Today I coached a middle school string quartet and the first violinist, an eighth grade girl, was too embarrassed to cue everyone to begin. “Just sniff,” I said, and she giggled and looked down at the floor. “How about you look at everyone and you all lead together?” I said and she looked panicked.
Suddenly, I remembered being in eight grade. How the chorus teacher used to tell us to open our mouths to sing and I would look around the room at everyone with their mouths clamped shut and would close mine tighter, how my violin teacher used to tell me to breathe, but I refused. Breathing was embarrassing. Mouths wide open were embarrassing. Existence was embarrassing.
“Don’t worry,” I told the girl, “you’ll learn to do this in the next couple of years without even thinking about it.” What I really meant was that hopefully the self-consciousness would fade, the iron lung would release, and she would be able to breathe again. At least by the age of eighteen.