Exercise Prompt: In “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” Sedaris explores themes of identity, insecurity, class, and belonging. Describe a moment when you dealt with one or more of these issues. Was there a time or situation that made you feel insecure? Was there a time or situation where you felt you didn’t belong?
I have always had my fair share of insecurities like most people my age. In high school, I was one of the only people in my class to play an instrument. My teachers knew about this skill and often took advantage of it. I was always asked to play the piano during any type of event, and each time I’d be reluctant to follow through for fear of standing out. Since I went to an Armenian school, we would go to the Prelacy – our church headquarters – for certain major events. Armenian schools rely on the Prelacy for funding, so we had to take frequent field trips to visit.
One unfortunate afternoon, my Armenian teacher pulled me aside to talk to me about something important.
“Alina, we’re going to the Prelacy tomorrow and I want you to play the piano. I know it’s short notice, but we do not have anyone else.” said my teacher in Armenian. I looked at her as if she had grown an extra head. How was I supposed to prepare for a performance that was less than twenty-four hours away?
“Sorry Digin (an Armenian word used to refer to a female older than you) I do not have anything prepared.” I said, trying to get myself out of the situation.
“Alina you are our only hope. Please. I will give you extra credit!” She looked at me with puppy-dog eyes. I sighed and grudgingly agreed to play. I didn’t need the extra credit because I already had a high grade, but I knew I would feel guilty if I didn’t agree.
The next day we took a trip to the Armenian Prelacy. The bus ride did not calm me down, it made me more anxious. Since it went by very quickly, I wished time would slow down so I did not have to perform. When we arrived, I walked through the gigantic white marble doors and smelled the familiar “religious” scent. My nervousness only grew. We walked through the creme color hallway and entered the small auditorium. My classmates and I took our seats, and the program began. After the opening speeches, I heard my classmate call my name.
“Please welcome Alina Demirdjian who will be playing Chopin’s Op. 64 No. 2 on the piano.” I sat there only hearing a ringing sound in my ear.
After I gathered myself, I slowly got up from my seat and walked to the piano, trying my best to avoid making eye contact with anyone. I took my seat in front of the shiny brown piano and placed my sheet music on the stand. I looked down as I cursed myself for wanting to learn how to play the piano. Why did it have to be me? Why did I have to be the only student who had musical experience? My hands were sweaty, and my heart felt like it would beat out of my chest. Eventually, I stepped out of my trance and pressed my fingers onto the keys and began to play.
The beginning was fine, but of course I knew that nothing ever went the way I wanted it to go. I noticed my hands were shaking profusely and causing me to play the wrong notes. Chopin’s beautiful piano piece sounded like someone scratching a blackboard with their nails. I tried my best to not let the tears fall. After quickly finishing the remainder of the piece, I ran out of the auditorium and went straight to the bathroom. I cried my eyes out for what felt like hours. I told myself I was a failure and that I should give up on piano. Finally, I dried my tears, and I entered the dreaded auditorium. All eyes were on me. I felt the urge to yell at them all, but I held myself together.
On the bus ride back to school, my teacher, who’d guilted me into playing, sat next to me and tried to calm me down. I chocked back my resentment towards her for making me play and embarrass myself. I remembered that it was me who made all the mistakes, and not her. She made me laugh by telling me a few jokes, which I appreciated.
When I got home that day, I went straight to my piano. I started playing the same Chopin piece, and to my surprise I played it perfectly with no mistakes. I hated myself for feeling insecure about my skills and for embarrassing myself in front of my classmates and the Prelacy guests.
Does the incident still affect me? In some ways yes. I still get insecure from time to time, but I try not to let it take over. More importantly, this experience taught me to have more confidence in myself, but I’m still working on learning how to play as if nobody is watching. No one is perfect and experiences like this remind us that we are all human beings, and we make mistakes every day.