Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Talking to myself

This will either strike a chord or make me sound deranged. I think we all know which. File under: reasons never to meet me in person.

In my head I am Dorothy Parker. Wise cracking and fearless. I have brave, pithy conversations in front of the bathroom mirror, filled with wit and bravura. My head is filled with one-sided conversations in which I shine, brilliantly. I would love to meet Head Me. I would love to BE Head Me. She has all the good lines, all the smart comebacks. She can make a point. Head me wouldn't be flummoxed by dry cleaners. Living alone has made it worse, but I was always pretty prone; I have been led to understand that it can be an alarming thing for the other party who tries to have an actual conversation with you, when you have been arguing with them for the past half hour - and winning, needless to say - in your head. I live in my head, and it's terribly busy in there. It's why I write, I suppose.

There isn't a trace of Head Me when I actually open my mouth in the company of other human beings, needless to say. In the company of strangers I can barely manage a handful of strangled pleasantries. Then I blush, nuclear, teenage pink. I'm particularly bad at asking questions. Some inner dowager duchess, or possibly 18th century Japanese nobleman, thinks that it's indelicate to ask people questions. What if you put them on the spot? What if you inadvertently touch some nerve? OH THE EMBARASSMENT. I would have to throw myself on my sword if I accidentally asked someone something that made them uncomfortable. Thus I appear boorish and self-centred, because I can never work up the courage to, for instance, ask someone where they live (what if they just got evicted? What if they are homeless? What if what if what if?).

In more serious conversations, with people I know, particularly when I want to communicate something important, I tend to resort to going mute. There will be some perfectly formulated sentence in my head, that I have been honing and refining for hours. I will have brooded and practised it to perfection. But when the moment comes, and I am standing with the person in question, I will just stare, much like the brainless weepette does to me at 6 at point blank range every morning, willing them to mind read. There have been times when have quite literally felt words stick in my throat. If I can Just. Think. Harder... No. It never works. Noone can read my mind.

This is foremost in my mind at the moment, because the effortlessly gracious and kind Mrs Trefusis has invited me to a lovely party type event which will be huge fun. But at which I will have to speak to lots of strangers. Ask them questions. Put them at ease. Yeah. She is absolutely magnificent at this. I am like someone's surly teenage son in comparison. We have been musing today on what concentration, quantity and type of alcohol I will need to perform, without lapsing into gibbering incoherence. She favours whisky, I'm more inclined to vodka. Two of whatever it is will be plenty. I would really really like to prove to myself I am capable of this. What do you reckon? Can I do it? Or will she have to rescue me from a catatonic ball of shame on the floor of the ladies at the end of the evening? I'll tell you next week.


justmeagain said...

Well of COURSE you can do it! In your head, you may feel like that, but I promise you that is NOT what people meeting you see. You will be fine. You may even enjoy! Mrs T knows that too. x

Anonymous said...

Oh the mirror chatty thing - I sparkle and am oh so cutting (in a fabulous, not mean, way). I am pithy and to the point without tears or pettiness. The UN adore me and M15 insists on me for particularly perilous and tricky negotiations.

Why don't you surreptitiously hold a teeny mirror against the faces of people you need to speak to. Or hand them scripts. Or take an assistant with you and refuse to speak directly to the minions. Then pretend that you totally prefer standing on your own.


Cait said...

Chord struck. I spent the last weekend scripting and preparing for a conversation with my boss today. And none of the things I wanted to say came out and it was very awkward. Now I feel a bit better and I'm happy that I'm not the only one. :)

Sarah said...

Chord struck and loudly, lady. Would it help to bear in mind that the people you'll be putting at ease will assume you to be full of confidence just because of your ease-putting status? A bit like they tell arachnophobes: they're more scared of you than you are of them...

If not, then two vodkas and shoes that make you smile, so that when you gaze down in embarrassment/worry they cheer you up.

Laura and Ben said...

Oh god. I do this too - then I panic and ask really awful questions:

-What's that scab on your hand?

I suggest stealing the questions that other people ask. Unless the other people are as awkward as you or I. Maybe steal Mrs. Trefusis' questions...

