One of my favorite authors is Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny. Through sixteen successive novels, Penny has traced the fortunes and misfortunes of Armand Gamache, detective extraordinaire, his family and the friends he makes while investigating murder in the tiny fictional town of Three Pines, Quebec. From said friends, Armand and his wife Reine-Marie learn to use the innocuous phrase, “I’m fine,” sarcastically to project the reality of their situation. In Three Pines parlance, “F.I.N.E.” stands for “F***!ed Up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Egotistical.”
I think of this expression often because no matter how fortunate I have been in my life, there are always times when I become overwhelmed. Although my children are grown, they still sometimes have trouble “adulting” and just need assistance or reassurance. At times like these, they can get hysterical and I can get frustrated and tense. For instance, just the other day my daughter called to report that her car had gotten a flat tire. She was completely undone, and no advice on the part of myself or my husband could help her in that moment. For the rest of the day, I tied myself in knots despite the fact that I am about 1,000 miles away, and there is a limit to what I can do to help.
I remind myself that this too shall pass and that the reality is, we are all F.I.N.E. to some degree. Why? Because we are all the stars in the dramas of our own lives. It is hard to see past our own noses, especially in times of difficulty. I just finished a twisty thriller titled The Plot* about a struggling fiction writer who steals a story from a fellow writer and suffers the consequences. One of the reasons for the writer’s fate is that he is so wrapped up in himself and his own needs that he fails to recognize others’ true selves.
Outwardly, I seem to project an air of calm and level-headedness. I know this because others have described their image of me in this way. I’m always surprised by my ability to act so convincingly. Inside I’m a roiling sea of insecurities and contradictions. Maybe I missed my calling as an actor!
Louise Penny’s series will continue with the publication of The Madness of Crowds this August. I cannot wait to return to Three Pines and discover all the ways in which the characters are “F.I.N.E” this time around. Maybe I enjoy the books so much because by comparison, my life seems pretty ordinary. So next time someone asks you how you are, beware of answering, “Fine.”
*I highly recommend the novels of Jean Hanff Korelitz, the author of The Plot.