22 September 2011

Don't Ask

Here's something I and a lot of people with chronic health problems want you to know: We don't really want you to ask us how we're doing.  Assume that if you're talking to us at all, we're not having a "bad" day by our standards.  Our idea of a "good" day is a day that has come and gone without turning into a "bad" day.  It seems obligatory to ask, "How you doin'?" when you see someone.  For a lot of people, it's a rhetorical question.  To those people I say this: expand your damn vocabulary.  There are myriad greetings you can employ that don't specifically ask the other person to comment on how they're doing.  In fact, it's the only form of greeting that does this.  If you're going to greet people for whom how they're doing is a sore subject, then for God's sake open a damn book and learn some other way of approaching them.

Plus, I frankly get tired of being asked how I'm doing instead of what I'm doing.  It reduces me to a subject to be monitored, like you're asking whether the cake is finished baking.  I readily concede that a lot of the times I won't have an answer because I've been too miserable to actually do anything.  But at least by virtue of asking what I've been doing, you'll have participated in the charade that there's more to my life at this point than feeling miserable.  And while I'm at it, I write this blog as much for anyone who might have reason to ask me what, or how, I'm doing as I do for myself.

I understand I can't go to ballgames and concerts with you like I used to, or stay up all night playing Clue and drinking wine.  It's not your fault I can't be there, I get that.  But this blog is where I make note of things, hoping that you'll actually read it and check in with me here.  Few of you ever actually do, of course, and often whenever I bring up something in conversation that I've discussed in this blog, I get the response, "Yeah, I saw that."  It'd be nice if, once in a while, you took thirty seconds to type, "Sounds good/That sucks/Really?!/some kind of reaction" just to acknowledge that you're aware I've shared my thoughts on a subject.  You get to hang out with real, live human beings for interaction but I don't.  I'm willing to do the lion's share of the work here; you don't have to meet me half way by maintaining a blog of your own.  But seriously, people, unless I hear more from you than a rhetorical "How you doin'?" I'll be left with the conclusion that all I am at this point is a condition to be evaluated.  Believe me, that's a deplorable reduction for a human being.


  1. Becky Connell9/23/2011 7:52 AM

    Omg, I hope I didnt type that to you in Joey/slash friends monologue i use in my head but don't connotate in read form. I feel for you, Travis, think of you often, pray for you daily, and am glad you share so freely. I will come here more, your Latin ahem skeeved me out a bit, as I felt I was inferior to your knowledge level, but we are friends, we are equals and I care what you do, and I do care how you are, and I know you do the same of me. But I agree, with the philosophy behind such blatant questions, that none want a real valid answer to. Other than, good, better, ok. If we divulge even a twinge or sense of otherwise people literally shut down right in front of us, as if to put up a wall from catching our reality. So who is the one lost in this I guess...............the answer for me is easy to see. -Becky Connell

  2. "Joey/slavish Friends monologue" HA HA HA! That's exactly what I hoped someone would think of when I typed it that way. (See, even when I'm angry, I have a sense of whimsy!) No one should really take this as being directed at them personally; it wasn't. It was more of a cumulative, "I wish people in general knew this" kind of thing.

    Don't ever be intimidated by my vocabulary, or anyone else's! I make a concerted effort not to get too showy with my vocabulary, but over the years I've just gotten so used to writing and speaking this way that I don't always realize it when I do. Don't be afraid to say, "Hey, Travis; how 'bout you speak some English the rest of the world uses?" Believe me; no one in my family would hesitate to call me out on this!

    I think what irks me most about "How you doin'?" as a greeting is that, like I said, it's the only form of greeting someone that asks about their condition. If you're catching up with someone whose condition is typically pretty good, it's a harmless enough question. But for someone like us, where how we're doing is pretty much our #1 concern at any given moment, it's just bothersome. I know people don't mean anything by it, and I try to be patient and let stuff go but I've been in a funk for a while now and I'm getting bitchier by the day.

  3. Of course, whats even worse. Is if someone asks how you are you tell them and they stand there with that look on their face (saying I really did not want to hear all of that). You do have a great point. I feel very lucky to get to know you.

  4. Worse still is when nobody acknowledges you in the first place. I sometimes get moody and overlook things like that. Even a thoughtless "How you doin'?" beats being ignored entirely. At least if they ask--even if they don't really want an answer--they paid you the courtesy of being polite enough to ask.

  5. Derek Armstrong9/24/2011 11:25 PM

    Actually, "How's it going" is a second one that accomplishes that. ;-)

    While I understand your frustration, I also think that it's one of those things that's just part of our social contract. Maybe we DON'T really want the answer, unless we look deeply into your eyes with that unmistakeable expression of "No, I really want to know." But I think it's kind of a placeholder, something that just gets the conversation started -- and maybe eventually in that conversation we'll actually find out what each other is doing, and possibly the state of our respective physical healths if it seems relevant to where the conversation is going.

    As a writer, I'm sure you appreciate the value of placeholders. Early on in most of our writing careers, when we were writing dialogue between characters, we probably liked to use a lot of different synonyms for "said," thinking that the repeated use of the word "said" would make us bad writers. But the real bad writing is when there's an exchange between two characters, and on each new line there's a synonym for "said," such as "exclaimed," "commented" or "shouted." "Said" basically serves as a colon: we just put it in there for some basic flow.

    I don't know if that's actually germane to what you're talking about or just a tangent of questionable relevance. But I've already typed it out and am going to leave it.

