48. The Van der Luyden Principle

The orangey-coral shirt

For those of you who have not read Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence let me give you some quick context: Ellen Olenska has recently escaped from a failed European marriage to the land of her youth – Old New York (NYC during the Gilded Age) and the Archer family decides to welcome her by hosting a dinner in her honor. All of the invitees “decline with regret,” however, their en masse movement underscoring the point that Ellen should not be received into polite society. The Archers are horrified at this public snubbing so they make an appeal at the highest court in the land – their cousins, Henry and Louisa Van der Luyden. The Van der Luydens seldom receive visitors due to “cousin Louisa’s health,” but in this case they throw their doors open to Ellen Olenska so they can show Old New York who is boss – since no one in polite society is stupid enough to refuse an invitation to the Van der Luydens’. Later Ellen opines that it’s probably the fact that the Van der Luydens make their company so rare that it’s so valued.

I am referencing the Van der Luyden principle since I am so flagrantly violating it, meaning, I post almost daily (6x a week) so it’s hard not to notice me. Plus I like the fact that no one has to remember my posting schedule, and I apparently have lots to say so it works out. I’m like, hi – you wanna read my blog? How about now? This was not always my modus operandi. I used to abide by the Van der Luyden principle, not by an intentional attempt to rarify my company, but by default. I worked a lot and I kept on falling asleep by the time my friends were ready to do anything. E.g. We used to gather on Fridays for dinner and Bible study. By the time everyone was done eating and laughing it was usually 9pm and I was asleep on the sofa when it was time for the study to start. If I made it to 9.30 my friends would be like, Good job, Ning – you’re awake!

But I suppose now I’m making up for all the times I’ve wanted to go play with my friends but haven’t been able to. I’m establishing a presence online so that even if I can’t go to a gathering since I know the venue has too many steps or I’m afraid of choking or something, no worries, you can take me with you on your phone! It’s also beneficial for me to type things like this on a lot of levels, so writing is probably more for me than for you.

To clarify, I am able to go to many more places now than I was a year ago. However, I am still quite limited by my physical condition. To many people, especially those who have not seen me in a long time, I may look “fine.” I understand this assessment in that they have likely heard of the onset of my illness and their expectations were pretty low. If you’re just corresponding with me on subjects apart from recovery I think it would be pretty hard for you to tell I’m disabled. Even if you see me but I’m seated it might be difficult. E.g. Unless I tell people I have facial weakness they often don’t notice that the right side is awfully still when you tell me a joke (now I’ve said it, so you’ll all know that I’m not really smirking at you – it’s just that half of my face’s muscles are weak). F told me that maybe I should just wear an ascot and call it a day if I was concerned people would notice that thing in my neck. Her point was that I was getting better – even my speech, which sounds a little funny to me, sounded pretty okay to her.

I’m glad that I’m looking pretty “normal” but the problem is that I sure don’t feel normal. I might look fine, but there are plenty of things still wrong with me. Now I’m not trying to be negative or anything, this is just an FYI as something most people haven’t thought about. The word “fine” carries the connotation that nothing is wrong. Now I like looking well, but when I (or another sick person) hears the word “fine” it can slide over from the compliment end of the spectrum to the “why aren’t I doing more” end of the spectrum really fast. The intention behind the word may be purely complimentary, but to a mind like mine (intact but frustrated at all the physical limitations) it can morph into a self-accusing thought pattern with little effort.

A friend told me once that his wife had coached him on how to give a compliment. I was wearing an orangey-coral shirt that day, so he gave a couple of examples:
(1) “That shirt is orange.” = Bad. Ambiguous and could be interpreted negatively.
(2) “That color is really nice on you.” = Good. Unambiguous and will be interpreted how you intended.
I’m offering similar coaching here.

So if I am looking well, it’s because you’re seeing what I intend you to see. I’ve got my game face on, remember? I’m grateful to have enough control (somewhat) to project an image I want to. But “wanting to” is the key – I pretend to look fine because I want to be fine. Desperately.

Meanwhile, until my desire matches up with reality I’m going to keep on keeping on. That means I’ll keep on acting as well as I can (maybe even a little weller) and violating the Van der Luyden principle shamelessly. Thank you for reading!