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Friday, October 7, 2016

THE INNER MONOLOGUE


In the movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Austin is cryogenically frozen in the 70s and thawed out in the present where he meets his assistant, Vanessa, played by the bedazzling Liz Hurley. (That's a movie reference, in case you're wondering.) As he comes to, he says aloud: "My god, Vanessa's got a fabulous body... I bet she shags like a minx... How do I let them know because of the unfreezing process, I have no inner monologue? I hope I didn't just say that all out loud just now."

The line is funny because we can relate to thinking things that would cause embarrassment to ourselves or others if we uttered them aloud. Unlike our hapless hero, however, we keep these thoughts to ourselves. The world would be a very hectic place if we all gave vent to everything we thought all of the time. And I'm sure you could write a great movie about just such a world. I'm still hoping for the next Powers sequel. But the question I often ask is: What would life be like without the inner monologue providing running commentary? Runners know the inner voice all too well. It comes late in a run and takes the form of a nagging child, pleading for the exhausted plodder to pull to the side of the road and, I dunno, have a hamburger washed down with a cold one. Chuck Engle, who has run hundreds of marathons, actually courts this pesky voice. He runs the last mile as hard as he can so that these dreadful thoughts come into his head, and he enjoys listening to them! All those begging, pleading, panicky thoughts, which of course he doesn't heed, because he's a champion. No pain, no gain, as they say. 

I witnessed my own inner monologue gone awry once while I was out for a day at the beach with a friend. If we could ever get to the beach. The friend in question kept me waiting in my car for 20 minutes while she finished applying her make-up, or so she said. She came down without wearing any make-up. I observed this fact aloud, which prompted her to remark that she had somehow managed to poke herself in the eye with a brush and was waiting for the swelling to go down before coming down to see me. This sounded like a bad excuse if I had ever heard one. Right up there with the classic wayward student's excuse for not turning in his homework. ("My dog ate it.") Was her request to stop at the drugstore just an attempt to make me believe her, or could this hussy really be so clumsy, I wondered, but not aloud. This after: "Damn girls, taking so long and making us wait so long. This day is starting off on the wrong foot and I'm getting grumpy." But I am not Austin powers, and these comments would not win my companion's esteem, but would only leave me on the curb.

And so I kept myself together. On the PCH heading to a hike in the canyon we got stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. Which set off my inner voice again: "I hate traffic. My life is passing me by, and faster than this car is moving." So we stopped at a Starbucks where she offered to go in and buy me a tea. A nice gesture, I thought, until she made me wait another 30 minutes. I watched other patrons go in after my friend and exit before her. Was she just torturing me, testing my patience, pushing my buttons? Was I on candid camera? Lesser men, or my former self, would have snapped, stormed into the Starbucks and asked WTF, maybe just been in a foul mood for the rest of the day. Or got lost on their smart phones, but I don't have one. So I was stuck in my head. 

But then it hit me. These thoughts are not me. This voice, I can just listen to it, tune it out. I don't have to give in. This experience would be so much more pleasant if not for my inner voice finding fault with everything. The funny thing is, this voice is what makes us human. Animals don't have it, our devices don't have it. The inner monologue is what makes you you and me me. Overcoming the inner voice, not giving into it, tuning it out or merely observing it, is to transcend humanity and become like gods!

Eventually I went in and rather than harangue my beach date for dilly dallying at the condiment counter I expressed my concern for her safety. "I was worried you got flushed down the toilet or something," I said rather cheekily. We aborted the hike, turned around and headed to the other side of town where we went bicycling on the strand, after enjoying Mexican food where I watched her drink less than half of an 18 dollar margarita that we split, but only because she wouldn't let me pick up the tab. And while biking she managed to make me wait one more time, this when she visited the ladies' room and didn't come out for what seemed like another 20 minutes. Welcome to a man's world. Times like this make me wish I were gay.

Afterwards I took my friend home and left her with a kiss on the cheek and the agreement that "we sure had a lovely time, didn't we?" A fact she wouldn't have been so quick to acknowledge had I told her how crazy it had driven me to wait around all day. If you don't have something nice to say, say nothing at all, I think is the phrase. And if your thoughts are driving you crazy, tune them the f#%k out. I just made that one up. This is not to say you should ignore your feelings. The fact remains that I don't like to wait. So I went and found a new friend who is a lot more punctual and has one helluva set of knockers. As Austin would say, I bet she shags like a minx.

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