Last week I missed my deadline and failed to publish a post. This was in part because my life took a turn for the frenetic and in other part because my life took a turn for the morose. The kind of week where asking me how I’m doing, or how my day was, was a social minefield. An emotional minefield for me because I have a split second to decide if I’m going to speak, cry or run away and hide; or pretend to be someone to whom that question is a simple one to answer. My current best response (I tried it out on a Potential New Friend) to being asked how I’m doing is to say: would you like polite fiction, creative fiction, an aspect of the truth or outright lies? In the case in point my companion took the oh-so-subtle-hint that perhaps this wasn’t the question they wanted to lead with and saying so turned to a different subject.
I grew up in the military. So I’m quite familiar with ridiculously codified and specific means of communication. When my family is out of town I’m required to send them a daily sitrep normal message. We have SOPs for organising chores (and most of the rest of our collective lives) and quite a few EVAC procedures. When I’m asked for a quick response in the affirmative I will often say wilco (and wonder later why I didn’t just say ‘okay’). The point is, that I’m okay with specific and general codified conversations. And for the most part this is what most of everyday polite conversation is: a fixed series of call and response codes. What makes it interesting to me is that most people don’t like to think of them as such. Any suggestion that they don’t actually care to hear the answer to their question usually results in either blank incomprehension or defensive consternation. I have to work hard at understanding this. And cultural and class differences in the worlds I inhabit do not make it an easy task. Just when I think I have mastered the rules of one context, I am confronted with a variation that I then need to figure out the magnitude of.
Coping with polite conversation has become just another exercise in how to be inoffensively disingenuous. Which just keeps taking me closer to my when-in-doubt-lie theorem of social interaction. Which is occasionally underrating the intelligence and interest of the persons you’re talking to, but mostly safe! Which still leaves me the far greater problem of how to deal with the things that people say that go beyond confusing me to outright offensiveness. Like when they use words like ‘lame’, ‘gay’, ‘crazy’ and ‘gypped’. Whether or not I challenge them each time they say something offensive often depends on how many spoons I have on me at the time. And how angry it makes me. I have this mechanism by which an excess of anger either leads to the spontaneous generation of a tiny ball of energy or a deluge of tears.
I have therefore come up with a few things that you should probably think about before saying to me that come under the umbrella of polite but problematic questions, namely: How’re you feeling? How’re you doing? How’s it going? What have you been up to? These are problematic because I could be having a really messy time and you may not be prepared to hear the response. General rule of thumb… don’t ask me a question if you don’t want to hear the answer. Also don’t ask me a question if there is a correct response that you have not advised me of. And don’t expect me to be the filter in your brain that determines whether a question/response is appropriate or offensive.
There is a another list of things that you should not say to me. Or to anyone else. At all. Ever. This I shall compile at a later date. Right now it is enough that I have posted something this week.