Friday, February 01, 2008

Stiff Upper Lip

I'm pretty sure my yoga teacher has had a nervous breakdown. There's an odd immutability to his smile, a smile that never wavers, never gets bigger or smaller depending on circumstance. An air stewardess smile. He has a manner that cries out 'cheerful', 'life is fabulous', and eyes that are just a little too bright, a little too sparkly.

Or maybe that's just what happiness and inner peace look like and I'm just to English too realize.

I had a maths teacher with the same kind of look when I was in the sixth form, and he had had a nervous breakdown. His was the same plastic smile, the haunted eyes that said 'I've been there and what I saw will never leave me'.

I'm not saying I'm about to have a complete mental collapse (not right now, I've just made a cup of tea), but I'm becoming more aware of the masks people put up, and the hundred different metaphors we use for it. Serene as a swan on the top, paddling like a mother-fucker down below, stiff upper lip, I'm alright Jack, putting a brave face on things. I've just had a letter from my Nanna admitting to a long wintery depression and that coupled with our nuclear-mushroom cloud of a mortgage and the economy in general have made me to want to put the mask down and come clean.

I've been longing to write that post, the one about how we so nearly didn't make it with the condo conversion project we're in the middle of. I so desperately want to be on the other side right now, the 'phew, things looked really bleak there for a moment, thank the Lord everything turned out just fine' side. Right now I spend 20% of my time being absurdly excited about the future, about the opportunities this project will afford us, about how lucky we are to have been pointed in the right direction by a mentor who told us absolutely no to buying a condo 3 years ago (thankyou, thankyou, thankyou). I spend 60% of my time keeping my fingers crossed, slapping a fake smile on my face, wishing for the best, worrying for the worst, and trying to just preoccupy myself with the small joys of life. I spend the remaining 20% of the time absolutely paralyzed by fear. As you can imagine, that's making for a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

I can still see a future in which we complete this project, and sail on thankful that we're one of the few people to have been lucky and well-advised enough to weather this recession and come out on top. I still really think that'll happen. Even when I read the Economist. I still think I'll be writing that 'wow, things looked a little thin there for a while but I can't believe our good fortune' post. As a very wise friend said, 'it's always darkest before the dawn'. To that I feel like adding, you just have to have faith that there will be a dawn.

It is absolutely not the done thing to admit defeat over here. I know it's perceived as very British not to moan, to keep a stiff upper lip etc, but it is quintessentially American to be up shit creek and still maintain the appearance of a completely successful and optimized lifestyle. If you can afford a nice car you should be driving a nice car, if you can make your smile brighter and whiter you should do it. It is completely unfathomable to the American psyche to not try and strive for the best and to appear like you're on the up and up. I suppose this post is me saying, this is real, this is honest and for the record I was really scared. I know things could be a hundred times worse. I only have to look as far as my friends to realize what a lot of class it takes to keep smiling while the world repeatedly screws you over. This is not intended to be a pity post. I do realize that in the grand scheme of things my life is a cake-walk. In all honesty my most pressing fear right now is that Anna will wake up before I've had chance to finish writing this. I suppose I'm just trying to admit the fear of the unknown, that it's hard to keep smiling when you're facing so much uncertainty.

I knew I was starting to lose it when we had a contractor (a builder) over to give us a bid for the renovations, and I literally had to stop myself asking 'how do you feel about this project, what's your gut feeling, are we going to make it?'. I'm sure he would have looked at me and said 'somebody get this chick outta here'.

This post doesn't have a tidy ending, because right now there doesn't appear to be an ending. Although I did just ask the Magic 8 Ball if we were going to make it and it said:

"My sources say no"

Farging bastages.


Little Britainer said...

oh, mate! I'm sorry. For what it's worth, I'm sure it will work out. And as they say every 30 seconds where I'm from, "worse things happen at sea." Seriously, I write about finance... It's depressing. Some times it takes a long time to come right. It will do. Meanwhile, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you and drinking some wine to you and Anna and LK.

ps - your writing is awesome.
LB x

Amy said...

i really hope the near future will calm your fears. i hope you get the happy ending for which you are looking.

that is an adorable picture of your little girl on your header - there's something to make you happy!

Anonymous said...

The mere fact that you can communicate your feelings so well should provide you with some sort of catharsis. Your writing is getting more amazing by the day,or week, depending on how long you decide to keep us in suspense! This is quite a post, one of your best so far, thanks for letting us in on such a delicate matter as this! BTW, have you seen the commercial with the guy whos riding along on his lawnmower, talking about his great foreign car, his country club membership, his mcmansion... how does he do it? His response is" I'M IN DEBT UP TO MY EYEBALLS!" Welcome to America,my friend. Love, Jennifer

AliBlahBlah said...

Thankyou for your lovely comments. The show must go on, and interest rates have been slashed affording me more chances to drown my sorrows in ridiculously expensive bottles of Pinot. I'm trying not to think about the true ramifications of the interest rate cut, not just the short-term joy of lowered payments, but the panic the Fed is obviously feeling, that this might be a recession like none that have gone before. (see, ever the pessimist).

Jen - OMG I so nearly posted a link to that very ad. In fact I think I will, in my next post, due out in March.

fluffy said...

Maybe I should bring you a cherry pie when I come to Santa Barbara on Thurs. Love

Expatmum said...

I said on another blog a few weeks ago that I really believe that so many Americans have had therapy at some point in their lives (go on, take an unofficial surveu) because they do not allow themselves negative thoughts. The therapist's couch is the only place they feel safe enough to vent or sob. One friend of mine has just come out of a particularly trying rehab and all she can say is it was "a learning experience". When I asked what was learnt she went a bit quiet. Well done you for getting that lot off your chest. It's good for you - and great writing material!

fluffy said...

Actually, after thinking about what you are going through I should bring bourbon and cherry pie

Sugarplum's Mom said...

It is so times so tough to keep in mind that things will work out in the end. I'm sure you'll be over the hump soon and it will all be downhill from there.
My mother always says, there are a million people in the world who would trade places with her in a heartbeat without thinking twice.. and then she chooses to take a deep breath and realize that she could have so much less.

Laura said...

Hi! I've been reading your blog and it was just like "oh my, an ocean across someone else is feeling like I feel, fearing what I fear, hoping what I hope".
So, if it is making it any easier, you are not alone :-)
Besides, drinking tea is far better than collapsing. Don't worry, everything will come out alright somehow.

Yours, Laura

PS: Little Anna is soooo cute - when you feel unhappy, just look at her for a while and you'll feel better.

jenny cook said...

i'm in a similar situation where we have a lot of projects in the works, but we need to stop and get some of them finshed or paid off before taking on the next one.

it will all get better. you are not alone. good post.

Anonymous said...

I really applaud your honest here. I think Americans are uber-obsessed with toys and possessions. Success and what you have accumulated seem to go hand-in-hand here.

Try not to worry so much about what you can control. You'll be so grateful for this post in the months to come and see where you've come from and how things fell into place. I know how hard it is to be in situations like that, but if you're headed in the right direction, everything will go your way. Think of it like this: look what else you've accomplished so far. Seriously, just tackling the USCIS is a feat in itself! You can do this!

mmennen said...

For the record, I think Aussies are even more ridiculously optimistic than Americans, and they never complain, or if they do, it's to take the piss out of someone and make a joke! No advice needed for you - you are handling everything brilliantly! Putting on a happy face can sometimes have positive effects, especially if it's balanced by honesty with yourself. (woops, I guess that was like advice!)

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