Oh, and Sarah's right, wear nice shoes and maybe people will want to talk to you about them?

linda said...

Chord definitely struck. Loud, clanging gong.
I also dissect conversations -- every nuance, every syllable -- after the fact. It's excruciating. Even if I manage to be articulate and chatty and the words flow easily, I imagine later that I have been misunderstood, or said too much, or perhaps offended, or forgot to ask the right thing.
I suspect you'll be fine and that it will be great fun. Mrs. T wouldn't invite you otherwise.

Mrs Trefusis... said...

Tee hee. Believe me, I know how that feels, & I have to ask strangers questions for a living.
I have written you a script: the first two questions are obligatory. The other eight are just in case things get tough. You've also got an official, yet discreet badge to wear, it's the Badge of Courage.

Dash said...

Sarah is absolutely right, just make sure you stick to two vodkas, I always start off trying to be dark and mysterious whilst exuding effortless confidence, sadly a few hours later it's all ruined by the effects of too many gulped glasses of wine, and I can't even find the shoes, when I eventually realize it's time to go home.

You will be fine...enjoy!

GingerB said...

If you need substances, then I recommend two, for the synergistic effects. For example, when I was much, much younger, weed plus caffiene. Now I abhor that type of smoking, so I'd try one pain pill and one large vodka, but no more, because being dead would spoil the whole plan.

And I bet you are much more witty than you are letting on.

Em said...

Living in your head makes you tired. Somethimes you need to let it all out and to hell with the consequences.

Mrs T will look after you!

frau antje said...

I reckon you can do it. Don't wear pajamas. Take that son who drew the praying mantis sibling, as a sort of court artist.

the polish chick said...

ah, to be stuck for words...i open my mouth and do not shut up until i am taken home, often in pieces, then spend the next several days banging my head against a wall because, yet again, i was The Girl Who Would Not Shut Up.
my friends tell me that it is never as bad as i remember, but good lord, how i wish i could be the cool mysterious woman of few words. instead, everyone knows everything about me.
all this i blame on shyness which causes me to show up at gatherings of strangers, quickly down some liquid courage, and go to town.

Knackered Mother said...

You are very entertaining, much more than you seem to know. My problem is not silently rehearsing that perfect sentence, instead blurting out thoughts with no filter. I talk to fill gaps.

You will be fab x

WrathofDawn said...

Oh, God. What Linda said. No matter how well things went and even if it takes me days I will find SOMETHING that I said or did wrong and then obsess about that.

Head Me is the cool twin. Unfortunately, Me Me is the one in charge of the mouth.

You, on the other hand, will be splendid. Just channel Dr. Capybara. Never mind what people think of you... what do you think of them? It's much more fun that way.

Anna Mac said...

Vodka is my first choice as well. It does wonders for conversational ability. Happily, it also comes with a built in escape plan if (when?) you've had just a bit too much, you're free to curl up in the fetal position and die quietly of shame.

I find that people (usually) quite enjoy talking about themselves, so just ask questions - without interrogating, that's just strange and alarming - they'll keep speaking.

I'm sure you'll be wonderful. And even if you're not, you'll be in London, no?

Anonymous said...

Hey, there's probably no way YOU could get nits from Mrs. Trefusis!

Agreed, chemical dependence helps grease the conversational skids. That said, I am required to speak to people for a living, and in social situations am quite chatty. I guess the pendulum swung too far the other way for me, I know every manner of personal info about people, things I wish I did not know, things that require the application of a bottle brush to the brain. I consider you lucky. Silent people are misterious, right?

Anonymous who asked about Kalgon

Anonymous said...

Ah, I meant mysterious, sorry.

Don't most people like the strong, silent types?

Anon Kalgon

Charlotte said...

Oh the questions. I too cannot ask people questions for exactly the reason you describe - I'm worried it will sound rude (even though this means they have to ask me tonnes of questions, and I never think they're rude). Plus saying 'and what do you do?' makes one sound like the Queen.

