"How are you?"
"Fine, thanks. You?"
"Not bad, not bad..."
Does this sort of conversation sound familiar? It's the type of exchange that I have been part of many times over the years but now, more than ever, the absence of meaning within it has been pulled more sharply into focus. It's a convention of small talk to ask how a person is, usually without any expectation of receiving a complete answer. I have often wondered what the response would be to a full and honest answer. Then again, I am usually the one who is choosing to respond with a quick "fine" - it's the easy option, right?
'Fine' is the 'go to' response. 'Fine' means I don't have to think about other ways to respond. It spares others from having to listen to a list of my current worries and also spares me from having to admit that I am not actually 'fine' at all. I'm guessing that is mostly understood by all involved anyway. It's all part of the "keep calm and carry on" philosophy but where do we draw the line and recognise that we have to start paying attention to the elephant in the room? Surely there comes a time when we do actually have to talk about the issues in order to try to fix them.
This is true of any time but now there is the backdrop of this interminably relentless pandemic adding to that conflict. There are no end times and distinct cut off points in sight. Our goals are hesitantly set and then almost immediately, moved further away from us. So it feels impossible to set our own action plans as a way to manage any personal difficulties. How can we lay down markers for ourselves to achieve, when we are figuratively stuck in this bog, going nowhere, as the mass of self-doubt and anxiety pulls us down into the mud to hinder our way ahead?
Of course the word 'fine' does have its positive credentials. A quick look at a dictionary definition will tell how it indicates something of very high quality, like a fine wine that we would all be happy to toast with, or the report of fine weather forecast for a weekend ahead. Nothing ambiguous about those. I'm not sure that my type of fine day meets that criteria though. Here are my top ten moments of a 'fine day.'
1 manage to ignore the voice in my head telling me to stay under the duvet
2 squeeze myself into one of the few pairs of jeggings that still fit over my swelling tummy bulge and disguise what's left with a baggy jumper
3 accept that my hair will do, having scrapped the long wayward mess of it into a ponytail - it hasn't been cut for almost a year now and has more roots on show than any highlights that were ever added to it
4 feel good that I've got out of bed and am making my breakfast before 10 am
5 tell myself that my instant coffee in my favourite mug is just as good as the coffee shop experience that I used to revel in as I played out the role of writer in my head
6 face the daily dilemma in all of this - will I or won't I be able to drag words out of my head and onto a page to arrange into something that may be of interest to someone?
7 look in the cupboard where biscuits and chocolates call to me, there are still quite a lot left over from Christmas to tempt me - one chocolate bar is okay, right?
8 after walking the dog around the legally-permissible local route, try to write again and manage to avoid the news and social media headlines of vaccines and death figures
9 cook dinner from the now overly familiar ingredients we stock each week, thinking as I stir fry the peppers or mash the spuds, of a time when we might go out for a meal and sit alongside people that we don't live with
10 stay up too late watching a stream of TV lifestyle moments, mildly amusing comedy shows, some celebrity walking a coastline or climbing a rock face, films from a different era, escapism to a different time or place, - anything that distracts the mind to help it to go off to sleep when I finally get off the sofa and into bed after midnight, to start off another fine day again the next morning and repeat it all again.
At this point I wish to make it clear that I am completely aware that this is indeed a privileged existence. I don't have to get on a crowded tube train, battle my way into work, or follow what must feel like endless restrictions or conditions within a workplace. I have food in my cupboards and a roof over my head and every day in this dystopian existence, I am grateful for this and saddened by stories of those who are struggling, missing out on furlough, falling through the cracks and such. I heard this discussed a little in a recent podcast by Elis James and John Robins The presenters discussed how some people are having to use their savings to weather the storm that we all find ourselves in. Agreeing that everyone is having a succession of rainy days but that "some people have been given umbrellas." How true, that we're not all experiencing this storm from the same viewpoint.
Still, I can only speak of my own experience, from my viewpoint. So I have to ask if it is wrong to seek an end to this destruction or to be disturbed by the fact that I cannot do anything about it? As a mother, I want to be able to reassure my children that things will be resolved, to offer a brighter future. Mothers always make things right, don't they? I cannot do this though, I have no answers and no way to make everything okay. When asked what I think will happen and when I think we will start getting back to some sort of normal, I wish I could say what they want to hear me say. That everything will be fine. Can somebody please tell me this will be so and this time, can 'fine' mean just that - the best of something? Until then, a satisfactory day will have to do.
"How are you feeling?"
"Oh, I'm fine thank you. I'm still here and Spring is coming and I'm absolutely fine."
Making the most of a fine day, pausing to look at the sunshine on a recent dog walk.