Friday, April 10, 2009

Is there a voice in my head? Is it Jiminy?

One of my very favorite aspects of Diana Gabaldon's series is the constant internal monologue of the character she created, Claire Randall Fraser. And the part that fascinates me the most, both for Claire's character and any other character written by any other author that also says it, is when she talks about "the voice in her head."

The character Claire has a very loud, er . . . prominent head-voice. In the story, she makes comments about the logical center of her brain that is diagnosing people, even the villains that she doesn't care about. Take for example when she sees the Bad Guy orderly get bashed over the head. She diagnoses his heavy, labored breathing (et cetera) as "severe concussion, probably a hemorrhage" and then continues by saying (in her head), "I couldn't care less if he died before my eyes."

At any rate, I'm so sorry Diana if my recollections are off, the details aren't important to my point. So I'll make up for it by fully citing that my horrific "quotations" (which are less than accurate) are all from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. And I'll move on from my poorly quoted lines by getting to the point of all this: I love that the character Claire has TWO voices in her head. She has the "cool, logical" part of her brain. The part that diagnosed what she was seeing and described it clinically, as if she was writing a doctor's note. And the other part of her brain, the part that recognizes that this is a man who, among other evils, wanted to rape her, and she "couldn't care less if he died before [her] eyes." It's not necessarily "right" to want someone to die, but Claire's character is completely forgiven her uncharitable thoughts because of the ordeal she went through, and was still going through at the time she (internally) said it.

Relating the character's comment to myself, I ask: Do I have a "cool, logical part of my brain"? Well, of course I do, everyone does to some extent. But I mean, do I hear it? And what about the second voice? Do I have two too?

It's a fundamentally stupid question, and yet . . . I had to think about the answer. I was so intrigued by the character Claire's internal voices, as she makes numerous references to them throughout Outlander and the entire series. The voices have become a shiny new toy in the store, a complete obsession . . . I want them! Can I have them? Can I, can I, can I? Do I have them already?! Because that's the only way it works. No one can force him or herself into to having a "cool, logical" part of their brain, or a cool internal monologue (I feel so clever). You either do or you don't. Everyone is different, and some of us are just quiet upstairs. So again, do I have either one (and preferably both)?

Ha! I had a sudden flash of What Women Want when Mel Gibson first realizes he can hear what women think, and his two assistants are in the room with him. He doesn't hear anything because their minds are empty, totally devoid of thought. The director didn't choose to have a sound-over of crickets singing, but you still hear them anyway.
Funny too, that I should mention crickets. I was thinking about the voice I wanted in my head, and thinking about Jiminy Cricket. If I did have a voice, would it be like Jiminy Cricket, from Pinocchio? I love the idea of a little caricature of a cricket sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear. The problem with Jiminy Cricket is he's outside your head, not inside.

In the game I created, Jiminy is a separate being, with his own thoughts and agenda. In some games, you have two beings: a good and an evil, one for each shoulder (usually an Angel and a Devil). But when I bring up Jiminy Cricket and the Angel/Devil voices, that's not really what I mean when I'm referring to internal voices (back to my original example, the fictional character Claire). Claire's voices are not warring with each other (like the Angel/Devil) or with her (like Jiminy Cricket arguing with Pinocchio, trying to convince him what he should do).

The whole point is that her two voices are a running monologue, but each with a life of their own.

Another difference: what if Jiminy Cricket is wrong? I guess the Angel would never be wrong, but what if the Devil puts forth a good argument or something? Not everything is cut and dry, and what if Jiminy Cricket's advice isn't right for you?

Take Claire's situation that I started this post with (the guy that had a hemorrhage): both Jiminy Cricket and the Angel would probably have leaned toward helping him; would want to keep him from dying. But instead, the voice didn't even consider helping the Bad Guy. The voice that said it "couldn't care less if he died before her eyes" wasn't a separate being promoting Right/Wrong, but rather it took her particular situation into account. Jiminy Cricket's advice would probably have had something to do with helping the dying guy because Helping Others is What's Right in his Generic Book of Rules. And although that is advice in good faith, What's Right for one person may not be What's Right for someone else.

"What's Right." The battle cry of my inner voice.

I have to stop for a second and call attention to the last sentence. It took me about 10 minutes to write it. Now, before you go gettin' all judgmental and thinking I'm an idiot for spending so much time on it, let me explain. The Voice in my head, Jiminy Cricket or whoever, reads aloud while I type. I guess it can't be Jiminy Cricket, because it's me. My voice. I can hear the words as I see them appear before my eyes (like a good typist, I was taught not to watch my fingers while typing--so I am either looking at an original I'm copying from, or I am watching the words materialize on the screen). I can hear the words as they arrive.

Side note: the same thing happens when I'm reading a book. The point of saying all this is I think it is interesting how much I struggled with the last sentence. I could hear something, but I just couldn't understand it. Kind of like when you hear people speaking, say in a restaurant or on a bus or wherever, and they're talking in another language but it takes you a minute to figure out you're not supposed to understand them. You find yourself straining your ears to hear, or perhaps wiggling a finger in your ear to unclog some nonexistent blockage, because why can't you hear? Are they speaking too quietly? Then all of a sudden the light bulb goes on: they're speaking Spanish! Or Chinese, or German, ad infinitum. Does that make sense to anyone but me? My struggle with "battle cry" was kind of like that, but not quite.

I wish I could explain it better, it's annoying and yet cool. Rather than an unknown language that you're not supposed to understand, it's more like when you hear a snippet of something (a song, a line from a movie, whatever) and you have trouble placing it. "What's that song that goes 'doo doo dee doo doo'?" That's pretty generic, but has anyone else ever had A Moment Like This? Sometimes you can figure it out right away. You'll hear a fragment of the melody, which perhaps will lead to the recollection of a few lines from the song, until you work it out and pinpoint it: A moment like this! La la la la la la la! Kelly Clarkson. Do you hear the melody now? What are the rest of the lyrics?

