Talking to Yourself

Image via Akseli Koskela
As cute as he is, it's not rational to talk to him -- he doesn't
understand a word you're saying.
It’s been said that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness. But surely that means all the world’s mad because everyone’s done it - at least once.

Surely you’ve been caught talking to yourself before - in childhood perhaps? I remember my own childhood running around muttering fantastical conversations between knights and sorcerers under my breath as I sought to re-enact some sort of Arthurian Romance playing in the garden. Another alternative when compelled to play by myself was the ubiquitous “commentator’s voice”, which I know I wasn’t the only child to have recourse to, as I kicked a football around passing it to myself and imagining future glory leading the Eels to Premiership victory.

Even as adults people continue to talk to themselves. What about that passive aggressive muttering that occurs when a large and rude person steps in front of you in a queue. Something about the role of mothers in teaching manners, or perhaps an idle reflection on the patent visibility of queues? Because of course, I’m sure if the gentleman or lady in question were to turn around and query whether you were directing such comments to his or herself, especially if the person in question was a large bogan with a violent aspect, I’m sure you would maintain that it was nothing: “just talking to myself.”

The plausibility of this excuse bears testament to the fact that even bogans occasionally can be found “talking to themselves”. What about, for example, the “That’s how it’s done!” that might slip out during a “Eureka” moment?

Or talking to your computer? Like that’s rational.

Talking to other drivers on the road -- ditto.

“Talking to Go--” “Um, let’s not go there.”

The worst is when you remember something funny or think of something funny and nearly laugh or you do laugh or you’re trying not to laugh and maintain a straight face but the best you can do is only one side of your face -- so that one side of your mouth rises up in a bizarre sort of schizophrenic smile.

That’s when your afraid people think you’ve got some sort of mental condition.

Image via Akseli Koskela
A metaphor for random thoughts -- unconstrained by the
limits of language.
The reality is that we think in words. Our thought is expressed, and indeed constrained, by language. Surely I’m not the only person who has some sort of continuous dialogue running through my head as I go about my daily routine? I remember once speaking to a friend about the phenomenon of having a song stuck in one’s head and the friend mentioned that she couldn’t imagine not having a song stuck in her head -- but what I find even more difficult to imagine would be to exist without some dialogue of words running through one’s head. In fact, I can’t imagine conscious thought without words.

It’s not quite as socially acceptable to comment on though. Whilst people complain of having certain songs stuck in their heads, I’ve never heard one complain having a fantasy interview on The 7:30 Report stuck in his or her head before.

Because that’s something I do all the time. I see a politician on the news one night and often can’t but think what I would’ve said in the circumstances or how I would’ve phrased a particularly unpalatable policy position.

I anticipate, in my head, things that I might say in a future conversation that I will have to a person who I’m on the way to meeting. Like a sort of rehearsal of the funny events or observations I intend to relate and hope to receive some sort of positive feedback from.

This post, for example, began it’s life as a running dialogue in my head on the nature of why it is socially unacceptable to talk to oneself. The genesis of which came from accidentally muttering under my breath after receiving a text message on the train.

When I was a child I used to imagine myself as an adult and famous, after having for example, realised my ambition of world conquest, and sitting with Parky:

ParkinsonImage via Wikipedia
A childhood ambition of mine was to be interviewed
by Michael Parkinson.
Parkinson: “But did you always know that you were going to be world dictator? I remember in your book at one point it says that as a child you had ‘strong premonitions of future greatness’ and I find that that drive must have been necessary to achieve what you have achieved.”
Me: “Well, as a child I always greatly admired Julius Caesar and I was conscious that I would like to emulate his great achievements. I’d also like to recognise the influence of Sid Meier’s celebrated PC game “Civilization” for making me realise that world conquest was a legitimate ambition --
Parkinson: “Yes, as you mention in your book, through world conquest comes world peace.”
Me: “Yes, that’s exactly right, and that’s what I set out to achieve in my life.”

