How are you?

By Mary Hendrie

Letters

Hey John,

Thanks for the note on my wall. Your exuberant “hello” was heartening like good soup on a bad day, which isn’t to say yesterday was bad. It was a good day. I heard from you, after all, and work went pretty well. Aside from the hour I spent looking through photos of friends I no longer speak to, I’d say the overall experience for the day was net positive.

But it’s a funny thing when people write on your wall and want to know, “How are you?” It’s a more sincere question than the passing-in-the-grocery-store variety, but it’s loaded, and it can’t really be answered via wall post.

How am I? Well, I’m alive, but somewhat disillusioned. I miss the slow, easy life of our hometown, but I don’t miss the ignorance of some of the people. I quit smoking since we last spoke, and sometimes I wish I hadn’t.

I live near DC, where the air quality is toxic, and I know because they tell me every day on the radio about the air quality — code orange, which means we should all avoid strenuous outdoor activity. I’d like to lose a little weight, but that’s hard to do with all these codes to follow.

Every day, I drive home and scan the radio for familiar songs to fight off the particular loneliness that breeds in my car, and when Morrisey comes on, I belt out all the words, right or wrong.

I have a good job in a boring city, a great husband, and a normal sex life, I think (but I don’t know what’s normal). Oh, and I wrote a book of sorts, but actually it was my grad school thesis, and I can’t bring myself to look at the thing for editing purposes or to print copies to send to agents, so it’s just sitting on my shelf now. Some of it is pretty good.

To tell the truth, when I look at all our old friends on Facebook, the people who are outrageous and fabulous and those whose lives are quiet and generic, I feel I’ve lost something. I’ve been hollowed out a bit, and I don’t know how it happened or if I am alone. I feel I’ve had limbs severed, but all my parts are here. I wasn’t looking when this phantom part of me died, so I’m not really sure what I’m trying to revive.

I have not yet joined the ranks of lonely folks who teach their pet birds to sing pop songs, but I have lost a couple cats. Anyway, I guess birds do it for some people. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t like birds much.

The truth is, I keep waiting, John. I keep thinking something amazing will happen, and then I’ll feel right. Like the book I’m meant to write will just spontaneously come into being as a best seller. Then I’ll feel like the person I was always meant to be. Like my ship has come in, right? But until then … until then …

Well, I took a bike ride after work, and I went down to the grocery store just to see if I could do it. I wanted to go inside and buy some squash to cook for dinner, but I didn’t know what to do with my bike while I went inside, so I just turned around and rode back home. It was fun, anyway.

And tonight, we’ll celebrate my husband’s birthday with a few friends at the house. Our house. Did I tell you I own a house now? We’ll eat crabs and drink beer on the back deck. We have a lot of trees, which are pretty, and a nice view of a little creek. After dinner, we’ll watch a movie. It’ll be fun. Maybe before the night is over someone will end up naked, but most of our friends have outgrown that.

I was about to say life ain’t half bad, but maybe it is, John. But even if it is, 50% is better than some presidents get. And the truth is, at least I have people, ya know? At least I love someone and go outside sometimes. Code orange be damned, right?

So, how are you?

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MARY HENDRIE (formerly Mary Richert) is a writer living and working near Annapolis, MD. Her blog is missdirt.net. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College. You can also find her on Twitter, @MissDirt. Mary really likes it when people comment on her blog or talk to her on Twitter so she can meet new people and get new ideas, so feel free to say hello any time.

32 responses to “How are you?”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    Mary,

    Your life sounds pretty good to me.
    Really.

  2. Ellie Di says:

    I’ve often angsted over this question on Facebook for the exact same reasons. Or on Twitter. Or in chat. Or in emails. There’s so much to say and so many details to get lost or forgotten. It never feels right to tell someone how I’ve been – not because I’m ashamed or boring but because there’s so much to say that I don’t know where to start or what should be left out.

    • Mary Richert says:

      It’s a gigantic question, right? I almost think it should be banned. But it’s sincere sometimes, and I do appreciate when someone actually does care. Which reminds me… I have e-mails to respond to.

  3. Matt says:

    My current standard answer to this question is “The usual: straddling that fine line between homicidal rage and suicidal depression.” Usually get an interesting response in return.

    Looking at this summary, I think you can safely put a check mark in the “good” column.

    • Mary Richert says:

      Isn’t just saying “I’m good,” a terrible answer? My friend John was kind enough to respond with a similarly detailed reflection on life up till now. That, after all, is why we became friends… Well, that, and I had locked myself out of my car and he happened to know how to jimmy the lock. Good guy. 😀

  4. I have spent most of my life wondering what would happen if. I decided that I wouldn’t ever wait for anything. I walk in and ask for what I want. Sometimes I take it. I make the things happen that I think need to happen.

    And I feel good about that. I feel like I’ve done my part. The only thing I can’t control is how other people react. I’m not going to write a best seller. I tried my best. I did my best. And even though my book tanked, I have a book, and I learned a lot. I might do it differently next time, but I wouldn’t undo it.

    Don’t look at your MS. Write a query, find some agents, and let them look at it. But don’t wait.

  5. I STILL read it as no titties. 😀

  6. Richard Cox says:

    It’s so tempting to wait for the big thing that will propel one to greatness. And that thing John Lennon said. I won’t bother quoting it but it’s totally true. One day you look up and realize half your life has passed by and you can hardly say what you did with it all.

    As long as you keep writing, though, and spend time with your husband and friends, you’re doing all right, I think.

    If you published a book I would be first in line to buy it. I love the way you write.

  7. This letter quickly turned out to be beautiful. The kind that makes your day, in fact. I’ve frequently gotten stuck on a reply to these very same type of pings, so thanks for this minor catharsis. Also thanks for lines like this – “I wasn’t looking when this phantom part of me died, so I’m not really sure what I’m trying to revive.” Perfect.

  8. david f says:

    Hey monkey. So from one of those old friends on facebook– i’m so glad i clicked through to read this. Regardless of career despondency, quarter-life existentialism or anything else– you’re the real deal, and that is SOMETHING.

    Incidentally, should your book be published, you’ll have at least one person who’ll fork out for the hard cover.

    (that’s me!)

    • Mary Richert says:

      David, it was so nice to get this comment from you, especially. I hope you’re well. I’ll work on that whole publishing bit. 🙂

    • Mary Richert says:

      One more thing, I would like to add that of all the people I know, David, you’re probably one of the few who I’ve ever hoped would consider me “the real deal.” Lots of people are assholes with meaningless opinions, but your opinion has always had some real weight.

  9. Judy Prince says:

    Mary, this creates and evokes a mood splendidly—-that vague ennui which spreads like oil in one’s psyche, which seems to have no attributable cause, but which, if followed as it spreads, will yield the clues of its source, as your letter has done.

    Some lovely notes in this elegant post:

    “the particular loneliness that breeds in my car, , and when Morrisey comes on, I belt out all the words, right or wrong.”

    “Like the book I’m meant to write will just spontaneously come into being as a best seller. Then I’ll feel like the person I was always meant to be.”

    “I’ve been hollowed out a bit, and I don’t know how it happened or if I am alone. I feel I’ve had limbs severed, but all my parts are here. I wasn’t looking when this phantom part of me died, so I’m not really sure what I’m trying to revive.”

    “I wanted to go inside and buy some squash to cook for dinner, but I didn’t know what to do with my bike while I went inside, so I just turned around and rode back home. It was fun, anyway.”

    • Mary Richert says:

      Judy, thanks for your note. I’ve recently been coming to terms with this idea that we grow up with — you can be anything — right? But what if you don’t know what you want to be? There are an awful lot of people living rather average lives like mine, and I once thought they were all idiots for settling for cubicle slavery. Now I wonder if I’m an idiot for being unable to settle for it… and if I’m to move on to something else, what the hell is it supposed to be? Meanwhile, at least I have good people and TNB.:)

      • Judy Prince says:

        “Now I wonder if I’m an idiot for being unable to settle for it… and if I’m to move on to something else, what the hell is it supposed to be?”

        Mary, wow, that question just pinged up from all the other words you wrote in your response. It’s so awesomely important. I thought: OH MY GOD, NO!!!!! YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO SETTLE FOR ANYTHING AT ANY TIME ANYWHERE!!!!!

        And then I thought how irresponsible it would be to tell you that. Then I thought I’d be damned if I’d NOT tell you that, because it’s essential…..E S S E N T I A L.

        It’s not that you shouldn’t settle for your job in the cubicle, but that you require unsettling—-that is, not being bored or feeling inadequate or incompetent.

        Does it mean you should write your guts out on what comes to mind? Yes, I think so, but that’s my own personal particular response. You found joy in bicycling to the store for squash, even though you didn’t go in. I love that. And I related to it strongly.

