Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

A frequent conversation (with myself)

Everyone has a story.

Being me, I talk to myself. A lot. This is a (slightly embarrassing) fact. I do it often enough that I suspect that someday, somewhere, someone will catch me at it in earnest and shoot me a quizzical look, the look that disinterested strangers flash whenever they encounter something that’s not quite what they expected.

And it’ll be palpably awkward for a second. My face will get red as a brick house, and I’ll say something to the effect of “Just, uhh, just talkin’ to myself.”

And the stranger will smile, thinking they’ve bested me. They’ll say something pithy, like “Don’t worry about it,” or “I can see that,” or even “You’re a stupid idiot.” Or maybe they’ll just smile. Whatever happens, they will walk away from that encounter with a feeling of superiority, possibly thinking that I’m mildly insane.

But I’m not crazy. Really.  I just talk to myself.  I have my reasons, and no mildly embarrassing encounter could ever stop me.

As you can probably tell, I enjoy talking to myself. But the reason I bring all of this up is more complicated: I believe every human being has an interesting story to tell. One aspect of my story revolves around my reflexive, and seemingly pointless discussions with myself.

When I was in third grade, my parents had me tested for a learning disability. The testing occurred because of my tremendous struggle to learn to write by hand, which surprised them because I had learned to read at five. I took an IQ test with both a verbal and nonverbal component. And the results, according to the woman who tested me, were eye-opening.

On the verbal portion of the test, I did fantastically. I don’t know the exact score, but my mother later told me it was extremely high. Genius level, even. But the nonverbal portion told a different story. I scored more than two standard deviations below what is considered “average.” That means that without such a high verbal score to compensate, I would be considered developmentally disabled. The woman who tested me: who spends her waking hours testing kids: said she had never seen a gap in scores as large as mine.

The IQ test is a stable test, which means that this isn’t something I could just “get over.” This was, and is, something with which I have to live. I will always have trouble with little, minuscule things like tying my shoes, putting things into my backpack, building towers with blocks or packing my suitcase.

I learned that I have a learning disability called dysgraphia, a fine motor issue that wrecks any chance of good or fast handwriting. It is augmented by a non-verbal disability that makes it difficult for me to process visual signals, like body language.

When I try to explain this to my peers, many of them laugh and appear to remain skeptical that these are actual problems.

“Who ever heard of somebody who has trouble tying shoes, anyway?” they say. “Besides, I would’ve never guessed you even had this problem.”

In fairness to my peers, this is a compliment (dare I say it?) to my personal genius.

My extremely high verbal score lets me overcome some of the challenges I mentioned, and it explains why I talk to myself the way that I do. I don’t talk to myself because I’m trying to be weird, or because I’m a little crazy. I do it because the instinct to talk (even to myself) is wired into my system.

So, the inevitable time someone catches me speaking when no one else is around, they’ll feel superior. But they’ll know nothing about me,aAbout what my talking to myself says about my character, or about my personal narrative.

But the reverse is also true. Whenever I meet someone, I know nothing about his or her story. In fact, the idea that everyone even has one is not easy to accept. Our individual universes revolve around ourselves, and we only make strangers a priority when they interact with us. As the late David Foster Wallace said in a brilliant speech to Kenyon College, this is our “default” setting.

But no one’s life means nothing. No one’s life is without a jumbled collection of events that compose a sort of story. We need to recognize and care for all these stories: not just those of our friends or our family, but the stories of acquaintances and strangers too.

I’m not there yet. But I have taken the first step: I recognize that a certain odd habit of mine demonstrates an interesting aspect of my personal plot line. And I recognize too that other people’s quirks mean the same thing.

That’s my story. What’s yours?

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