I never know which popular strategy is better when people ask me how I’m doing.
Should I say, “I’m fine thank you, how are you?” like a cog in the greased wheel of social graces that grinds on and on, tamping down the dust that gathers upon the ruins of human connection?
Or should I say, “Actually I’ve been dreaming of my bones turning to liquid every night and I miss my mother so much that sometimes I cry when the rice cooker goes off because it reminds me of her, so on a 1-10 scale adjusted for pandemics and fundamental threats to the fabric of our society, like… a 6? What about you?” like a person who doesn’t have an aversion to prolonged awkward silences.
Honestly, at this point, neither of these options is doing it for me. The first one makes me feel like a ghost in a shell, the second is exhausting, and neither is adequately absurd or surprising enough to rise to the occasion of another Wednesday Zoom meeting. As a community service, I have devised a few fail-proof alternatives to “How are you?” to make your weird and stressful interactions in a weird and stressful world, weirder than they already were— but, like, in a fun way.
For the guy who says workweek platitudes like “Hump Day!” aloud in a way that he thinks is ironic, but actually he’s reaching that age and level of personality ossification where it’s not really ironic anymore:
To the co-worker who talks about the genuinely truly terrifying news as if it were E! News because she is either materially or psychologically insulated from catastrophe but you’re not and you wish she would just stop:
For the cool person you see on your daily dog walk that you want to be friends with, but you’re not quite sure how to break the ice:
For the manager who knows better than to tell you to smile but you can tell he really really wants to:
For the child of your friend who you must occasionally interact with and who is probably going to turn out okay but right now is just kind of “meh”
Graphic by Lorenza Centi.