I haven’t been in much of a smiling mood lately. The holidays are always both wonderful and difficult for me. I like the break of Los Angeles and generally have a hard time adjusting back to real life. Early January hit hard this year and the combination of the beginning of the semester, adjusting to new students looking for internships, teaching an extra class, shifts in relationships, committing to a few things I didn’t really want to do, wondering what I want to be when I grow up and generally pondering my existence in this big crazy world (common for me at the end of the year/beginning of the year) has left me feeling a little wiped out. Plus I have this new glorious habit of waking up around 3am every morning and taking a good bit of time to fall back asleep because my brain gets turning about the above mentioned things…which used to happen to me intermittently but is now an almost nightly practice…except on the weekends…thankfully, I seem to be able to sleep on the weekends. (If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know…and no, melatonin is not my answer.)
Anyway, I feel like I haven’t been smiling all that much.
After an hour awake from 3-4 this morning and oversleeping a bit because of it, this day didn’t start out in an especially glorious fashion. Not terrible but also not great. By the time I finished my morning commute, though, I felt a little better. Maybe today was different because I listened to a comedian’s podcast (which made me laugh) this morning instead of something else more heavy (which just makes me think). Maybe it’s because I’ve been trying to meditate and practice centering prayer more in an effort to be more present in the moment. Maybe it was because breakfast and coffee had finally absorbed a bit into my body.
In any case, I was in a better mood after my 45-minute commute than before it.
Here is something you might not know…
In Los Angeles, strangers do not generally acknowledge your existence. There are no two-fingered waves on country roads here; no collective acknowledgement from the community that you are seen even if you are not known. There are lots of one-fingered waves, but we all know that means something different. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Mad Men, getting on the elevator in my office building mimics the experience of the people working at Sterling Cooper Draper Price. On a typical trip up to the 16th floor, I most often encounter stone-faced people turning towards the door without so much as a glance each other. Maybe we think it’s rude. Maybe we’re too busy looking at our phones. Maybe we just don’t care. I have to admit I’m one those people a good majority of the time.
There are many moments over the years when I’ve forced myself out of my little elevator bubble and greeted someone with a friendly hello or at least a smile. I’d say 50% of the time, I get a response more than a “harumph” of sorts. My brother and his family once visited me from WI and the first question he had after walking through my apartment complex was…people don’t look at you here, huh?
It’s not all bad and not everyone is like that but I’ve found that I’m just as likely to be greeted with no response or a weird stare as people wonder what I want from them when saying hello to someone walking down the sidewalk than I am to hear a greeting in return. Sometimes I’ll be in another part of the country where people talk to strangers more and my own inner reaction is “what do they want from me?” until I pause a second to realize that this is actually normal.
Today, I got in the elevator, which stopped on the next floor up to let someone else in. A gentleman entered and without even thinking about it I smiled and said hello.
He paused for a second as he hit the button to his floor and without really looking at me said, “thanks for smiling at me.” I told him that he was welcome and he said with a tinge of sadness in his voice, “I hope more people do that today.” The elevator opened, we wished each other a good day and he was gone. From the floor we got off on and the direction he took out of the elevator, I know he was heading towards an acting agency. I don’t know why he was there, whether he was heading in to work as an agent or an actor heading in to try to get representation…or to lose representation… Either way, he was headed towards the stress of working in the world of actors where people are often herded about like cattle and cast aside because their face is a little to wrinkly or their thighs are too big or they’re no longer making enough money to be considered a viable commodity. I don’t know what his day has in store for him. I don’t know if people will be nice or what’s going on in his life that would cause him to express to a stranger that he needs more people to smile at him today…but I hope they do.
For a moment, I felt really present to the world around me and our shared need for connection and was glad that my face muscles moved in just the right way to bring a little light into a stranger’s day.