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A Tempered Response

posted Monday January 18th, 2010

Do you ever notice that a comment can be far wiser than the blog post that prompted it?

I have, and more often than not, that comment has come from Elaine. We have nothing in common, really, other than daughters named Sophie (that’s how she found GIAPH a while back) but in getting to know her through her blog, I often wish we lived in the same city, that our Sophies could be playmates, and that I could take one of her classes (she teaches American Studies — my college major).

The other day, I wrote about my Sophie’s “thermostat” — how her emotions tend to run either too hot or too cold. Elaine had a terrific, thought-provoking response:

One morning when I worked in Hong Kong, I asked the department secretary, “How are you?”

“I already told you yesterday,” she shouted at me. “I’m fine. I was fine yesterday, I’m fine today, and I will be fine tomorrow. Why do you English professors keep asking the same question?”

“I guess we assume that people’s moods may change,” I said, or some lame substitute for that. There is no “how are you” in Cantonese. There is a bewildering variety of other greetings, actually: “where are you going” and “have you eaten rice yet” and even, “so, you’re good, right?” but no “how are you.”

Nellie, the Cantonese secretary, told me that she aspired to never have her mood change. No ups, she said, would mean no downs. She believed that should be everyone’s goals, and thus, she though, “how are you” was a stupidly boring question.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Meditation teachers try to teach equilibrium. It’s almost a noble goal.

But, for me personally, I want to have ups and downs. I want to have varied answers to “How are you.” Maybe not as varied as Sophie’s, but, you know, not as muted as Nellie’s.

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3 Responses to “A Tempered Response”

  1. perfect.

  2. aww, thanks! I, too, wish you lived in the same city. And I wish my response had fewer typos. And I wish that I were able to respond more succinctly, but your posts make me remember these whole stories.

    Next summer in San Diego, we certainly need to introduce the Sophies to each other.

  3. [...] Maybe my best stories come out on my friends’ blogs. [...]

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