Don't worry. I think being the sort of people who asks people about themselves at a party is dreadfully passé. Ask them about what they eat when nobody is around, or their worst childhood memory, or their most embarrassing act of love. The sort of people who answer these questions are the sort of people you want to befriend, anyway.

Nellig said...

Resonate? Like a tuning fork.

Things that help: loosening up before you set out, by having a laugh and some champagne (fizzy wine works just as well in my experience). I worry that vodka might open the floodgates a bit too violently.

Do some pouting in the mirror to remind yourself how stupidly beautiful you are, and how lucky they all are to get the chance to meet you.

Life is short and we'll all be dead soon enough anyway, so what the hell. Imagine yourself looking back in old age and wondering what exactly the fuss was all about.

Hodmandod said...

Reason I suppose why I am journalist and you not. I love asking questions and have made chicken farmers cry, and then felt bad, and then asked a whole lot more. Ask away, people love talking about themselves, there is nothing to fear at all.

Laura Jane said...


BUt of course you rehearse witty things, that's how good comedy is made.

I like the sound of a script prepared for you. You can be a 2 question pony.

Or you could try preparing a range of Question Arse biscuits and shuffle your pack as you lurch around after 2 doses of Dutch courage.

I bet you'll be a hit, or will at least give us an hilarious account....which is kinda the same thing, but we won't see whichever fabulous black dress you wear. Thats a photo hint BTW

Kim@EnjoyTheRide said...

You can completely do it. I was in a similar situation just last weekend and I like to think I pulled it off for at least an hour before I resorted to standing in the corner discussing other guests with an old friend/similar social outcast. I have total faith in you.

Layla said...

@Hodmandod Am intrigued by the concept of making chicken farmers cry.

Presumably these were BAD, cruel chicken farmers, not cuddly chicken-friendly chicken farmers whose rare breed designer chickens roost in Cath Kidston-decorated hen houses at night, and spend their days out in the yard scratching happily in the dirt for organic worms? Or do you just hate all chicken farmers?

Have now completely forgotten what I was going to say to Waffle.



Ah, I remember, if it gets to be Just Too Much talking to all those strange people chez Trefusis, I suggest you pop upstairs and commune with Little Boris (Trefusis Minor). You will recognise him immediately by the shock of white blond hair and the casually tossed Latin epithets.

He is a funny and charming child, and I'm sure you will find him relaxing and unstressful company.

Nimble said...

No good for upcoming party but I predict that you will have an easier time saying things out loud to others the older you get. I recommend the 40s as I am enjoying a release from my own self consciousness. By the time you reach 60 you should be entirely shameless.

the polish chick said...

nimble, does that mean that when i hit my 60's, i'll start wearing a bikini again? i miss it. it's languishing in my closet, and i was kinda hoping it would get some use. i think it can wait another 22 years.

Ms. Scotch said...

I discovered a while back (when I was in a sink or swim situation!) that wearing something that makes you feel sophisticated/ glamorous/ sexy/ refined or like a Femme Fatale helps the social situation immensely! It gives you that added boost required to get the first sentence out- after that everything is easy... (Or at least easier!)

Awhirlinlondon said...

Hope that the party is gorgeous and am v sure that Mrs T will take good care of you-- if, in fact you find yourself needing to be taken care of!

Such a pity that for some of us, the ability to sparkle charmingly and bravely in writing (or at least once in a while!) doesn't necessarily-- at all!-- translate into brave and charming sparkle when faced with an actual human being. Have regularly looked down & scrubbed toe into floor while stammering idiotically when finally faced with a person with whom I have a good, but entirely writing-based relationship. The people in my computer are much less frightening than their real-life apparitions.

monk said...

I don't know the names of most of my colleagues for this very reason. They ask mine, awkward pause, then NAHTHING! I don't know what I'm scared of, that their parents didn't love them enough to give them a name?

Norma said...

That whole 'talking to yourself' thing? Not a problem.

Me? When I turned 40, I went "Norma Desmond." Might as well own it.

Loving your blog btw, just found you, going to follow you.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea who you are, but I've just read that charming confession, and want you to know I love you. In a deep and profound way. Because I would like to be Head Me too.