“Don’t do anything but wait. Everything will pass, and serenity and accepted mysteries and disillusionments, and the tenderness of a few good people, and new opportunities and ever so much of life, in a word, will remain. You will do all sorts of things yet, and I will help you. The only thing is not to melt in the meanwhile.”
— Henry James, letter to Grace Norton, July 28, 1883
How are you doing?
The question dreaded by all of those dysfunctional souls or otherwise. It’s the kind of question that many people don’t make the time to listen to the answer to before they ask it — and I am not offended by that at all. I understand. I’m no different. It’s human nature. It’s a courtesy. But it, most often, is not the start of a conversation.
And besides, the people who know me best know how I’m doing (much of the time): f.i.n.e. — f*cked up, insecure, neurotic, egotistical. The last thing I want to do is offend my genteel audience, but this acronym is just too good not to share with you. Plus I think that’s how many of us feel, our little, green worlds falling apart one minute only to be spared by whatever or whomever holds us steady after each silent implosion.
This year has been rough for both Sam and me. We’re both doing f.i.n.e., thank you. And who knows why, really? Except, of course, why with a capital “W.” But it’s all of those lowercase “whys” that add up to me feeling like the mad woman in the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
“I don’t like to look out of the windows even—there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?”
There are days when I feel like everyone in the little office in my head has taken the day off and is either throwing a rager or gone home sick, leaving me all too ready to blame someone for not doing enough or not caring enough and just wanting to spend the day in bed, not having the energy to push to maintain the order that keeps my head (and our life) above water.
I don’t share any of this for pity. If you’re continuing to read this blog, then you know how difficult every day must be for us. But I believe in the power of vulnerability and in shared suffering, or suffering shared. You don’t have to be a caregiver for you husband who has ALS to feel like some days you are just going crazy or going through the motions or simply not living.
Cliche? Absolutely. Still, I can’t help but to wonder if a cliche is the truth without your emotion behind it, making it sound empty and devoid of applicability. This concept was presented in How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. A fascinating book on the benefits of LSD to treat everything from anxiety and depression to a terminal cancer patient’s fear of death. If you’re looking for something completely different, it’s worth a read.
Now, back to F.I.N.E.
So, next time someone ask how you’re doing, and you respond fine automatically, remember that acronym. It will force you to take stock of what is really rolling around up there, and do what you need to do to help make your day livable.
There. That’s my tiny offering of help for those days when the world just isn’t right.
I’ve been thinking a lot about distractions and considering how Sam and I use them to leave undesirable places, like in this poem by W.B. Yeats, “The Circus Animals’ Desertion.”
“Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
“[T]he foul rag and bone shop of the heart” … I like that. If your ladder fails you, you fall back to where you started out. You sit. You sort through all of that mess that you want to avoid. Eventually, you begin the climb again.
But maybe Sam and I don’t need another ladder just now. Maybe we begin a new journey here, between musty dreams and ugly disappointments, where all ladders start, just trying not to melt until it all passes.