Stories of misery, humiliation will make your holiday letter a success

Austin American-Statesman, December 17, 2016

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People are far more interested in hearing of one's failure, misery, suffering and humiliation.

It’s that time of year again. Part of getting into the holiday spirit is reconnecting with family and friends. We want to hear how they’re doing and share how we’re doing.

But we’ve all gotten those letters we can’t finish, either because they’re too long or too full of news of young Ella’s nauseating excellence or Aunt Bertha’s surgery. People are far more interested in hearing of one’s failure, misery, suffering and humiliation.

For example, in 2011 I could have written, “This year, I was inducted into the prestigious American Academy of Nursing.” But I knew that had I written only that, people would have rolled their eyes, or possibly hated me. So, instead, I told the story:

            This year, I was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing — in Washington, D.C. no less. Floating on Cloud 9 turned abruptly to horror when I reread the invitation and saw the event was “Black Tie,” meaning I would need to wear a long evening gown.


            The only dress in my closet was from the L.L.Bean catalog, 12 years old and so tacky I wore it only twice.

            Keep in mind that my epic rise to stardom began somewhat inauspiciously. Dressed in my beloved overalls, I drove a 40-foot UT shuttle bus and sold Salvation Sandwiches on the Drag in the ’70s. I of course have upgraded to scrubs, except I wear pajamas when I write NursingNews or for newspapers.

            Panicked, I rushed to the rich ladies’ Goodwill and purchased a fire-engine red long dress, even though that color went out years ago. FOR $16!!!!

            It was too long, so I bought silver glittery heels. They were really uncomfortable, but hey, they were cute and how bad could it be for two hours?

            In the D.C. hotel room, I looked in the mirror, held my evening gown up and realized I hadn’t put on makeup in 33 years. I nervously decided to have it “professionally” applied. I hopped on the MetroRail for Macy’s.

            On the verge of a panic attack, I told the no-nonsense lady at the cosmetic counter that I was going to a fancy event and that I wished to avoid the cadaver look. Sternly, she told me to relax and close my eyes.

            It seemed like she was taking forever, but I dared not say anything lest she leave the mark of Zorro on my face. After forever, she instructed me all proudly to open my eyes. There in the mirror was the face of a scared raccoon staring back at me:


            I started to tell her I actually preferred the cadaver to the mutant raccoon look, but I didn’t because a) she looked like she was going to kill me and b) I had taken the sensible precaution of not allowing enough time. Macy’s was three Metro stops away from my hotel, and the ceremony would begin in 30 minutes.

            Near hysteria, I called my son Burton. He would reassure me. And he didn’t fail. ‘I regret how quick we are to besmirch the wild beauty of the noble raccoon,’ he said. ‘Your beautician was clearly a typist in her previous employment and merely yearned to white out and then type over the errors on your face. Except she did only one line … Poor woman, these things are delicate after all. It was a brave start anyway.’

            Luckily the event was in the same hotel, and I actually arrived on time. After multiple glasses of champagne, the event actually went well.


But back to writing holiday newsletters. People still remember that event almost better than I do. I think it’s just human nature to want to be reassured that everybody else is as screwed up as we are.

Happy holidays to one and all!

With American Academy of Nursing fellow inductee Dr. Mary Lou Adams in 2011.

With American Academy of Nursing fellow inductee Dr. Mary Lou Adams in 2011.

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN CNS (retired), FAAN, a lifelong Austin resident, is a retired neonatal intensive care nurse and editor of NursingNews. She also wrote a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial pages for 10 years.