One Thing or Another is a lighthearted look at aging, life, and the absurdities of it all.
By Mark McNease
It’s been a little alarming to observe myself in conversation with me more openly and regularly these days. What I’d once considered a trait of people who meander sidewalks aimlessly or decline to take medication, I now see as a sign I’m either not quite right, or I’ve lost the ability to keep my inner dialogue private—just between the two of me, so to speak.
I don’t know if this is a good thing, a bad thing, or neutral. Is talking to yourself a symptom of anything at all, or just something we all do behind closed mouths? What startles me is that I’ve gotten so unconcerned with who sees and hears me. Walking to the drug store, heading to the coffee shop, or, scarily for my partner, just being in the kitchen sounding as if there’s an argument going on with someone and hoping he doesn’t realize that someone is me!
But, really, what would be worse? Having him think I’m talking to myself again, or that a stranger has entered the apartment at 5:00 a.m. to confront me, since so many of the conversations with myself are confrontations? Last stands taken against a co-worker, television pundit, acquaintance whose criticism has crossed a line, or presidential hopeful who just said the most infuriating thing at a campaign rally. Come to think of it, argument seems to be behind much of what we talk to ourselves about. And these arguments, these dressings-down, always end in our favor. Have you noticed that? It’s an upside to this self-enclosed chatter: we may be in a verbal life-or-death struggle, but we always win. Our points get made, our integrity maintained, and our blood pressure lowered until the next showdown in our heads.
I have no idea how much of these things are a reflection of what Buddhists and those in Eastern traditions call “the monkey mind,” jumping from limb to limb, and how much of them are just me losing the ability to constrain myself. It both scares me and liberates me. The older I get, the more my worry over being overheard is trumped by the feeling of freedom that comes with muttering loudly to myself on the way to the bus stop. Is it so bad if people think I’m twisted, in a harmless way? Life is so full of restrictions, things we can’t and won’t do, usually out of some fear or another. Maybe talking to myself, so loud and proud (or at least unashamed) is a way of breaking free for a few minutes. Social expectations be damned: I have something to say and I’m going to say it, even if I’m the only one listening.
Mark McNease is the Editor of lgbtSr, a website “where age is embraced and life is celebrated,” serving the over-50 LGBTQ audience. He’s the author of the Kyle Callahan Mysteries, co-editor and publisher of the anthology Outer Voices Inner Lives (Lambda Literary Award finalist), host of the Live Mic with Mark podcast, and the co-creator and original writer for the Emmy and Telly winning children’s program Into the Outdoors.