I’m Here

“I’m here.” That’s one of the many answers I give when someone asks me, “How are you?”

Sometimes I’ll say, “I’m here,” or “I showed up,” or sometimes, “Yes I am.”  Sometimes I will say, “fine,” “well,” or even “good.”  From time to time I’ve been known to answer, “I’m so damn good I don’t know what to do with myself,” or “If I was any better, they’d arrest me.”

Most times I just want credit for showing up.

You’ve heard the quote, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.”  Most often it’s attributed to Woody Allen, but it’s similar to a remark made by Thomas Edison when he said, “90 percent of business is perspiration”.  Based on my limited research a variant uses the word “success” instead of “life”.  Possibly a William Safire contributed to some of this.  Other sources suggest that the percentage might be as low as 50 or as high as 90.

For the record, I don’t like Woody Allen movies, but I do like lightbulbs which Edison has something to do with (possibly he stole the whole thing from an underpaid assistant).

But I digress.  Well, most of my writing and indeed most of my basic research is a digression.

Still, showing up counts for something.  I showed up to write this post – don’t get your hopes too high.

So the question, “How are you?” is really not what you’re being asked.  If you really study why people ask the question, the conclusion you come to is that the person asking is really saying, “I don’t know what to say, but wanted to have a conversation, so I’ll just say this mindless phrase instead of something well thought out.”

The expected answer is “Fine,” or “Great,” and starting a completely unrelated conversation that will relieve the questioner of the embarrassment of not knowing what to say in the first place.

Back when I was having radiation treatments for cancer, people would ask me, “How are you?” and really expected an answer that included detailed medical information and treatment status.  I found that to be a burden and didn’t want to tell people, “You know, I am sick and tired of living just for my treatments.  There is more to me than having a radiation beam pointed at me everyday.  Give me some peace and don’t ask.”

I’m far too polite to do that so I rely on humor instead.  “I’m here,” confused people and in time becomes a code phrase for, “Don’t want to talk about it.”  In the last few years the code has changed more to, “You need to find a better way to start a conversation.”

One time a close friend of mine replied to my, “I’m here,” with, “Glad you’re not dead.”  Which was kind of him.

This whole post was started by me thinking about the sense of place in writing and even in our lives.  I was thinking about how where we are and where we’ve lived influences who we are.  I was thinking about how writers create a place for their stories and how that knowledge of the place works to create meaning in the story.  Read John Steinbeck and you know you’re in California’s Salinas Valley, Eudora Welty puts you in the American South.  Pickup A.A. Milne and you’re with Winnie the Pooh and friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s something that is unclear for me.  I tried to write about it before, but the words didn’t hit the page right so I decided to start again. I was also reminded of semiotics.  Unless you’ve studied language, likely you’ve not encountered semiotics.  It’s the study of signs and symbols and how we find meaning in them.

If I write the symbols, “DOG” an image is formed in your mind and if I have the same image, we’ve communicated – shared a meaning, understand the same thing.  “DOG” means the four legged pet.  It got that meaning because we all agreed it meant that and we can now use that to exchange information, ideas, meanings …

The phrase “How are you?” is a code or in semiotic terms you could call it a signifier that means something to people in our culture using our language.  The code is also an expectation that the response is a variation of, “fine,” followed by conversation.

So this week I started out thinking about the sense of place and what that means. Which reminded me of the study of semiotics, structuralism and post-structuralism and reminded me of the many implied meanings in the words, symbols, and icons of our world.

It also reminded me how sometimes we just miss the real meaning so, ask me how I am and I’ll remind you that I am right in front of you.

