I sing to myself all the time. There is nearly always some song or other stuck in my head, on repeat, and it generally only fades away when another song has supplanted it. On rare occasions, listening to the entire song will cause it to fade at the last note, but that doesn’t work as often as I’d like it to. Much of the time I don’t mind, it’s like I have my own little sound track and I can usually switch tracks when I want to, though the auto-play often gets stuck on one particular song for days or weeks, and that can get incredibly annoying.
Sometimes I talk to myself, too. Sometimes I even argue with myself — and once in a while I win — but I usually save the heated arguments for when I’m alone, and I usually just let those play out in my head. (It’s worth noting, for those of you who know me on Facebook and saw that gem of a quote from Fred today, that he knew nothing about this blog entry, and most of this post, including the previous sentence, was written weeks ago.) But the singing? I made a conscious decision a while ago not to keep the singing to myself, and I thought I’d tell you why. Just in case you run into me somewhere and wonder why I’m walking along singing, seemingly oblivious to the fact that I’m, you know, in public, and people — possibly including you — are looking at me funnily.
Here’s the thing. If a kid talks to himself while he’s playing alone, most people think it’s really cute. Adults nearby often sneak peeks, trying not to get caught watching, so they can catch a bit of what he’s saying when he doesn’t know anyone’s listening. Of course, if he did know the adult was there he may just go on exactly the same anyway, because he’s probably absorbed in his own little awesome world, but I digress. Why do we do this? Because it’s adorable, that’s why. But why is it so adorable?
Because we know that that kid is completely engrossed in his play, and completely free to follow his imagination, or work out his train of thought in the way that comes most naturally to him in that instance. He’s not burdened down with all of the rules and regulations that we’ve placed on our ridiculous adult lives, saying we can’t do this or that or the other because so-and-so is watching, or what’s-her-face might see, or the men in white coats may come to take us away. We call it the ‘innocence’ of childhood. And I think we stand there, listening, remembering days when we felt free to play out our imaginations out loud, unbound by unwritten rules that make us confine our mind til it’s left with no outlet but to ricochet endlessly off the inside of our skull whilst slowly driving us mad.
If an adult gets engrossed in something and starts talking to himself in public, barring some recent tragedy, people generally think he’s losing his sanity. Someone, somewhere, decided that talking to yourself after a certain age, means you’re ‘nuts’. Then someone else came along and jokingly decided that you’re only ‘nuts’ if you answer yourself back, and everyone laughed, and went on knowing that no, really, you just can’t talk to yourself in public.
Now, granted, there are some rules regarding self-talk that make sense. If you go talking to yourself all the time it’s going to annoy people around you if, say, they’re trying to watch a movie, or read a book, or hear a sermon, or cross a tight rope on a unicycle while balancing an egg in a spoon with their mouth. But does the general public require you to be silent while you’re getting your groceries, or sitting at the park, or checking your post office box? I mean, if you took your kid or your boyfriend or your grandma with you you’d probably be talking to each other a lot, surely one voice is less annoying than two.
So why does it disturb us so much to hear someone talking to himself past a certain age? I mean, it’s easier to get away with in the age of the cellphone, especially now that wireless earpieces are so popular and upstanding business people go walking down the street arguing with ‘themselves’ all the time. But you can bet most of the people they pass still do a double-take and immediately start looking for the device that makes this ‘okay’. Because if it turns out he’s not on a Blackberry or something, and he really is just arguing with himself, you can bet they’re gonna start walking a little faster.
When you really stop to think about it it’s a rather strange thing. What is so cute in little kids is somehow troubling in adults. The freedom we envy in our children we abhor in fellow adults. Apparently, growing up means you’re supposed to grow boring, kill your imagination, and stop being friends with yourself.
It’s all a little silly to me. Especially considering that some people, the few who have ‘proven’ themselves in some way, maybe by being rich, inventing something, having an enormous IQ, having a book on the best-seller list, get called eccentric and get a free pass on these kinds of rules, but anyone who hasn’t met some standard of proof — a standard which is also unwritten and ridiculously fuzzy — is considered ‘nuts’. You do get a free pass if there is audible music or you have headphones on and you’re singing.
I’d been thinking about these things for a while. I’ve also been working on my music quite a bit over the past few years, debating whether I should take this whole singing thing more seriously and consider trying to make a real album. I’ve been singing in church for years now, and practice is required, so I go around singing at home much of the time, and I’ve always sung along with the radio in my car. One day I was singing in my car and I got out to go into the little post office in our village. I would normally switch to humming, but it was after hours, if I remember correctly, and no one was around, so I just kept on singing. Someone walked in as I was there and caught me off-guard. I figured they had heard me when they walked on so I might as well keep on singing, so I just did.
And it was incredibly freeing.
I mean, at some point in my past I would have been worried about offending people’s ears, but I’ve been assured by most people I know that my singing voice is actually pretty, and since I almost always sing on-key the chances of making anyone double over in pain, or even cringe, seem fairly low. Unless of course, they’re offended by the lyrics, and I do try to stay conscious of the content and adjust my volume or hum the parts that I think might be somehow offensive to someone around me. But allowing myself to just sing when I want to sing, as long as it’s not going to be interrupting anyone or become an annoyance, has taken a burden off of me that I never even knew I was carrying.
So, if you see me singing to myself when I’m out and about just know that I’ve decided I don’t need to grow up in that particular way :P