To Bemoan or Not to Bemoan, That is the Question

You have arrived at the party in a totally vile mood; you feel as if you have fifty-pound weights dragging on your soul.  Everything in your life seems to be going wrong.  And yet, (for whatever reason) here you are stuck in a room full of people who are talking and laughing and seem to be having a wonderful time.

You can’t imagine making smalltalk.  You don’t feel like forcing a smile, and you are completely dreading the question “How are you?” because you are very much afraid you are going to answer with the truth, and the truth is, “Horrible, just horrible.”  You know this is not acceptable.  Negativity, like dirty laundry, is something we all have but are supposed to keep tucked safely away at social events. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything,” people always say, and “Laugh and the world laughs with you; Cry and you cry alone.”  Or “Don’t’ be a Debbie Downer.”

But are these adages true?  Should you always suck it up and fake it, or can you--do you dare to--tell people how you really feel?  Is there an acceptable way to reveal your sorry state of mind?

Here is a little quiz for those times when you find yourself mingling under your own personal black cloud, and someone asks “How are you?”  Should you or should you not use the following lines:

Line:  “Well, if you don’t count today, I am doing great!”  
(YES   This may be not entirely true, as you may not be “doing great” in any way you can possibly imagine, but it does acknowledge your current frustration, so you won’t have to completely hide your bad mood.)

Line:  “Well, I guess a lot of us are doing pretty poorly in this world, right?” 

(NO.    This line pretends to be about something other than just you, but you might as well paste a big “L” on your forehead.)

Line:  “Don’t ask.”

(NO.  This is a sure fire conversation-stopper because--they won’t.)

Line “Okay, and you?”
(YES.   Nothing wrong with boring.  It’s better than morose.  But you better hope the other person has something to say.)

Line:  “I’ll be much better after I have a drink!”
(YES.   I like this one.  But you have to be sure of your crowd.)

Line:  “Oh my god, just wait until you hear about the terrible things that have been happening to me."

(NO.   “Wait until I hear?”  Hmmm.  Why don’t I wait over on the other side of the room, while talking to some other people who are a little more fun?)

Line:  “Actually I’m only so-so.  But I am really more interested in how YOU are.” 

YES.   An excellent response, providing it does not come off as fake or condescending.  If you are not sincere, you must at least sound sincere.

Line:  “I’m swell.  By the way do you know if there is any arsenic in the house?”
(MAYBE.   This is so out there you may be able to get away with it  But only use this if you are at a party of unconventional guests--or very good friends.)

Line:  (With a grateful, warm smile) “Until this very second, I was having quite a bad day.”

(YES.   This is the very best line, and can double as a romantic line.  You never know, with a line like this your whole miserable life could turn around, fast.)


City Blockers

Combine one part apathy, one part narcissism and one part urban-burnout and what do you get?  You get a Way-blocker.

There are all types of people who can be In the Way, to whom one can assign varying degrees of culpability.  People who are obstructing your view in a theater or at a parade simply because they are tall can not be blamed at all (though I think anyone over 6’ 4” should really consider sitting in the back--especially if they are thinking of sitting in front of me.)  Awe-struck tourists who stand in the middle of the sidewalk looking up may be irritating when you are late for work but ultimately must be forgiven for their naiveté.  Parents who block aisles and crosswalks with huge baby strollers do sometimes appear to have a sense of entitlement about their procreative right to slow up the world, but still, one has to take a deep breath and let them off the hook. (I mean, they can’t carry those kids around on the tops of their heads, and one must remember that most of them are majorly sleep-deprived.)  Even people who are talking on cell phones, oblivious to the flow around them, can be seen as distracted more than destructive.  Slow walkers, folks walking four abreast, people with poor shopping cart control--these are minor hinderers who can be frustrating, but for whom we all have to muster a little patience.

However, there is one form of offender that, in my book, can not be excused:  these are the people who stand smack in the way of the subway doors--when there is plenty of room further in the car--impeding the other passengers from getting on and off.

