To all of you who hate yourselves:
Have a nice day.
I dare you.
This is your challenge, your quest.
One night last week I had occasion to stay at San Francisco's Stanford Court Renaissance Hotel.
Checking in, I was given water bottles to take to my room, which a smiling clerk said had a glorious view. Enjoy your stay, he said. The lobby's epic fountain arced silkily under a domed Tiffany-style stained-glass ceiling. On a marble counter near the elevators I found a machine where guests can make their own cocoa or tea. Granted, I do not travel much these days, but felt my heart race at the sight of this machine: its well-placed generosity, at once humble and lush, because good gosh, guests might after all want comforting hot drinks on a rainy day before going upstairs or going out.
Filling a cup, I felt that old familiar feeling for the billionth time: that sense of warning, fear and dread, the voice in my head that says: You do not deserve this.
That voice, my self-loathing voice, mocks my presence anywhere marvelous or fancy. (What the hell do you think you are doing here? Someone will notice your presence and thow you out.) It mocks my wearing costly or flattering clothes. (You look ridiculous!) It mocks my eating gourmet meals. (You rube!) It undermines those first tinglings of fun. (Hey, remember that time you failed geometry? How does brain cancer feel? Was that an earthquake?) The voice in my head whispers like a warning friend at first but, ignored, raves: Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are?
Short answer: I don't know.
Approaching my room down the softly golden hallway with its poppy-colored carpet at the Stanford Court, I told myself: Have a nice day.
No, really this time. Take it in. Do what a normal person booked into an historic luxury hotel does: Have a nice day.
My room had custard-colored walls, a vast flatscreen TV, four lamps, a gleaming desk, marble-topped nightstands and a king-size bed whose snowy duvet was as weightless yet as satisfying as whipped cream. Brass-studded armchairs flanked tall windows through which San Francisco's hills, studded with frilly pastel candy-bar buildings, rolled to a silver bay. My huge marble-walled bathroom shimmered white, a gold-striped shower curtain drifting gossamer over a bathtub bigger than my bed at home.
Have a nice day.
This is absurdly harder than it sounds. Sinking onto the duvet, gazing out into the dusk as it erupts into countless pinpricks of light, I fought a faint panic. Sampling a luscious medjool date from the tray on the table whose linen napkin is rolled in a paper cuff printed with the words "Let's Eat," I fought my fears that this is the day on which I find out I have a horrible disease or that the hotel will explode, or that I will do something so gauche, so oafish that the staff will laugh at it all year. I shrank in shame while unwrapping the soap, avoiding the enormous mirrors, as if about to be apprehended like a serf or monster who has sneaked into a castle in a fairy tale.
I told myself that ordinary people do not think this way. I told myself: My fellow guests are no doubt filling their ice buckets, snuggling into bathrobes, enjoying their views. I told myself: All over this hotel, as we speak, they are having nice days.
I told myself: You will not get this time back after it is gone. It is brief but it is yours to enjoy. I tell myself: You are no monster. You will break nothing. You will not be a laughingstock. You will simply pass through this place as does everyone else, hearing the cable cars go clack clack clack. None of the thousand awful things you fear will happen in the next 24 hours. You can see. You can breathe. You are ensconced in luxury. What miracles.
And when the night melts into morning, when 250,000 lamps glow softly behind the windows of the city at dawn, when in the hotel restaurant you are served what might be the best pancakes of your life—lemon-ricotta, eggwhite-frothy and as light as air—all you have to do is say Yes and Thank you and How beautiful, without thinking or saying but or no or I apologize. How difficult this is. Yet life is hard in general thus we must have nice days whenever possible, because we owe this not just to ourselves but to whatever powers put us here.
Have a nice day.
No, seriously. Have one.