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Thursday, December 16, 2010

How Are You?

I work with lots of people. In fact, I've never worked with this many people in my entire life. At my last job, it was me and the boss-- that was it. And that... was a problem. At the psychiatric hospital where I work, I work with many people. Nurses, psych techs, allied therapists, social workers, nurse managers, supervisors, administrators, and the janitors, whom we refer to as "environmental service attendants," thank you very much.

Oh, and who could forget the patients? Not if we tried.

When you come into work in the morning, there are lots of people to greet, and/or they greet you. As soon as the metal door closes behind me, there are staff members sitting, guarding, walking-- there are patients walking, staring, meandering, draped in blankets, doing the slipper-shod, Thorazine Shuffle along the halls. Some are disheveled and disorganized, some are pretty well put together. If you're green, it's occasionally challenging to tell who's a staff member and who's a patient, in certain regrettable instances.

No extrovert by any means, I do make it a point to say "good morning" to as many people as possible when I come into work. There is one staff member with whom we exchange businesslike "Sir's" accompanied by an officious nod. It's nice to have established routines after only three months.

The response to my "Good morning" is invariably "How are you?" or "How're you doing?" I never answer. I didn't really notice that I do this, until I started working in this facility with dozens and dozens of people, and I've caught myself doing it every single day I'm at work. When someone asks me "How're you doing?" I always say, "How are you?" The person in question usually responds with "Good," or "Fine," even though they're usually probably not, and we move on about our business.

I don't know why I do it. Have I decided that how I'm doing is irrelevant-- that I would most likely spout out something that isn't true anyway, so why bother? Am I afraid of saying something dumb, like, "Peachy" or "Ducky"? Or am I hyperaware that the convention of asking people how they're doing and expecting an answer that never reflects the truth isn't a practice worth engaging in?

I don't know.

Every now and then, there's someone at work who will turn it around on me again-- who will catch the avoidance technique that I'm using and call me on it: "Well, how are you?" they'll insist, and I'll be forced to meekly state that I'm "fine."

I rarely am. Whoever is? I'm relieved that I've now worked here long enough that people stop asking me, "So, how do you like it here?" which is a terrible question to ask a new employee, especially if they work at a psychiatric hospital. What are you supposed to say? I invariably replied, "Well, it is what it is." People invariably laughed.

It's no better than asking a newlywed, "So, how's married life?" That question always made me want to vomit straight into the eyes of whomever asked. What a ridiculous, obnoxious, intrusive, insipid question. What the hell are you supposed to say to that?

"Well, it's very much the same as non-married life was, except now I have a ring on my finger and a shared bank account. We don't have a shared email address or customized license plates with our initials, because that's gay. We talk a lot, listen to NPR, watch ridiculous television, laugh, fight, go shopping, and, on a really good night, there's chocolate and/or intercourse."

Maybe I'm just no good at being human, because that's really all this is-- these silly conventions that we've adopted to give us something to say to each other when, probably, there really is nothing to say-- or nothing that ought to be said. This is why I infinitely prefer writing to talking, and I wonder now why I resisted blogging for as long as I did-- because, if someone had told me long ago and far away that there was this great new way to express yourself and you never had to communicate orally with another person, never had to pay heed to societal conventions, never had to worry about saying something idiotic, or stress about awkward silences, or awkward non-silences, man-- I would have been all over that shit.

By the way-- how are you? I really do want to know.


  1. The one I hate the most is on Monday morning when my boss asks, "So how was your weekend?". I can never respond truthfully and say "It was great because I wasn't here."

  2. Oh, no, Barbara! I'm sorry that you're not able to be honest at work. At my place of employ, that's what everybody says to their supervisors on Monday, and everyone laughs.

  3. A little stressed about monies and cars and definitely ready for tomorrow to be my last day of work before a two week Christmas break!

  4. I don't like it when people use 'How are you?' as a greeting. They obviously don't really want to know. Why not say 'Hello', or 'Good morning' or some similar greeting?

    Anyway, in answer to you, I am well thank you. A little chilly (I'm not sure why the heating isn't on), a little stressed, feeling a little like life is going far too quickly (I'm 23 in eight days...what? being surrounded by 18 year-olds doesn't help) but in general happy!


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