One of my first jobs was flogging double-glazing appointments on the phone. The manager would walk around, pointing at his deranged forced grin as a reminder to smile when speaking. “Happiness is contagious,” he’d say. “If you smile, they smile, and if they smile, they spend.” So even though my hands trembled as I lifted the receiver, I forced a smile, and kept it even when my cheeks hurt.
Perhaps that was the moment I became a believer in the “brave face”. My own brave face is modelled on the duck, both in terms of my Instagram pout (because nothing says “I am coping with life!” like going in for a snog with a screen), and in terms of channelling effortlessness: I try to look as if I’m gliding, even if I’m frantically treading water to keep afloat.
I do this for the protection of others (like wearing a mask in a pandemic, a brave face could help stop the spread of worry), and for its suggestive powers; if I act fine, I’ll spread fine, and soon enough, I’ll feel fine. But seven months since lockdown began, I can now confirm that notion is tosh.
It is impossible to trick the mind into thinking things aren’t rubbish when they patently are; and even though it is important to recognise one’s fortunes where they come (in my case, having work and being able to do it from home), that won’t mean you start to enjoy it, nor that it won’t send you slowly round the bend, or stop you from repeating “I’m a duck,” for motivation on a supermarket trip.
So I am hanging up my brave face. I figure there are better things to put my energy into, like admitting to myself I desperately miss everyone and everything as it was. Because the truth is, when it comes to this pandemic, the only duck I am is one out of water.