Monday, September 20, 2010

Watch Yourself

The contents of ones own thoughts -- by this I mean the contents of my own thoughts, but I'm being oblique for the sake of pseudo universality -- are the background music, the familiar, almost unnoticed wallpaper of the individual human life.  We (I) pay them little serious attention while at the same time taking them very, very seriously.

This can be a problem. 

Let me try to clarify this concept with an example from a  film classic:  "Men In Black."  

Remember the part where the alien who runs the pizza shop gets killed, and at the autopsy his head opens up to reveal the tiny being who's been in the driver's seat of this guy all along?  No?  Well, I'm not sure if it actually was the Pizza Alien, but I do remember the moment.  My point is that I have one of those beings in my head almost all the time.  And I'm guessing you probably do, too.

This little being is not me.  But she very often gets to play me in real life.  

My tiny automatic pilot (Let's call her Petunia for fun and convenience.) has tons of opinions:  Petunia doesn't like to fly.  She's bad at exercise and hates to do it.  She doesn't care for movies with subtitles.  She likes brownies or anything chocolate.  She's never been much of a basketball fan.  She's not terribly fond of fruit. She gets totally lost on the west side of Cleveland. She fears and despises on-ramps.  She has no patience with Dr. Phil.  She likes to think things over.  She hates to be rushed.  She's personally offended by reality TV.  If you bring something-anything to her attention, she'll come up with an opinion about it on the spot.

And my knee will jerk.

I was quite young when I started loading up Petunia with opinions. I gave her a ton of info.  Some of it quite worthwhile. The stove is hot.  The candy is fabulous.  When your mother looks at you like that, be a better girl as fast as you can.  Some of it works, too:  Smile. Be nice. Show signs of intelligence.  Develop a sense of humor. Pay attention.  Pretend you are paying attention.

Old Petunia kept me alive while I was figuring out that I was alive.

But now she's mostly an unconscious, automatic, knee-jerk reaction to stuff I'm not really paying attention to because she's already made up my mind about them.  And she doesn't always have my best interest in ... uh ... mind.

Here's an example from real life.  From today, as a matter of fact.  I need to get Petunia to let me (Let's call me "Annie.") pick what books we're going to read.

Miss Petunia likes books where people get better, overcome the odds, live well, find spiritual truth without undue suffering, solve crimes, eat in nice restaurants, and don't throw their lives irretrievably down the drain on a whim. She loves happy endings.  Left to her own devices, Petunia would never have read,  Atonement, The Corrections, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao or any other books about the train wrecks of human experience that the book club makes me read.

Face it. She wants happy, dappy Kraft Jet Puffed Marshmallow Creme in the 13 oz. jar, from now until forever.   Of course, common sense suggests this would keep Annie drifting in warm, familiar, slightly stagnant pleasantness.  And probably rot her brain.

Therefore, starting now, we are going to read A Visit From The Goon Squad, Dreaming in Hindi, Freedom (from the author of The Corrections.  Yikes.  Train. Wreck.) and any other book that people in whom Annie has confidence suggest is worth reading.  Even though something about these stories seems to scare Petunia. And when Annie starts to put one of them down (going, "Whoa, this is not going to turn out well.  I feel strangely threatened.") I'm going to take a deep, cleansing breath and look seriously and quietly into the control compartment of my head to observe who it is that's scared, bored or in some other way uncomfortable and say, "There, there, sweetie.  Shhh.  It's just a book.  I'm right here, too."

Annie is going to keep a mindful eye (whatever that might be) on Petunia.

And we'll see how it goes.

P.S. If this sounds anything like schizophrenia to you, you could be right.  Ask the little alien in your head what it thinks.


  1. No, it sounds nothing like schizophrenia. You are fully oriented. You know where you are.

    Rejoice. (and don't read Joyce) You have a wonderful mindful eye, Annie. (And so does your Petunia.) Keep recording the soundtrack(s) in your head... your readers will follow the music.