WRITING MY FIRST ESSAY IN FORTY YEARS!

Our daughter (a high school English teacher) challenged me to write an essay - this is the result

GOING BACK TO HIGH SCHOOL

Our daughter teaches high school English and told us that she was going to sit the 3 hour Yr 12 English exam with her students to see how she'd measure up. She hadn't tested herself in an exam since university and wanted to see how she'd go.

As a challenge she thought my husband and I might like to tackle the creative writing component - we would be given four photos to choose from and one hour to HANDWRITE our essay/narrative! She gave us the questions with some dot point notes that she uses to help her students prepare for an exam question. It had been FORTY years since I'd written an English essay and countless years since I'd handwritten more than my shopping list, so the challenge was taking me to a whole new level!

These are the questions we had to choose from:

Question 1:

Respond to the image below by creating a text that employs stylistic features to challenge or surprise an audience.
  • The important element here is challenge or surprise. This could be a genre subversion or a twist ending – the important thing is to avoid clichés. 
  • Stylistic features – this means making choices with purpose. Sentence length, imagery, dialogue can all be employed.

our daughter (a high school English teacher) challenged me to write an essay - this is the result
Question 2:

In a form of your choice, create a distinctive voice to communicate an unexpected perspective with reference to the image below.
  • Distinctive voice: This question requires you to know how voice is constructed. Think about diction, syntax, punctuation and appeals to ethos, pathos, logos. What values and attitudes does the speaker hold? What is their perspective on the issue? 
  • Unexpected perspective: Avoid cliché and obvious interpretations, and try something unique. The perspective may be someone outside the image but still involved in the scenario (the husband, the pet cat?)
our daughter (a high school English teacher) challenged me to write an essay - this is the result
Question 3:

Compose a text based on your interpretation of this quote.
  • A text: there are no specifications on the text type you create, so choose one that you are strongest in. 
  • Your interpretation: You can agree or disagree with the quote! Consider writing a narrative piece that disproves the idea behind the quote. 
  • You don’t have to include the quote in the response, it can simply ‘inspire’ your response. 
our daughter (a high school English teacher) challenged me to write an essay - this is the result
Question 4:

Compose a piece of writing that explores the narrative possibilities suggested in this image.

our daughter (a high school English teacher) challenged me to write an essay - this is the result

WHAT WE CHOSE:

I took Question 1 and launched into my narrative with a twist - I had a false start when I realized what I was writing was a cliched idea layered over another cliched idea. So that went into the bin and I started afresh. It's amazing to feel the pressure - even sitting at the dining room table at home with no real exam conditions. I was watching my clock and writing furiously the whole time - three pages and 52 minutes later I was finished.

My husband chose Question 2 and wrote from the unexpected perspective (he was the husband of the woman in the picture). His essay was a little shorter than mine and he complained of writers cramp several times, but still finished in just under an hour and wrote a really great story.

If you're interested in what we wrote, here is the PDF of both essays (mine is the first three pages and and then the second section is my husband's).

OUR RESULTS  

Our daughter was kind enough to tell us that we actually did really well. Apparently we were able to write with a "consistent voice" and to be engaging and interesting. I was relieved to know that I hadn't received a C+ or an F - and that I hadn't completely embarrassed myself after being out of the education system for so long. She did point out that we'd only done a third of the exam - she did all three sections when she sat it last month.

I'm very glad I don't have to jump through the hoops of high school any more. It was fun to try our hand at being students again - but also nice to leave it behind us and not have to go back and do it all again next semester! 

our daughter (a high school English teacher) challenged me to write an essay - this is the result

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71 comments

  1. Hari om
    Great fun to do, thougn! This is the sort of challenge I relish. YAM xx

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    1. It was really fun - a bit stressful watching the clock and not cheating - but it made me feel like a teenager again!

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  2. I admire your bravery Leanne! Just reading your post brought back (not all pleasant) memories of those kinds of cleverly phrased, "sound-like-they're-trying-to-trick-you" English questions, both my own experiences and talking through such things with my sons in their high school English days. I think I would have declined the task, I don't think I could have coped with the disappointment of not measuring up to today's 17 year old ATAR students!! Did she give you an A??

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    1. She said we did really well with it - and we grasped the concept of staying in the character better than a lot of the students do. I found it rattled my cage trying to write to her expectations and not come out looking like a twit. It would have been really embarrassing to get a Fail!

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  3. Oh, that's challenging! Thanks also for the Maya quote - I'll be using this in my weekly corporate newsletter this week.

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    1. The funny thing is that I love her quotes but couldn't write about it from a Yr12 student's viewpoint - and we were trying to put ourselves back in that frame of mind to write. If I was doing it for the blog I'd have picked that question in a heartbeat!