That's when it works out.  What about when it doesn't?  When hear a piece of the melody, or the lyrics from part of the chorus, and that small snatch plays like a broken record in your head, over and over.  No matter how hard you try, you can't get the needle to move forward and play the rest of the song. Over and over and over, you spend the entire car ride into work, all 45 friggin' minutes, obsessing about "doo doo dee doo doo." What is it from?

I'm not the only one here, am I? The more you try to forget about it (who cares?! Who freaking cares!!!)(which just makes you remember John Cusack having a meltdown in America's Sweethearts: "I don't care! I don't care! Why is this an issue?") and the more you can't forget, and the more you fixate, and the more frustrated you get until at long last . . . EUREKA! Insert song name here. Finally, after however long the obsession, you figure out the name of the song (or whatever it was).  Sometimes it's the next day.

Sometimes it's been so long that I forget the original "doo doo dee doo doo" part that I was so engrossed with in the first place, and the whole thing plays out again in reverse.

Now "Multiply [that] by infinity, and take it to the depth of forever, and you will still have barely a glimpse of what I'm talking about" when it comes to picking the right word or phrase for a sentence. Do you know what that quote is from? I'm not going to tell you! I'm hoping, Reader, that you have experienced your own EUREKA moments (it has to be in all capitals like that). And that you also know about the subsequent RELIEF when everything finally slides into place. If you don't, maybe trying to figure out where that quote comes from will give you a small taste. Imagine those words in Anthony Hopkins' voice.

At any rate, that's what happened: I kept changing my mind about the "battle cry" part of that sentence. There was an argument in my head, but one of the arguing parties was whispering and the other was shouting, and it was the whisper I wanted to hear. But the whisper was just too quiet, and I wanted to say: "Speak up!" I can't hear you.

Everything I tried was wrong, I could tell that plain as day by the altercation in my head. The process would go "[whisper]" [I would type a word, then] "No!" [I would delete the word, then]"[whisper]" [I would type a word, then] "No!" and so on and so forth. I just couldn't move on until I got it right. And note: this is not an Angel/Devil argument! The voices were not arguing with each other about the appropriate word. That implies that one of them wanted one word, and the other wanted another word. No, it was a language barrier. I just couldn't hear the whisper.

So, there obviously IS a voice in my head. Does it only speak to me when I'm struggling with prose? I don't think so. Picking up from where I left off:

"What's right." The battle cry of my inner voice.

It really is a battle cry, a slogan, a call to arms, a catchword, a calling card, a rallying cry, a motto, and a song . . . are you getting a glimpse of what I just went though? I started with swan song, but that wasn't really what I meant (it was the song in swan song that I was focusing on). It literally is an argument like I said before--an "argument" the same way the process of trying to figure out that name of a song is an "argument." You think about the lyrics in your head: Doo doo dee doo doo. You think, "It kind of sounds like Song X, but I know that's not it." Then Song X starts playing in your head while you're still thinking about the first song: La la la la la la la! And the la la's start playing over and over instead of the doo doo's. Then they start getting integrated and you hear La la dee doo doo la la. That's when all hope is lost.

Digress, stray, wander . . . "What's right." The battle cry of my inner voice. And what I mean by that is actually quite simple:

I believe fiercely in karma. I think that when it comes to our actions, there is no "gray area." In fact, I think "gray area" is crap when it comes to morality. Good, evil. Right, wrong. There's nothing in between! But circumstances alter cases. That's what I meant by "What's right for someone else may not be what's right for me." You know, the classic writer's theme when a character asks, "What should I do?" and the mentor answers, "I can't tell you what to do. Follow your heart." I do not believe that our hearts have a gray area!! Deep inside, you always know "what's right." Angel, Devil, Jiminy Cricket . . . it doesn't matter who's talking in your ear, your heart knows.

Example 1: Ernie. When I found him, we didn't want another cat. But it didn't matter. Not to me, not to Dan. There wasn't a choice. He desperately needed help, so we gave it. I didn't need an Angel or Jiminy Cricket to tell me it was the right thing to do.

But now there's Ernie Example #2 from last week. Ernie got in a fight (AGAIN!) and I found him after work. His eye was all weepy, and he was keeping it squinched shut. There was a very small cut over it, the size of a paper cut, and I thought maybe the claw scratched his eyeball. It didn't look like it, and he didn't seem to be distressed at all, but when I looked closer, I noticed his back leg was swollen too. I couldn't see a wound anywhere, and I searched high and low. But it just didn't look right, and it was clear to me he needed to go to the vet. But since he wasn't in mortal peril he would have to wait until the morning (when the vet opened). Skip forward to the next morning: now the eye looks better. His back leg is still swollen, but the eye is definitely improved. Should I still take him in? The "cool, logical" part of my brain couldn't decide, started stressing about money, thinking he'll probably be "fine." After all, "he looks improved." But then, I heard it. Both the question: Should I take him to the vet? and the answer: It's the right thing to do. I heard them both as clearly as if someone had spoken it in my ear.

And just in case anyone is curious: turns out, his eye was fine but there was a wound hidden under the fur on his leg that required not only stitches, but a drain and two return visits.

And that's my answer! I clearly heard them--both voices. It's kind of exciting, like making a new friend. I even named them. Jiminy, the "cool, logical" part. And Mushu. Mushu, Mushu, Mushu . . . the romantic monologist inside of me that speaks my heart. They've been here the whole time, but it feels like I just discovered them.

Hello, Jiminy! Hello, Mushu!

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