On being … not just alone with my thoughts

by Ingrid Sapona

One of my favourite movies is What Women Want, with Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. Like most women, I could instantly relate to it. After all, the notion of “self-talk” – that internal monologue that so many of us seem to have running through our head every waking moment –is a well-documented phenomenon. (You can even find information about it in Wikipedia.) Self-talk isn’t what I’m writing about here though.

The topic for today’s column came to me the other day when I saw the new Robert Redford movie All is Lost. It’s about a man (Redford) sailing alone in the Indian Ocean. His troubles start when his boat hits a shipping container that’s fallen off a cargo ship. The container punctures a hole in the side of his boat a bit above the water line.

All the reviews I had read mentioned that during the whole movie, Redford says only a couple dozen lines. In fact, nearly all the lines are part of a voice-over at the very beginning of the film. In the voice-over he’s re-reading the last entry he’s written in his ship’s log. Clearly, the dramatic reason for the voice-over is to make viewers wonder who the entry is intended for, who he has left behind in taking this journey, and so on. About the only other time he speaks in the film is when he tries to radio an SOS call and when he tries to get the attention of a loud cargo ship that’s streaming by. (Oh, and once, just once, out of sheer desperation he does say – actually, it’s more of a scream – the f word.)

As I was watching the movie, I understood that the whole no talking thing was a dramatic device, but I found it really odd that Redford (or should I say, the character he was portraying) didn’t talk to himself at all. Not a mumble, not a murmur, not even so much as a sigh – other than the one swear word.

I first realized how unnatural his silence seemed to me in the scene where he attempts to radio the SOS. The scene is quite dramatic because it unfolds over a series of actions that start with him lugging the heavy marine battery up on the deck from below. The VHS radio is also up on the deck – he brought it up in hopes the sun would dry it out.

As he carefully attaches the first lead from the radio to the battery terminal I suddenly felt as though it was me attaching the radio and as I was mentally going through the motions, I found myself (silently) mumbling: Please work, please work, please work. I repeated this mantra silently only because I was in a packed theatre. Had I been alone, trust me, it wouldn’t have been some form of self-talk – it would have been clearly audible.

Many times during the movie I felt almost transported into the action. And, whenever that happened, I also inevitably noticed myself (silently) saying something – whether I was imploring some line to hold fast, or reminding myself to close the cabin hatch, or sometimes just letting out the odd “whew” when something went right. And every time I suppressed a word or sigh (so as not to bother those around me in the theatre), I just couldn’t believe that Redford didn’t utter a sound.

I saw the movie with a friend who’s also a sailor and afterwards I mentioned that I found it hard to believe that a guy all alone wouldn’t be talking to himself as he did things. My friend said the only thing he found odd was that the guy didn’t swear more out of exasperation. Not sure if my friend’s comment was just in jest, I explained that the character’s silence made me feel oddly self-conscious about how much I talk to myself when I’m alone.

I was sure that after more fully explaining what I meant and giving him an example, my friend would say, “Oh, yeah – I guess I do that too”. But instead, he thought about it and said, “No, I don’t really talk out loud to myself – other than the occasional swear word …” I let it go at that, but since the movie, I’ve thought about it a lot.

I can’t help wonder whether it’s particularly uncommon to talk out loud when there’s no one else there to hear you. I’ve also wondered whether doing so might be more common for those of us who spend more time alone. Is it some sort of need to hear a human voice every now and then?  (If that’s the case, then surely a guy alone for days on end in a boat in the middle of a big, lonely ocean would have felt compelled to utter a few words out loud.) Or is talking to yourself out loud just a quirky habit?

Don’t worry – I don’t think I’m going crazy or anything. (Besides, there’s that old saying that there’s nothing wrong with talking to yourself out loud – it’s only when you start to answer yourself that you have to worry.) But I do wonder whether others talk to themselves out loud much. What about you? What do you hear when you’re alone?

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona


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