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  4. Wow Leanne I had enough trouble trying to understand the questions - let alone writing an essay. The Maya quote is very timely for me thank you. Not sure I will be taking this challenge up though!

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    1. P.S. Good on you both - I read the essays. I can't handwrite anymore so I'd have a problem there LOL:) I've been typing for too many years and my handwriting is terrible!

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    2. The handwriting was as big a challenge as the essay Sue - my poor husband was gripping his pen in a clawlike hand and hoping his writing was still legible - you forget how much you type vs using a pen these days. I also tend to print more than "write" so getting my penmanship happening was pretty full on!

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  5. I would tackle the third one. I would, but I won't. I have no motivation for it, and enough other writing to do!

    The quote is a better way to express 110%. Which doesn't exist. "per cent" means "per 100". The only way I can not rip my hair out at "110%" is to think of the fact that if you use 100% of your kinetic energy, you also have untapped stores of potential energy, and in time you tap into that potential energy, so that 100% kinetic energy is higher than it was, for example, before you stretched. So the amount of energy is higher, but not the percent.

    The quote is much more realistic: The "best you can" is quantity X at the beginning of a task, but when you learn more, that quantity is greater, so you can, in fact, do better than your previous best... which is still your best, but it's a greater amount.

    Words are more fluid than math.

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    1. The quote would have been perfect to tackle as a 50+ year old Red, but I was trying to look at it as a 17 year old student so I was on the same "markable scale" and I thought it was pretty hard for a 17 year old to relate to - you get better at grasping it as you get older I think. Your answer would have the average 17 year old looking very bemused :)

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  6. I would've probably chosen #3 but #2 looked appealing too. Well done for giving this a go. Enjoyed both essays - very creative.

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    1. Thanks Suzy - as I mentioned above, I thougth that #3 would be great to write on as a Midlifer - but I was trying to tackle it as from a high schooler's point of view and I thought it needed more life experience to really tackle properly.

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  7. Love this! As a former teacher, I often did this type of thing to kind of empathise with the students. And they say children have it easier these days - not true! Respect for tackling this, no easy feat.

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    1. Thanks AJ - our daughter sat the entire 3 hour final exam that was then sent off for marking with her students' efforts - I thought that was pretty brave of her - she hadn't done an exam essay since her uni days so it was a good refresher for her - and apparently she passed with flying colours (phew!)

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  8. Very interesting, Leanne. I shall read through the essays. Handwriting will be first challenge.

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    1. Handwriting was VERY challenging Pradeep - especially for my husband - he said he struggled with writing for any length of time back in high school and it was even worse after all these decades of not having to!

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  9. Boy I am glad I am not in High School ! This was tough including the handwritten no spell check part! I read both your essays and I give your both A+! This being triathlon season here, Leanne your's was very current with of course an unexpected twist and your husband's was bittersweet !

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    1. Thanks for reading them Haralee - it was fun coming up with the ideas (and I loved Ross's twist in his story) I really noticed that I slipped back into the whole pressure thing that comes with being a student taking an exam and it made me grateful that those days were behind me!

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  10. I think I tackle the third one on Wednesdays when I do a Wednesday Whoa quote. This took me back to high school. Writing essays was my favorite part of school and how I made money. Junior and Senior essays were my specialty!

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    1. I was trying to approach it as a 17 year old student and thought the quote would be a bit out of their league - as a Midlifer it would definitely appeal to me so I'll look forward to your post :)

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  11. These are so good! Congratulations to you, javelin-thrower and camel-rider extraordinaire. Your husby's story made me laugh. Oh, my word, what a twist! Tell me, does he rent rooms in an old broken-down hotel?

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    1. He did rattle my cage a bit too Diane - I was wondering if he was planning on stuffing me when I die and using me as a movie prop :D

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  12. Challenging but fun too. Gets a part of the brain working that normally doesn't get a lot of exercise too. Well done you two!

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    1. I think the writing under pressure also made my brain work harder Dorothy - there was no opportunity to put it down and come back later - just head down and tail up for the hour and I was relieved to finish on time!

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  13. I'm impressed! I taught English for many years and don't think I'd come up with as creative an essay as either of you in the time allowed. Sounds like a fun challenge - not one I will tackle - but if I did, I'd probably take up the Maya quote. Thanks for sharing your work.

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    1. Our daughter said we did well to keep in character and to have storylines that were consistent. I was just pleased to come up with an idea and manage to execute it coherently! I may tackle the Maya one in a post one day - I love her stuff.

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  14. Finally I've got my little picture here and I think this 10th attempt at commenting will work. I did a ton of research on this today Leanne. If anyone else has problems leaving comments, it's likely that, like me, they didn't check the box in the privacy settings allowing for third party cookies.Apparently Blogger requires that for gmail accounts.
    Okay, to your post. Wow! I'm impressed and intimidated. Impressed that you and your husband took on this task and that you fared so well. And intimidated because I wouldn't even dream of tackling it. If I did, it would be the Maya quote, but nope, too much courage required to even attempt. Good for you for doing it!