        Clues like that, I suspect, will come in ways neither you nor I could imagine ahead of time, and in their ways they unsettle. They could sit next to you gently one morning at the computer. They also could come smack in the middle of your brain like lightning with realisations that are sharp and colourful.

        Please do continue your honest writing and know that it touched me and still does.

  10. Marni Grossman says:

    That you get this edited version of your friends’ lives is one of the evils of facebook. It breeds resentment. I mean, it does for me, anyway.

    This was a pitch-perfect piece.

    • Mary Richert says:

      I don’t want to give away too much, but there are particular friends whose facebook pages I can look at for hours while I debate whether their lives are actually as amazing as they look or if they are secretly at least as tormented as I am.

      Thanks, Marni.

  11. M.J. Fievre says:

    I love it, Mary!

    “I keep thinking something amazing will happen, and then I’ll feel right. Like the book I’m meant to write will just spontaneously come into being as a best seller. Then I’ll feel like the person I was always meant to be. Like my ship has come in, right? But until then … until then …” I hear ya!

    Oh, and send out that manuscript!

  12. Christine W. says:

    “To tell the truth, when I look at all our old friends on Facebook, the people who are outrageous and fabulous and those whose lives are quiet and generic, I feel I’ve lost something. I’ve been hollowed out a bit, and I don’t know how it happened or if I am alone. I feel I’ve had limbs severed, but all my parts are here. I wasn’t looking when this phantom part of me died, so I’m not really sure what I’m trying to revive.”

    This is exactly what I feel! It always seems like something is not quite right. Oddly enough, just the other day I wanted to ride my bike to the store to buy something for dinner and I had the thought of “where would I park and lock my bike?” before I ever left so I wound up driving over.

    • Mary Richert says:

      Christine, good news! Today, I rode my bike to the pharmacy (in the same shopping center as the grocery store), and I just left my bike outside unchained. It was still there when I came out. All is not lost!

  13. D.R. Haney says:

    I enjoyed reading this, Mary. Can we be pen pals? (You’re mentioned in Subversia, incidentally, since I included “The Worst Crime” in it. Now can we be pen pals?)

    • Mary Richert says:

      D.R. I am the worst pen pal ever. But I am very fond of reading people’s work and enjoying it and talking about writing and stuff. Or I can be your pen pal if you promise not to get mad when I forget to respond. I also like meeting folks when I have the opportunity.

  14. Quenby Moone says:

    When I wrote “Dear Everyone I’ve Ever Known…” it was a response to a “friend request” from my most toxic boyfriend ever. I was taken off guard by the simplicity of the request, and the first draft of “Dear Everyone” was much less general and much more hostile than what it evolved into. I loved the first version for its completely gloves-off smack-down of this jackass who completely pulled me up short by not just asking to be my “friend”, but casually forgetting how awful it was between us. He was totally nonchalant while I’ve written soul-searching epic essays exploring my relationship with him and why I was so self-destructive.

    Isn’t that funny? That sort of disconnect between John’s benign “how are you?” and your soul-searching feeling of ennui intersecting. This is why Facebook gives me the vapors. I still hate it, even when I use it all the time.

    • Mary Richert says:

      Quenby, if it’s any comfort, John’s response to this essay/letter (which he sent only to me, unlike my crassly sending it out to the whole world) was rather soul-searching as well. It’s a funny thing because I’d forgotten that we had that connection a long time ago. There are people who meet you half way with your soul-searching-ness. That is, in a town like where I grew up, it was easy to feel like a real weirdo because you’re the only one having existential indigestion at 16. John was a good person to share that with. And it’s funny to see how kids like us grow up and try to function.

      I also got a letter from the other half of my most disastrous relationship. I responded to him but didn’t write an essay about it. Maybe one day I will… When the time comes, the essay will be all about how I forgave myself for my bad decisions and rebuilt and recovered and life turned out to be amazing.

  15. Yeah, that’s almost exactly the response I want to stuff down the throat of that question pretty much every time. As in, do you really want to know, or do you just want me to Like the pics of your kids, and possibly order a little bulk detergent off your Amway link? But you wrote it in such a way that it was more revelatory than snide, which was refreshing.

    When anyone asks me in person these days, I usually say, in all sincerity “Really great! Thanks!” It’s amazing how often it takes the questioner aback.

  16. Simon Smithson says:

    Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…

    Ack!

    I’ve been in a malaise over this lately, Mary.

    Thanks for defining it 🙂

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