Fine. I am fine. It seems as though I have been saying that a lot lately. Sometimes I’ll change it up with an, “I’m okay,” or, “I’m good,” but usually what I am is “fine.” I’ve been approached enough lately with sincere, not superficial, not in-passing, not as a greeting substitute… “How are you doing?” to notice it. Some have been more specific with concerns about my mental and emotional well-being. The point is that it’s more than just coincidence — I am throwing something out there that is being read as definitely “not fine.” But I am fine, really. And, under the circumstances, I am especially fine.
I know the acronym that has been assigned to the letters: F I N E — fucked-up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. Lets break that down.
1. Fucked-up: This can be interpreted in a number of ways. One of my best friends ever just passed away from a vicious disease that made his passing even more difficult. That’s pretty fucked-up. He’s the closest person to me who has died before his or her time (that is, not of age-related natural causes) in a very long time. How fucked-up am I? I don’t know, what scale are we using? I can still work. I can still function. I still answer my phone. No, I don’t want to talk about it. What are the rules. Give me a list and I’ll give you a number between 1–100 of how “fucked-up” I am.
2. Insecure: I have never been more secure — in every respect — in my entire life. I am financially secure, I am secure in who I am. I do not fear abandonment or, really, much else. It took a long time to get here, and I owe that same friend who passed a debt for helping me do that, but security no matter how one measures it is not my problem. Next.
3. Neurotic: I don’t even know what this means. I know what it means contextually, kind of like I’m pretty sure most others do. But except for those in the mental health professions, I’d be willing to bet most people think “neurotic” means things like nervous, touchy, self-conscious, unstable, compulsive, etc. I’d bet not many know what it really means. That’s why I’m going to look it up, right now…
And here it is, turns out we were pretty close:
“Neurotic means you’re afflicted by neurosis, a word that has been in use since the 1700s to describe mental, emotional, or physical reactions that are drastic and irrational. At its root, a neurotic behavior is an automatic, unconscious effort to manage deep anxiety.”
4. Emotional: Anyone who knows me knows I am not emotional. I am not unemotional on purpose, I do not try to stifle my emotions, I just do not usually outwardly express my emotions. I never have. Maybe I am damaged somehow, but I have managed to get through 57 years of life with a broken emotion-display-unit, so I guess it’s not fatal.
So much for acronyms. I always thought that one was particularly stupid anyway. It takes a perfectly functional word and turns it into something that means exactly the opposite of what it really means. Ah, yes, what it really means. What about that. When I say I am “fine,” what am I really saying. There is no question that plenty of my friends — real friends who really do know me — don’t believe I am, in fact, fine. I should (and do) take their views very seriously. I have not cared much about what those on the periphery think in many years, but those who are close and who genuinely do know and care about me do get a seat at the table. Their opinion matters. That leaves a huge, “now what?”
Well, I write. Because I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t even fucking know what “it” is. But this idea of what “fine” is has me intrigued. What, exactly, is “fine.” I can look it up, I can trace its etymology, but I’m much more curious about its philosophic underpinnings. In his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig went down a similar rabbit hole in his pursuit of the “metaphysics of quality.” Ultimately, quality is something that must be experienced, it cannot be defined, and perhaps the state of being “fine” is similar. And I’ve been not fine, decidedly not fine recently enough to remember it vividly.
But the fact that I can say I am experiencing the state of being fine is at odds with the fact that others are observing something else. One time, my then brother-in-law and I were driving to a ski resort just past the chain-control check point. We had just chained up, but stopped to check the chain tension. We got back in my car and took off. Before we refastened our seat belts, a cop on the side of the road waived us over. My brother-in-law opened his window and the cop asked, “How are you doing?” We both said, “Fine, sir.” He said, “No you’re not! You’re going way too fast and you’re not wearing your seat belts.” After apologizing and promising to correct our behavior, he let us go. It is still a running joke with us, 30+ years later. The point is that in his eyes, we were not fine.
In yours, I must not be, either. And perhaps I do need to fasten my seat belt and slow down. I am the first to admit that I cannot always see the things that are closest to me. But, and this is important, as much as I might appear to be hurting, angry, in pain or whatever other element of not-fine I appear to be, please know that I am not in any danger of harming myself or anyone else. In that respect, at least, I truly am fine. Really. I love my life, I love living and I plan to do plenty of it for years to come. Art would want me to do that. He would want me to be fine.