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    1. Yay Karen! Perseverence paid off in the end :) Thanks so much for pushing through and it was interesting about the 3rd party cookie thing - I'll keep that in mind. And thankyou for your kind words about our endeavour - it was pretty intimidating at the time - especially with the underlying desire to embarrass ourselves in front of our daughter - no parent wants to look incompetent. I was relieved when she said we'd done a good job and also that she didn't give us an actual mark out of ten!

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  15. What a great challenge! I am so glad you both did well. Shows us that our brainpower is there waiting to be harnessed to re-activate.
    Thank you for joining in #lifethisweek Next week's optional prompt is Taking Stock. Denyse

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    1. I think you're right about our brain power Denyse - I was VERY relieved to see that I could still make a decent accounting when it came to putting pen to paper (and that my handwriting was still legible after all these years!)

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  16. brave brave you leanne and you others who would will tackle it- despite english being my forte at school and considerable study at uni I could not understand the questions and in fact it did my head in to think of stylistic features even with the dot points as an aid. I find I have lazy brain these days in that it baulks at the hard work that it once thrived on. what my brain likes nowadays is writing without any thought to conventions style or punctuation. The only one I feel I could have tackled was no 4 precisely because it gave no instructions. hopeless case here - which means I am so impressed with both of you for giving it a go and for doing well.

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    1. I love how you write Sandra - it's so whimsical and so deep at the same time. Very lyrical - and I comment often (sometimes those comments seem to disappear into the ether - so I hope you find them hidden in a spam folder and they're not lost forever)

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  17. This sounds like fun but I am not sure I could pass the test. I wondered back when I still work if I took my nursing boards again could I pass them. My thought is for both of us we know more now than we did back in school though it is life experience it still might help us with the test.

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    1. I often wonder about things I've passed and then forgotten Victoria - life moves on and my brain tends to discard stuff it doesn't need anymore. Luckily I can bluff my way through most stuff these days :)

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  18. Good for you Leanne and Hubs!
    I'm still in recovery from writing 10 page papers for my Masters degree so I'll just live vicariously through you on this one. ;-)

    Deb

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    1. I think I'd be brain dead trying to do my Masters Deb - so all kudos to you and I'll sit with my little highschool essay and feel satisfied!

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  19. So much about this post reminds me of the stress of taking tests, although essay exams were much more up my alley. Funny how the writing we do now as bloggers and authors seems so different. Handwriting? ugh! I have nice print but I'm so used to typing or tapping! I have been on the other side of the essay exam as a professor...grading them can be quite interesting. Glad you scored a good grade!

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    1. It brought back a lot of memories Terri - fortunately essay exams weren't a big deal for me (not like Math exams!) but there was still the time pressure and the writing it by hand that added an extra element to the whole thing. Very glad to leave all of that behind me!

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  20. Hi Leanne, another good start to #MLSTL and I've shared your post everywhere. I'm glad you both struggled with the handwriting side of things. I actually find I'm printing more these days as well!

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    1. I tend to do a "running print" Sue - where I connect my printing together but it's not actually writing. I'm thinking I need to get back into the lost art of letter writing! And I'm loving #MLSTL too x

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  21. Haha, Leanne! I loved your story but your husband's twist-ending takes the cake!
    I identify with your husband's cramped hand - I so rarely handwrite anymore that the same thing happens to me... and my lovely high school cursive is long-forgotten! Good on you both for tackling the assignment! As an adult student, I find my expectations of myself so much higher than in days gone by. An A or nothing!
    Visiting from #MLSTL, can't wait to share your post!

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    1. Yes I loved my husband's twisted ending too Agnes (although I'm now a little worried that he's planning on stuffing me too when the time comes!) The handwriting component was almost as challenging as the essay itself - I definitely don't use that skill anywhere near as often as I did in the good old days.

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  22. Oooo, this is such a fun thing to do. Sometimes I feel like I miss the challenge that was exams and assignments. Then I remember I'm a terrible student. Haha. This is the perfect middle ground.

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    1. That is exactly it Melissa - all the challenge but with no repercussions! It was nice not to have to stress about the actual outcome - although I still really wanted to do well to prove I hadn't completely lost my marbles in middle age!

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  23. Hi Leanne - Good for you for taking on the challenge and scored a good grade! I can still do long handwritten letters to family or friends but they're much more enjoyable and are not stressful like school essays.

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    1. I need to find some friends who letter write Natalie - it's a dying art and it's time to ressurect it before it's too late - obviously you still have some who do more than an occasional email.

