'Do you like it?'
Some bright and wonderful thing is held before my eyes and I take in the iridescent gleam of light bouncing off its surfaces. My eyes sparkle in reflected beauty and my mouth opens to praise it in all its magical glory.
'Hmm, it's nice,' I say, 'I like the sparkles and stuff.'
The gaudy treasure is replaced as my less-than-enthusiastic response renders it unworthy. We move on with me giving backward glances to the beautiful thing and wondering why it remains unbought.
I said it was nice and I said I liked the sparkles but if my opinion was really needed, perhaps it would have been better to pass me a pen and paper instead of asking me to speak my thoughts.
I can love something and sound lacklustre; I can adore and covet a glorious object and only be able to stand, holding it this way and that, revelling in how I feel about it without expressing myself.
And then I can love something and go on about it so fulsomely and endlessly that the other person is turned off it before they have reached the shop door.
If I am in favour of something, it seems to be an irritating fact that I either sound only vaguely interested or as if I am from the Cult of Glitter-Ball Refugees.
The same applies to being told good news. If I am pleased by the news and interested, I might exclaim,
'That's brilliant, well done!'
Most of the time this works quite well, though I never sound as enthused as I mean to; the rest of the time my words will be right but my tone sounds sarcastic.
Why on earth do I have to sound sarcastic so much of the time? Not many people respond well to sarcasm, especially not the ones who want you to congratulate them on something marvellous. You don't want to go through life with a Bill Murray-esque tone at the ready to crush the hearts and minds of anyone with news to share. (Or do you? Tempting, at least half the time).
It only makes it worse if you try to explain you always sound that way, you don't mean it, you really are pleased, and so on. People don't want you to make up for it after the event - that means nothing! They want you to react the right way at the time, because that means your feelings are true.
And there is the problem: people think your first reaction is the true one, so if you sound depressed or bothered or irritated or sarcastic, then that is how you feel about them and what they are talking about. You can't blame them, can you?
Once your brain has caught up with the conversation, you realise how you feel and you can then express yourself perfectly. Or at least sound more enthusiastic. But by then it is too late. Feelings have been hurt or the moment has passed and you are left looking like a Sarcastic Susan or a Terse Terry.
Yes, I like your new hair (now I've had a moment to get used to being able to see your face again). Yes, I like your new car (though why you needed to buy another is beyond me). Yes, I like the pot plant your Aunty Flossie got you that looks like the offspring of a giant alien mixed with a small, ugly dog. And yes, for heaven's sake, I do like your child's rendition of Alice Cooper's loudest and most explicit song, even though she is only ten. Lovely!
So yes, once more with feeling is the way to go when someone asks what you think or how you feel. Instant answers are not always to be trusted (and neither are considered ones, if it involves bad cover songs).
Trust me when I say that most of the time I am not as sarcastic as I sound and that I do appreciate you sharing this with me. Trust me, I can express myself, given the time. Honestly, give me the chance to say it once more and then we can move on.
And please, don't ever ask me about your hair again.