How Are You? Nobody Is Fine

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, Director: Edward Berger, Prague 2021, hugging a cast member I guess

Asking ‘how are you?’ feels increasingly deranged. The usual answer—“fine”—was always insincere. Now it’s just completely unbelievable. Who the fuck is fine? After years of this, who on Earth is fine?

That usual question often leads to unusual intimacies these days. Everybody’s going through some shit, everybody knows it, and sometimes we just talk about it.

When I meet people now we often end up talking about trauma. Being in isolation for months, being sick ourselves, slowly going insane. Economies collapsing, countries collapsing, marriages crumbling, children struggling. That’s just the baseline now. And we’re the lucky ones.

When I talk to old friends, people I’m supposed to be intimate with, it’s clear that we’ve all taken serious damage this past few years. We’re often unaware of how much has just happened to us, and how little we control. People blame themselves, or their partners, or their individual circumstances, and not the globe-shattering event we’re still living through. Which killed millions of people around us. Which has shaken everything else loose, leading to a cascade of chaos.

It’s hard to underestimate the sheer amount of ambient stress we’re under. For years, stepping out of the house was a question of survival, and now it’s fraught with the guilt that you’ve just stopped caring. We have to be amateur epidemiologists to take a flight, amateur economists to have any money, and amateur pundits to debate this shit all the time. We can’t. We’re fucking amateurs.

Need an Ambien. The amount of horrible shit you need to be ambivalent about to keep going is just staggering. I’m not even saying it’s all sad or that I’m sad all the time. I’m honestly not. In my life I’m mostly joking or enjoying something or complaining or whatever. But the experience reminds me, increasingly, of Erich Maria Remarque in All Quite On The Western Front. He talked about young men thrust into terrible war, who somehow joked and thought mainly about food when they were away from it.

soldier on a battlefield
Film still from Im Westen nichts Neues (all Quiet on the Western Front)

As he said about the young cannon fodder of World War I: