Last updated: August 18. 2014 9:31AM - 199 Views
Cathy Sargent Guest Columnist

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Klutz (noun) – an awkward, clumsy person

Yesterday a friend posted a picture on Facebook that is a perfect illustration of today’s word. It shows one of those stick figures (often used on signs) in mid slip/fall with nothing but a horizontal line below him, and it reads “It takes skill to trip over flat surfaces.” That is a “skill” that I – more frequently than I’d like to admit – can claim.

It’s unlikely that when my friends and family think of me they think “spaz” at the same time. (I’d bet that you can think of one or two people whom you regularly equate with “spaz” or something like it.) I guess I am more of a secret klutz, although a few of my escapades are famous in the family, particularly having to do with my kitchen skills. I have managed to dump an entire broccoli casserole onto the bottom of the oven as Christmas dinner was being served. Even if there was nothing else on the kitchen floor but the trash can, I have been known to walk right into it and send coffee grounds and cooking grease flying. And then there was the first Thanksgiving turkey that I attempted to prepare as a young wife. I will not embarrass myself mercilessly here with the details, but if you want to know the story, just ask my mother. She takes great delight in sharing that incident with anyone and everyone.

No, my daily klutziness is usually witnessed by only me. I have this big problem of bumping my arms and legs into things that do not overly crowd me and could easily be avoided. “Cutting corners” – literally—is something I should have learned not to do. However, when walking through doorways I do not maintain the middle lane. I veer to one side and clip a shoulder or elbow on the frame. Instead of giving the pointy corners of my desk and dining room table a wide berth, I bang a hip into them when passing by. Evidently I don’t always pick my feet up high enough when walking because the carpet or tile will trip me up. My shins take beatings from coffee tables and car doors. I am usually sporting at least one ugly bruise on my legs.

Recently on the Today Show, co-host Savannah Guthrie, famous among her colleagues for being uncoordinated and always bruised up, underwent a series of tests to assess such things as vision, equilibrium and spatial awareness, and she failed every test. But Ms. Guthrie is no mental klutz. She earned her law degree with honors at Georgetown, and she made the highest score on the Arizona bar exam. She jokes that her brain is always full of lofty, important thoughts, leaving no room for focusing on her physical movements. Sounds good to me. I have little concern for the inanimate objects around me – but maybe I should.

(And speaking of mental klutziness, you should know that “klutz” is indeed used to describe a person who may not be physically clumsy but is definitely not the sharpest tool in the shed. After all, the word comes from the Yiddish “klots” – literally a wooden beam – and is related to the old German “kloz” –meaning a lumpy mass – and the current “Klotz” – a dolt or blockhead.)

I believe that my klutziness is related to my problems with depth perception. I’m terrible when it comes to catching things and swinging sporting implements. I’m much better with smaller, linear movements such as hitting a pool ball or putting a golf ball. Could my affinity for the linear be the cause of my bumping into things? Am I instinctually making beelines from point A to point B, thereby colliding with stationary objects that lie in my way?

We often associate awkwardness with puberty, and some say it has to do with low self-esteem, which really doesn’t seem fair since it’s just another failing! Extremely shy and self-conscious as a young teen, I must have been cursed with that double whammy and unable to purge the clumsiness even while shedding my social insecurities. When teaching I was continually knocking my coffee cup over. Students got used to brown stains on their graded papers and brown stains on their teacher, and I didn’t let those things bother me. I said that spilling is simply a hazard of being a coffee drinker. (More than likely it is instead just one of the hazards of being me.) I did not suffer throes of embarrassment when I slipped on a pea in the lunchroom and hit the ground hard while dumping the contents of the tray all over myself. (I was seven months pregnant, so I got lots of concern instead of peals of laughter.)

Today I vow to become more aware of my immediate surroundings. I will gracefully guide my dog with her leash and not get tangled up in it. I will step firmly and fully on the porch step and not scrape my shin. I will carefully place my magazine on the coffee table and not toss it onto my soft drink can. I will walk down the middle of the hall. Wish me luck. And keep your distance.

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