way Too Much Fun, was accepted by Pelican Publishing Company after my long, exhaustive search for a publisher. I was ecstatic!

I should have known right then that fate would knock me off my high horse, which is exactly what happened when I did a book tour. My local bookstore signings were a huge success, because I had coerced everyone I had known for years into showing up — including all those who used to enjoy making me cry in kindergarten. Farther from my home turf where I know no one, however, the scenario was different. Well, the setting and props were the same — hopeful me, pen in hand, seated at a table piled high with copies of my book — but the cast of supporting characters diminished sharply. To zero, in most cases. At one bookstore, though, a gentleman actually did walk up to me. I smiled brightly.

“Are you anybody?” he asked.

I turned up the wattage of my smile and picked up my book. “I’m the author,” I enthused.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, unimpressed. “But are you anybody?”

Suddenly I was back at the dance, clutching my girl friends’ pocketbooks. “No,” I admitted. “I’m nobody.”

But enough! I don’t have time for any more painful recollections. It’s getting late. The stores will be closing soon, and I have to go buy a big, ugly camera before my next photography class tomorrow.

©2010 Rose Madeline Mula for




Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.


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