    Even though I don't know you personally, just reading your writing, in several formats, has made me care about you and interested me in your life. If I don't comment on this particular blog as much as I probably should, it's because I thought I'd get more on movies here, and instead it's 98% about comic books. ;-) Anyway, I'm reading -- as often as the father of a 1-year-old who's involved in my own blog and trying to watch as many movies as I can, can manage to read!

    Oh, another thing -- sometimes I don't remember to circle back and read if you commented back, if it seems like you asked a question in your comment and I failed to answer it. Even though I've signed up to be notified of new comments on this blog, for some reason it doesn't work and I never get notified. Why don't you switch to Blogger already? ;-)

    I'll try to circle back on this one, especially if you respond promptly.

  6. Derek,

    I thought about "How's it going?" but it can be interpreted to allude to a more general query of live. For instance, if you ask me, "How's it going?" at this exact moment, I might answer, "Better for me than my wife [who is in pain following a nasty fall]." This way, I'm able to answer you while still being able to segue to something other than my own specific condition.

    Yes, I do recognize its value as a generic placeholder. As I've indicated, it's a perfectly acceptable placeholder with most people. I'm not trying to revolutionize our social contract or get "How you doin'?" banned or anything like that. Just trying to make the point that, when the addressee has a chronic health concern that dominates their daily life, it's an irksome placeholder. Healthy people have no reason to think about all this, and I realize that; I didn't think much of it myself, though it was never a salutation I favored anyway (unless I was in a Sopranos mood in which case it can be fun to talk like a mobster and "How you doin'?" is great for that).

    Also, as I stated in another comment, no one ought to take this post as being directed at them personally. You're kind and gracious to read what I write at all, much less respond to it. I'm in a particular funk right now because of this damn vitamin D deficiency, which isn't improving. It's like a bad hangover that just won't go away.

    As for the content of this blog, yeah, I've been meaning to write more about movies but the thing is, I insist on watching all the content of a DVD or Blu-ray before I review it here and I haven't polished off anything in a while (though a massive review of Criterion's 8 1/2 Blu is forthcoming). And, of course, often when I have movie-specific content to write, it goes to Flickchart's blog rather than here. I figure it's likelier to find an audience there.

    Lastly, I have no idea what's up with the subscription feed. I'm not tech savvy enough to know whether I can do anything about it on my end, I'm afraid!

  7. Derek Armstrong9/25/2011 1:44 PM

    Just wanted to let you know I circled back. ;-)

    I didn't think this post was directed at me -- why would it be? However, I felt I needed to give what might stand in as an answer for a number of your readers -- generic enough while hopefully making useful points.

    I'll be curious to see what you thought of 8 1/2. I have it ranked pretty high in Flickchart, but I think that's out of a general respect than a specific love I have for it. (I'm not a huge Fellini fan in general.) I should see it again.

  8. After I thought about your subscription woes, Derek, I set up a Wordpress blog. I've imported the entirety of this blog there, and I believe it's set up to automatically import future posts so if you have better luck with the Wordpress interface, that might be the way to go: http://travismcclain.wordpress.com/. Also, I've got a similar arrangement on Tumblr--though that blog has added content whenever I come across stuff online I want to share, just because it's so easy to reblog via Tumblr.http://travismcclain.tumblr.com/.

    As for 8 1/2 I can tell you that my initial reaction when I first streamed it earlier in February was much the same as yours; I could appreciate why it was held in high esteem enough that I wasn't going to be the one arrogant enough to say, "Meh" about it, but it didn't bowl me over. But then I let it germinate for a while, and I snagged the Criterion Blu-ray at Half Price Books over the summer for a paltry $12.00 and I recently broke it out for a Criterion viewing challenge in which I'm participating this month and after gorging on its bonus content, I feel I have a much firmer grasp of it. More importantly, I'm in a very different place mentally and emotionally right now than I was in February and this time I found it did get under my skin. I'll, of course, elaborate more in the forthcoming post but I figured you were owed at least a preview. ;-)

    Also, my review will have extensive comments on all the bonus content. There's a lot of that, but I emphasize bonus content in my DVD/Blu-ray Disc reviews. It may necessitate being broken into two posts, really. I'll have to see.

  9. I don't comment a lot on your blog, but I always enjoy the entries about chronic health issues ("enjoy" probably isn't the right word - I'm glad you write them). I have rheumatoid arthritis which is under control off-and-on. Meds handle most regular day-to-day life but stress, lack of sleep, and extra physical activity all trigger nasty flare-ups... so college can be rather icky.

    While "How you doin'?" doesn't bother me, I've never known quite how to respond to "Are you okay?" - the question people usually pose to me when they notice I *am* in pain. Am I okay? Well... obviously I'm hurting, and will be for awhile, since even the shortest flare-ups last for a day or so. This one could go on for weeks or months. I don't know. So in that sense I'm not okay. But maybe when I lie down it'll relieve some of the pain, and emotionally I'm coping, if frustrated right now, and there's nothing they could really do to help me anyway, so... "Yeah, I'm okay." If you want to know if you can do anything to help, ask that. If you want to know if I am about to have a meltdown, ask that. Vague questions will get vague answers.

    Living with chronic pain just changes the way you structure things... little throwaway statements become much bigger deals.

    Uh. No deep useful comments here. Mostly just saying good blog post, and sharing a bit of my story.

  10. Just wanted to let you know my review of "8 1/2" has gone up: http://travismcclain.blogspot.com/2011/09/8-12-criterion-collection-blu-ray-disc.html