Stiff upper lip


I feel happy. It’s a happy day. Everybody’s feeling happy. Are you happy, too? Don’t let me down, bro. I really need this.

“How are you doing?”

There are two ways to answer that question.

A. You say, “Good. And you?” OR

B. You tell the tr…

I’ll save you the trouble of finishing that thought. The answer is A. Everybody knows the answer is A.

If anybody wanted to know the real truth about your current level of happy-joyousness– –exactly how little sleep you got last night, or how hard this new diet is, or how hung over you are, or how those stilettos are killing you, or how that rash you were telling him about yesterday is starting to freak you out– –they wouldn’t have waited until a random three-second passing in the hallway or at Target to ask.

They would have called. Or texted. Or visited.

Did they call? Or text? Or visit? Hmm?

lined up
Hey, you guys. Listen up! Kevin’s just ahead. He’s asking how everybody is. Get ready! It’s almost your turn. Pass it back!

Anything more than “Good–and you?” is uncalled for detail. Give a guy a break. Kevin has got 500 other people to greet this morning before he can get his coffee. Keep the line moving. Let’s go. Let’s go.

Man, you’re bringing us down!

But what if you feel really bad, and you want somebody to know? And you’ve got their ear, and feel like, come on, you’re both human, and maybe they should know you better so you can be a little more human with each other.

Well, I’ll tell you what– –even if you do tell them what’s up with you, there is nothing they can do with that information. Not really.

Do you want commiseration? Is that it? Sympathy. Support, maybe.

Sure, right? Sometimes. Everybody wants that sometimes. Except maybe the silent hero type.

So, I’ve got this huge blister on my heel. Size of like a silver dollar, at least. Maybe bigger. It’s okay when I don’t have to walk on it, but when I do, my sock slides down and my boot just rubs it raw. Hurts like a son of a bitch. I was thinking of breaking it, you know, popping it, but I heard that’s a bad idea. Infection, I guess. Something like that. And to top it off, this cold has totally settled in my chest. When I wake up, I feel all phlegmy, and cough until my throat hurts. Oh, sorry, I’ll have a shot of whiskey.

When you’re with a friend and blurt, “Oh, I’ve got such a headache,” what do you think is going to happen? Nothing, right? Nothing was ever going to happen. They say, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” That’s it. You just want someone to know, and maybe, magically, take an ounce of your pain– –but it doesn’t really work that way. Your head still hurts.

But there we are, saying it anyway, thinking something might be different this time.

If you were walking around outside, and the sky looked bright red to you, and the grass was purple, and cats were talking and gerbils were driving cars and and pandas were playing chess in the park, and you knew that nobody else was seeing it, you’d want to mention it to somebody. Otherwise, it’s like you’re alone in that world with the red sky and purple grass and mammals savant.

starry night
No, Vincent. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Seriously. It doesn’t look like that to me. No, I’m not messing with you! No swirls. No luminous tracks. None. I’m sorry. I can’t see it. I don’t know why it looks like that to you.

But they’re not going to get it. If you are feeling depressed, or anxious, and try to explain it to someone, it just sounds foolish. Unless you’re weeping. Then it’s foolish and awkward.


Here’s why: it sounds like bitching, no matter how you play it. And it’s lame. You might as well be saying, “I have a real bad problem with gas. I know it doesn’t look like it. I try to hide it. But every day, all the time, every time you see me, the truth is that I really, really want to fart. It’s everything I can do to hold it in.”

Oh. Charming. Thanks for stopping by.

weirded out
What? TMI?

They might try to understand. Some people do. They make an effort. But they’ll have questions.

“You’re saying you’re on fire. But I don’t see any flames. How could it hurt if I don’t see any flames?

OK, they’ll probably say something more like, “But I don’t get it. You don’t look like you’re depressed. You do normal stuff and sound like everybody else. I heard you laughing a little bit ago.”

Or, “What are you worried about? Everything is fine. And you seem okay. Just learn to let it go! You’re making too big a deal about stuff.”

Okay, go. One word. Two syllables. Um… freak out? No, that’s two words. Um… worried? N0? Frightened? Do something else! I don’t get it. No! Time’s up. What was that? Anxious? I don’t get anxious from that. You suck.

Well, you can’t walk around sobbing just to demonstrate your emotional situation, right? Or jump at every sound to try to mime “anxious.” You can, but then the whole “bring-them-into-your-world” motivation has been discarded in favor of drama and deception, in favor of self-serving pity. I think there was probably a very special episode of Facts of Life where Tootie discovered this bit of wisdom. It certainly feels like the sort of thing Cindy Brady would learn after a series of hijinks on a Friday night circa 1970.

I learned my lesson, daddy. I’ll never try to dramatize my tragic inner life through kabuki and shadow puppets again, even if Alice does ask me how I’m feeling. [Audience laughs.]
So, you do you best to act normal. Put on your normal face and normal skin and wear them around, and train your voice to sound normal, and practice including your eyes when you smile so you don’t spook people. And if anybody asks how you’re doing, for the love of all that’s holy, just say,

“Good. And you?”

I’m so happy.

Keep clicking your heels, Dorothy. Maybe you’ll get there.

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