"How are you?"
In an IM conversation the other morning, it suddenly occurred to me for the very first time, what this "how are you?" question means.
(Americans, of course, ask the question twice, which confuses Europeans. When we greet you at the door we say "Hi! How you doin'? Come sit down!" This first "how are you?" is phatic; it's a synonym for "hello". We don't want to know, yet. Then, when we have gotten coffee and sat down, we say, "so... how are you?" Then we want you to tell us. It's this second question I'm referring to.)
I have always found it a frustrating question to answer, because I sort of feel under pressure to produce some kind of statistically accurate survey of my life. Like I ought to assign a rating each to health, parenting, day job, writing, finances, life management, marriage, sports, travel, entertainment, social life, gabbanut, reactions to politics and art and events in the wider world -- each one of which would itself, of course, be an average across finer-grained subregions (e.g. "the novel's going slow, but I just wrote a short story")... and integrate across them to yield up a quantitative summary, a "Great!", "Fine", or "Not so good."
Because it is always "great!" in some regards and "not so good" in others, isn't it?
Since most people do not have such difficulties, I would wonder whether other people's various realms of life were more likely to travel in phase with one another than mine; or if other people usually had some monumental event going on, good or bad, which drowned out all other signals.
But now I've finally figured out what the question actually means.
It doesn't mean "give me a statistically accurate reading on your total state." It just means "tell me a true story about your life right now"!
This means I can actually, in good conscience, construct a narrative capturing just one particular salient facet of my life. That is a much easier problem! Instead of suffering the acute cognitive load of some kind of total survey, I can just pick a topic and begin!
Imagine the improved conversational efficiencies I am about to reap!
So, in this regard anyway, I am doing great!
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