I was a pretty awkward kid. Now, I realize you could say that all kids are awkward — and you may even have a point — childhood is hardly anyone’s prime. But if you’d seen me in elementary school, my inelegance might have surprised you. In my early years, I was short and overweight. I hadn’t been formally introduced to deodorant, which was a problem because I sweated a lot. That’s not to say I played sports or participated vigorously in gym class. I just sweated a lot. In spite of this image, though, I was somehow spirited enough to pursue the same girl tirelessly, if unsuccessfully, from the fourth grade through the seventh.

My failure at courtship was best summarized in my own words, from a diary entry dated February 10, 2001: “***** will never love me. I NEVER say the right thing! Ugg. I guess it’s just because I’m fat, smelly, gross and Jewish.” In hindsight, Jewishness probably had nothing to do with it, but it’s a common enough scapegoat, I suppose. This first diary entry directly precedes another passage in which I described ripping my pants while bending over to pick up a pencil that ***** had dropped.

This “phase,” as my mother liked to call it, never really ended. Upon going through puberty (late, of course), I grew about a foot in just a couple months. Hastily getting used to my taller stature, I routinely tripped and fell wherever I went. And, for whatever reason, I never really regained my balance.

One day in the first few weeks of my freshman year, this gracelessness came to the fore. As I quickly strode through the Diag that day, I looked around to gain a further grasp of my new surroundings. Then, before I realized what was happening, I tripped on something oddly cumbersome coming toward me and fell flat on the ground. I was instantly met by the sounds of a baby crying and the shrieks of a mother in panic. It didn’t take long for me to realize: I had tripped on an oncoming stroller. Fortunately, the confused infant was totally unharmed and his mother, rather than filing a lawsuit, just bitterly asked if I were high.

To this day, clumsiness continues to pervade my life. I still trip all the time and I still never say the right thing. And if you ever have the rare opportunity to see me dance, my inability to be cool even on the dance floor will simultaneously amuse, bewilder and disturb you.

So, since awkwardness has defined so much of my life, I’ve recently decided that I ought to embrace it. I just have to try to find the beauty within my ungainliness. It’s got to be there somewhere. I’ve meditated on the words of Diane Arbus, the photographer known for shooting evocative photos of unusual subjects in the 1960s. “I work from awkwardness,” she famously said. “If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.” Though awkwardness, in this case, is the point of departure for Arbus’s art, it may as well be the springboard for approaching my own life. Rather than attempting to be less awkward as I go forward and “arrange” myself, perhaps I really do just need to appreciate the blunders and gaucherie that are omnipresent in my life.

While I realize that I’m a sort of caricature of clumsiness, this lesson is relevant for a great many within our campus community. And it isn’t just a banal “love who you are” sort of lesson from a children’s book.

Virtually all of us at the University are anxious about our individual appearance in some way. Perhaps it’s important to you to confidently walk down the street, to wear a perfectly neat outfit and be charming to the friends and acquaintances you bump into. But inevitably, you know you’re going to miss a social cue or make a fashion faux pas. Or maybe you obsess about having the perfect portfolio, with the perfect interview skills to match. But no matter how many times you rehearse in front of a mirror, your interview won’t always go as planned. Awkwardness is more or less inevitable. So why not embrace said awkwardness? Perhaps doing so could make you stand out — to friends, love interests or employers.

That’s what I tell myself, at least. And it hasn’t led to more tripping or accidentally spraying water on my crotch when I wash my hands. Those gaffes are as frequent as they always were. But as I accept my awkwardness, I’m much more content in my day-to-day life — even if I still fear strollers in the Diag.

Matthew Green can be reached at greenmat@umich.edu.

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