What can these blockading blockheads be thinking?  Do they really want the train to take longer? In fact, the act of standing still in public doorways of any kind is a mystery to me, unless there is a possibility of an earthquake.  I mean, you have to be from another planet not to understand what a doorway is for. A doorway is like a faucet, a highway, or a digestive tract. You can’t just hang out in the opening--in the middle of the passageway--without getting some kind of a jam or a clog.

As a society we are becoming increasingly less aware of the needs and feelings of others around us (and yes, I am so often on this particular bandwagon I get Frequent Complainer Miles). Subway door blockers seem to me to be an obvious symptom of this deterioration. But is it possible that in this case I am guilty of a similar kind of narcissism or insensitivity? After all, there are always two sides, two perspectives. If I am on my bike on the Hudson River path, for example, I sometimes can not believe the cluelessness of pedestrians; but when I am walking on that same path I can be similarly miffed at careless people whizzing by on their bikes. So maybe I am not seeing things from the subway door-blockers’ point of view.  If so, I do apologize. 

Now please get out of my way.


Freelancer's Lament

I woke up this morning in a state of panic. There was a gnawing in my stomach and a buzzing in my head. Through mounting guilt and fear,  I began--feverishly--to plan my day: No more putting it off, I just had to get my lying around done.

The day before had been one of those frustrating days when everything seemed to happen just to keep me from lying around.  Meetings, conference calls, you name it. Now I had so much lying around to do I didn't know how I was going to accomplish it; it was several days worth and it seemed undoable. Especially since I had been up late three nights already last week trying to catch up, and my body was really starting to feel it. But there was nothing to do, after all, except to go ahead and get as much lying around done in one day as I could. I knew the lying around wasn’t going to get done by itself.

I dragged my body out of bed and into the shower, telling myself I’d start lying around immediately after breakfast--no more procrastination!  But then of course, as always happens, the phone rang. It was my friend Jimmy.  “What are you up to?” he asked.

 “Listen, Jimmy, don’t try to distract me today. I goofed off enough yesterday, and I have a ton of lying around to do.”

“Oh, come on! All you ever do is lie around. We hardly ever see you any more.”

“Look,” I said, feeling very annoyed, “I don’t happen to have other people to do my lying around for me like you do, okay?  Now let me get back to it. I was right in the middle of a really decent doze. Call you later. Bye.” I had neglected to tell him, of course, that I hadn’t even BEGUN to lie around. Which I promised myself I would do, right after the letters I felt I just had to write to my accountant, my publisher and my agent. So much for the morning.

After lunch the pressure was really getting to me, so I actually got down to some serious lying around at 2:45. At 2:55, however, the doorbell rang. “Damn,” I muttered, rolling off the sofa. When I opened the door, I found my upstairs neighbor Lisa standing there, a tense look on her face.

“Jeanne--darling!--God I am so glad you’re home. I’m in the most dreadful fix. Really, if you hadn’t been home I don’t know what I would have done....”

“Lisa, can you cut to the chase please? I’m kind of busy today.”

 “Well, it’s just that I’ve been asked at the last minute--the last second really--to chair a committee meeting I simply can’t say no to, and well, the thing is I haven’t been lying around as much as I need to and I thought, you’re such a sweetie...”

Hold it!” I yelled.  Then I took a deep breath. “Look, I’d like to help you out, but I have way too much of my own lying around to do and I am about to have a nervous breakdown.” I squinted my eyes at her. “Besides, Lisa, I seem to remember some lying around I did for you last month you never thanked me for.”

Lisa tossed her head. “Oh, well, if you are going to make a big deal out of a little lying around!” And she huffed down the hall.

I slammed the door. I went back into the living room, fully intending to hoist myself back onto the sofa, but I was so upset I decided to wash and repaint the kitchen cabinets.

Well, you can guess what happened. After I finished in the kitchen I was too revved up for lying around, so I worked on my taxes.  In short, I have spent another entire day avoiding the lying around I was supposed to do. I probably won’t be able to sleep tonight from worrying about it.

I don’t know why I seem so incapable of lying around. Maybe I need to see a shrink, to find out why I am constantly sabotaging myself.  And anyway, there’s usually a couch in a shrink’s office, isn’t there? You never know, I could get some major lying around done.