Piece of Cake

Introspection is harder than just eating madelines.

This writing assignment should be a piece of cake. The Inner Monologue is basically about introspection, and introspection comes naturally to people like me. The Introspective Narrative is even more on my wavelength. I’m fascinated by storytelling.

My name is Moi Frey (rhymes with "oy, vey") and what I mean by "people like me" is: "socially challenged." Not so severely that I’d seem to be, like, an autistic person or something. But I definitely seem to have less of a knack for reading people. I’d make a lousy detective, for instance, because I can't read people.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, "nerd" officially entered the American language the year I was born. So it’s safe to say I was one of the world’s first nerds. "Nerd" had first appeared in print the previous year. The book it appeared in was If I Ran the Zoo, by Dr. Seuss. In those days, nerds weren’t the cool anti-heroes they are now. As I often felt like I was an ugly, exotic creature, the zoo connection seems fitting.

Introspection was my coping mechanism. I didn’t start out being quiet and introverted. In fact I started out brassy as a fire-hose nozzle, and frequently chattered about anything that came to mind, to anyone who’d listen. After I realized I was spending a whole lot of time being mocked by my playmates, the coping mechanism developed, but to this day, when I’m with people I love and trust, I’m very outgoing. I’ve learned a lot about listening, but I still don’t grasp many of the clues that people put out to let subtler minds know they’re feeling bored or peeved, or they want you to do something you’re not presently doing or stop doing something you presently are doing.

Wait, I have a question about the assignment. Maybe being introspective isn't the same thing as doing an inner monologue. Does introspective narration have anything in common with the narration I sometimes find myself carrying on to my cat, about my reasons for doing this thing, that thing or the other thing? That running commentary on my activities, taken at face value, is an attempt to explain my own life (to my cat? or to myself?). This, by the way, is only one reason why it’s essential to write: to keep that kind of monologue from emerging into the world of aloud.

To return to the question: Since that commentary is done – much to my chagrin – out loud... wouldn’t that be distinct from an "inner monologue"? They say anything can be made into an inner monologue. For evidence, they just point to Proust. I have not read Proust.

Perhaps inner monologues are more like the stream of thoughts I have when I’m riding my bike in the morning. That’s the time of day when I feel the freest, the most alive. Those monologues are shaped by the sensory experiences I have as I ride along; the people I see, the sounds I hear, the sensation of motion flying through it all. Many of these inner monologues touch or obsess on my preoccupations with the oddities of the culture I live in. Often a creative strategy or a solution to a problem will present itself to me, or I’ll think of a reason why I should change my job, to seek out more interesting problems. But I can’t write these monologues down, and I’ve forgotten them by the time I dismount.

Lately, I’ve been using my ride time to engage in face work. I’m trying out a controversial treatment for severe shyness. Which is to say: I practice smiling at people. It’s amazing how difficult it is to do. It has to be done skillfully or people immediately mistake you for a loony. For instance, you’re allowed to grin broadly only at young men showing off or babies doing anything. Too bold a smile from a woman sends a man the wrong message. You can smile warmly only at elderly people, and even then, only some of them. The same smile aimed at a child may cause the attending parent to look at you with a wary eye, wondering if you’re dangerous. On rare occasion, I succeed in flashing an open, friendly woman-to-woman smile that I think connects in the right way, and fuels my longing for a best friend. Most of the smiling has to be very subtle, because Southern California is not a culture where people smile at strangers. And as I said earlier, I’m not good with subtle.

It all goes by very fast, and when I’m doing it, I have to stop the inner monologue and focus on the smiling, and that’s okay for awhile.

I'm no less neurotic than your average nerd, so I'm most intensely aware of my inner monologues while I'm preparing my meals. These are monologues about food, of course. I love food way too much. I easily overeat. Over the years I’ve tackled this problem by refusing to prepare more than I should eat, weighing and measuring to be sure I get the right amounts of everything, until it’s become second nature. Built-in portion control. Still, I have to diet one day out of every five to make up for slippage, and I’m resigned to being chubbier than I’d like.

My meal-preparations get a predictable break from these self-obsessive monologues when I serve the cat her dinner. Feeding her involves a lively conversation, the only one of the day that’s conducted entirely in her language, so far as I’m able to speak it.

Having come this far, I’d like to take it all back about the piece of cake. Cake usually gets me in trouble, and I was wrong about the writing assignment. This is not an easy assignment. Who wants to hear about my food monologue? As a semi-emotionally illiterate nerd, I can’t imagine that anyone would want to listen to my thoughts. Maybe I need to read more. Who is the master of the monologue? I’ve finished with If I Ran the Zoo. Is it okay if I start In Search of Lost Time? May I please have tea and... maybe some cake?

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