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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31 Responses to I’m Here

  1. Dave says:

    My father tells the story of a toll taker who asked him, “Are you having a good day?” He thought the question was a more sincere greeting than, “How are you?”. I like to ask cashiers, “Are you almost done for the day?” while they’re ringing up my groceries. Then I get a comment about where they are in their shift and a conversation ensues. Sure beats silence and scanning beeps.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. G. J. Jolly says:

    I’m not a Woody Allen fan either.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am late to the post this week. Probably due to the fact that I have not been ‘showing up’ as much on social media this week. Only the ‘minimum daily requirement’ it seems. It has just been that kind of week for me. I believe others feel the same. But I am here now. And reading. Sometimes small talk leads to deeper conversations. It can be a starting point. I suppose when you do care but aren’t really up for the recent history, “how are you?” can suffice. Beyond that, I have little for you this week. I do wish you a good week ahead. (Really.) 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t been on the web as much this week either. I had thought of a post for Wednesday but decided to skip it. I find that by giving a wacky answer that people who didn’t really want to talk just laugh and move on and those really wanted to talk just ignore the weird reply and keep on going.

      Like

  4. “How are you?” isn’t a phrase I generally lead with, unless I truly care and want a detailed answer. But if I’m asked, I automatically respond, “Fine, thanks; and you?” because I know it’s just a throw-away question.

    But it really messes with me when a doctor asks “How are you?” My instant reflex is, “Fine” because that’s the only answer anybody ever really wants to hear. But the doctor actually wants and needs to know accurate details. So I freeze and then blurt something stupid like, “Um, okay; how about you?” Then the doctor has to patiently (while probably mentally rolling his/her eyes) reply, “I’m fine, thank you.” Because obviously they’re not going to tell me how they really are, because that’s not why I’m there. Then they try again with, “And what brings you here today?”

    But first they ask “How are you”, every time. And every time I freeze, blurt, and then feel stupid. You’d think I’d learn…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, my doctor gave up on me with, “How are you?” She often leads with, “what brings you here today?” I’ve been known to reply with “my car,” or my classic, “I’ve missed our little talks about health and medical care.”

      In the last couple of years I’ve noted that they seem to prefer that I email the office rather than come it …

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My father always answered the question with “Able to take nourishment” and a cheeky grin.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Debra says:

    We used to have a local radio newscaster who answered the question “How are you?” with “Better than most, not as good as some.” That always made me laugh. I think it’s a fairly honest assessment most of the time. There are times I’d like to unload my “not so good” moments on others, but I’ve found even if I answer with civility, unless I’m pretty chipper most people really don’t want to know. And then I feel worse! LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. floridaborne says:

    I’ve been saying “I’m here” for more years than I can remember. But I like the variety of answers you’ve presented.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Someone asks me How I am Doing? I tell them I’m a day older than yesterday.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Baydreamer says:

    A thought provoking post, Andrew. I’ve always felt that when people say, “How are you?” They’re probably expecting to hear, “I’m fine” like you mentioned. I think we know who in our circles would truly want to receive the deeper answer. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. There’s another piece to ‘how are you’ that could be mentioned–body language. Sure, we ask, knowing the answer will be boring, but the body language is always enlightening. Face tense? Step light? Shoulders rolled? eye contact? All very intriguing don’t you think?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. That inane question — how are you? – has always been one of my pet peeves. Honestly, people don’t want to know how you really are and I get that’s it’s just a conversation starter but I think it’s better left unsaid unless you truly want an honest answer. My Dad, all the way up to his final days at age 90, always replied, “I’m still living” to that question and it caused people to not know what to say next.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Most of the time I haven’t even thought about “how I feel.” I’m grateful, so I guess that’s “how I am.”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. davidprosser says:

    I’M GLA\D YOU’RE STILL STANDING \\a\nd fighting back. it doesn’t need to enter the conversation THOUGH ‘HOW ARE YOU’ IS A GENUINE QUERY AS TO HOW YOU FEEL AT THIS PARTICULAR MOMENT IN TIME Sorry but ‘i’m here’ barely cuts it..

    Liked by 2 people

  14. dorannrule says:

    A psychology teacher I had said, The next time someone asks,how are you, try answering I feel like a dead fish.” His point was that noone cares and that it is simply a phrase between humans who want to avoid conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. pIEdTyPe says:

    An enthusiastic “How are you!?” usually means “yes, I care but really I’m hiding the fact that I can’t remember your name.” At least, that what it means when I say it.

    Liked by 3 people

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