As you may have gathered, my ambitions have been somewhat revised downwards since those ambitious childhood years. I think it might have had something to do with my school career’s advisor. I don’t think he considered it a very realistic ambition. In fact, I think I remember him being not at all convinced by the “world peace” argument either.

Yes that’s right, I remember now, I was referred to the school counsellor after that discussion. I think his report to my parents said something about concerns regarding “delusions of grandeur” and “megalomania”? Something like that.

But I digress. Now, what was I talking about? Oh yes, those first signs of madness.
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Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Image via Akseli Koskela
Crystal Castles at the Big Day Out in Sydney 2011 --
that was a night out!
Having surrendered the joys of previous Saturdays to that unproductive and vaguely remorseful feeling that generally follows a Friday where a lot of money has been spent and way too much alcohol consumed, I’ve learnt to mistrust my judgement as to the appropriate time to go home on a Friday evening.

There are simply too many vitiating factors that allow a contract with one’s sensible sober self to be able to be set aside. For example, obviously a contractual term specifying “one drink” should be read as “one round”. One drink is one round, everyone knows that, you can’t let someone buy you a drink and not return the favour; and if you’ve bought three or four drinks for everyone else you’ll want to get your money’s worth. Additionally, if the current establishment is a bit quiet, going somewhere more lively is always going to imply an obligation to stay at that place a bit longer. Midnight is really two, that’s another element to remember in the construction and interpretation of contractual terms with your evening self. You’d know this if you’ve ever tried to act on a commitment to go home at midnight - the first hour of the day is also the liveliest hour of the night. It’s almost impossible to leave when so many other people are obviously having fun, even if you’re not.

Although, to be fair, the idea that you can just make do with three hours sleep and then you’ll be fine is really nothing but a convenient legal fiction and in truth a most mendacious lie.

So it has come to the point that during the cold light of day I now view my night-time self as a person of Mr Hyde type malevolence. For example, last Thursday I went to see an event that was part of the Sydney Writer’s Festival: the Chaser’s “Empty Vessel”. As a precaution I put no less than five alarms on my phone between the hours of ten and eleven-thirty reminding me to go home at the end of the event. Being a Thursday I could brook no chance of waking up hung-over for work. I don’t really think this is socially acceptable after you’ve completed your first under-graduate degree. Not to mention the fact that it’s not exactly professional either.

Anyway, the scary thing was that as I was diligently putting reminders on my phone to keep my night-out self on the path of the righteous, I could just picture myself later surreptitiously deleting them from my phone and dancing with wild abandon in some King’s Cross den of iniquity.

OK, maybe that last line was half fantasy -- deleting them from my phone and ordering a second round in any case. Because the second round is no longer lying to yourself. After the second round you’re on a night-out.
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The Station Platform Campbelltown

Campbelltown StationImage via Wikipedia
Campbelltown Station.
“Excuse me, do you have one dollar for phone call?” I am asked by a ruffled looking man with a thick beard and an accent of some indefinable sort.

I stop eating my apple and look at him. He is wearing sneakers and a navy blue suit which looks un-ironed on him, flecks of grey streak through his black beard and hair. He could be a swarthy looking Russian or an Armenian or from somewhere similar. Without saying a word I reach for my back pocket. He takes this gesture for an acceptance and thanks me but not waiting for his coin takes a seat at a bench. I give him two dollars, the only gold coin I have in my pocket, and he then lies down on the bench and shuts his eyes as if to sleep.

The station guard walks down the platform.

“Where are you going mate?” Which station are you going to?” He asks, waking the vagrant.

“The city,” mumbles the other.

“Well you can’t sleep, you’ve only got eight minutes. You can’t sleep and miss this train like the last one.”

He’s not going to the city, I reflected to myself. Didn’t have a phone call to make either — he has no-one to call. No more than he has a place to go to. I reflected on this strange enforced wandering of the life of a vagrant.
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