When someone asks “How are you?” (or any of its many variants), there’s always a calculus, isn’t there?
Not just of “Well, how am I actually?” – which can be tricky enough, some days – but of “Is it okay for me to tell this person how I’m actually feeling?” or “Is it appropriate in this social situation for me to just spill my guts, and if yes, to what extent?”
I wonder if this calculus happens for everyone, or if it’s just a symptom of my own tendency to overthink everything.
I imagine a flowchart. Are you at work? Do you know the person who is asking? Do you know them well enough that you would speak with them in an un- or lightly-filtered manner about major life events? Follow the lines and arrows and eventually you will come to one of the outcomes that involves sharing more or less of what is really happening.
This is a little ironic, considering how very un-flowchart-like my thought processes tend to be when I am not following them carefully and deliberately. If I do not force them to slow down and write everything through, I more often find myself somewhere without really having much of an idea how I crossed the intervening space. I have an answer before I have really completely parsed the question. I have teleported to the moon unexpectedly.
(This is not to say that the answers I come to by such proto-thought-processes are wrong, necessarily – often they are correct – but more that my brain is a sort of eager street magician, too quick for the eye to follow.)
In any case, my response lately, should the result of that calculus come out to “Probably best to keep it to the surface level…” has been:
“Well, I’m not sick and the furnace is working. So, okay, I guess!”
This usually gets a chuckle, and it’s meant to. Sort of a badge of how low the bar actually IS right now when it comes to our interior landscapes. I am not actually and immediately suffering? Nothing in my house is actively on fire? Guess everything’s fine then!
This is of course not entirely correct. I am not sick right now, yes. In a pandemic that seems like it will never end and that may have upended most of how we do reality, that is definitely a good thing, though I do not think I am entirely comfortable with the notion that the right answer is for all of us to just get sick, the way everyone expects to get the chicken pox as a kid. Unlike the chicken pox, there can be long-term consequences to this, no?
And yes, the furnace is working. And in weather like we’ve had the last few weeks I am grateful for it, to be sure.
On the spectrum of loss in an article like this one I am barely inconvenienced, so far. All of my friends and family are well. Only one person I know with any degree of depth has gotten sick (though that sickness was, to be fair, quite scary.) I appreciate the author’s thesis that the “and-ness” of things is kind of essential to our humanness, that in the midst of the worst times we will sometimes find joy and in the midst of the most beautiful times, sadness.
Certainly if I take any amount of time to seriously consider how things are Outside – the ridiculous convoy, the climate disaster nobody with power to do anything about is paying attention to, the political garbage fire that is the land of my birth, the bottomless desire of Finance People to invade and monetize every instant of my life – it takes very little time for me to go from zero to literal shrieking rage. (I mean that depressingly literally. I yelled at someone yesterday out of sheer frustration with the fucking stupidity of humanity, and I feel terrible about it. After all, it wasn’t that person’s fault.)
But I also listened to a podcast episode about burrowing owls yesterday, and it was fascinating and delightful – moreso because there are people working to make homes and habitats for them in spaces that used to house less delightful things, like chemical weapons. Also, I mean, look at them.
And I Kickstarted a mildly ridiculous little nerdy thing – a page-a-day calendar that is also an RPG, with little dice and everything, and which would have been a feature at my desk this year if I were…well, more at my desk. And yes, it’s a little goofy. But the moment of levity in the mornings is helping a bit, I think. Just a tiny bite-sized chunk of an adventure every day.
So. All of that and.
It makes “How are you” rather complicated.