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  24. Wow you are brave! The instructions alone give me anxiety! I read both your stories and think they are both brilliant. Well done! :-) xo

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    1. Thanks Min - when I read the instructions I had a little heart palpitation or two! There was no second chance - it was head down and get cracking and the exam stress kicked right back in - it was definitely a trip back to being 17 and one I was glad to tie up and leave at the end of the hour :)

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  25. I am not surprised that you did well on this, you write several essays on your blog every week! Schools often have artificial restraints and expectations for writing assignments. In the US, the 5 paragraph essay is practiced in school and tested on for years. Yet, no where in life does it really exist as an art form!

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    1. That's actually a good point Michele - the blog has been really good for my essay writing brain - it has reminded me of what my writing style is and what works for me and what doesn't. Apparently my blog style is conversational - who'd have thought?! And I'd fail the 5 paragraph essay most weeks :)

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  26. Well done Leanne and hubby. I would never have had the confidence to accept the challenge. I read your essays and am not surprised that your daughter said you did well. Shared on SM

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    1. Thanks for your kind words Jennifer (and for sharing) it was a really interesting task to take on and it was such a relief when our daughter said we both did well - because both essays were quite different and it would have been embarrassing if one of us had failed!

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  27. So glad you did well! I read the questions and thought 'Jeepers, how little I use my brain these days!" I think doing something like this as a bloggie party would be really interesting :)

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    1. My brain went into a bit of a tailspin initially Jo - you know that thing where you know you need to start but things are whirling around and you're wondering if you've bitten off more than you can chew? It was nice to actually get down to it and find I could still coherently put a fictional piece together and have it make sense (and pass!)

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  28. Wow, well done you two, I'm not even sure I understand some of the instructions (and I did 1st Level English!). I can imagine how much pressure you felt under and writer's cramp definitely.

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    1. I had to re-read the instructions several times Jan - especially the bit about it not being cliched - I seem to have a lot of cliched ideas in my head when it came to getting started. Pushing those aside and trying to find something original was quite a challenge!

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  29. I really enjoyed reading both your essays Leanne. Handwriting anything these days is a struggle for me, so I can only imagine writing for an hour or so. A great activity to give a go, well done. #mlstl shared on social media

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    1. Thanks Deb - it was a fun exercise but my writing hand and I were both glad to leave it at one hour (not the full 3 hours that our daughter did with her students) and to do it in the comfort of our home rather than a classroom helped too.

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  30. I love that you took on this challenge! What a fun way to stay in touch with the youth and what they are going through. It's often easy for us to forget or minimize their stress as we compare it to things we are going through now.

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    1. It was a nice bonding exercise to do with our daughter too Cherie - and it was certainly a reminder of those school exams and the fact that we'd sit six of them at the end of the year - each three hours long (not a paltry hour like we did!)

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  31. What a fun experience! And kudos to hubby for participating too.

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    1. It was fun Trisha - a bit stressful during the execution - but quite rewarding to accomplish the finished product.

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  32. What an interesting challenge. I admire your daughter for sitting for the exam with her students and you and your husband for tackling an essay after all these years. It's good to stretch ourselves like that occasionally and also to help us empathize with our children and grandchildren. We forget what it was like being in school and taking tests--at least I do! Thanks for sharing this experience and being brave enough to share your results. I'm off to read them now!

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    1. Me again! I just had to come back and let you know how much I enjoyed both of your essays. Your husband's surprise ending really hit the mark! Also, it was fun to see your handwriting; it's so much more personal than the printed word. I realize I miss sending and receiving handwritten notes and letters.

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    2. Thanks for reading them both Christie - that shows true engagement! We had fun writing them and I thought Ross's was very clever. It was nice to actually have a coherent story and to get it done in the time frame we were given. It also made me appreciate the fact that I don't have to do it anymore!

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  33. My palms were sweating just reading the prompts :) How fabulous that both you and your husband challenged yourself in such a way. As a side note, it's nice the exam gives four choices with a wide range of writing possibilities. On the standardized test here all students must respond to the same prompt - no choice is given.

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    1. I think there has always been a choice of writing topics in Australia Janet - I know there were even back when I sat my end of high school English exams - I guess it gives you a feeling that you have a little bit of control over the end product. It's probably easier to mark standardized ones though!

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  34. What fun! As an author, it didn't make me nervous or sweaty. Back in high school, the writing would have been okay but if I had to read it out loud - OH MY! I was so painfully shy. Thanks for sharing...

    #MLSTL visitor (shared on SM)

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    1. Isn't it funny how different things freak us out Donna? I was terribly shy in school too - it took me a long time to be able to mask that - I think the fact that I'm fair skinned and blush easily was a big problem for me too (now I just ignore it and push on through!)

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