This post brought to you by Denise Riley's essay "The Inner Voice," published in the Readings section of the June 2005 Harpers (which in turn was adapted from her longer essay "A Voice Without a Mouth: Inner speech in the journal Qui Parle, to which I do not subscribe).
This excerpt in Harpers got me thinking about inner voices, or thoughts, or the words you say to yourself in your head, or the Martians, or whatever you like to call them. In it, Richards brings up the fact that everyone "hears" these voices (or this voice) all the time. Sometimes it talks to you, tells you what to do, tells you what you did wrong, or even sings and plays music for you. It can also act like a whole theater troupe of people you know and have seen and recreate entire scenes from your life, with a certain amount of creative flair added in.
The thing is, you "hear" this voice, but it doesn't really sound like anything. I mean, mine kind of talks like me (that is, in English, with my mannerisms), but it doesn't have any sound to it (this blows my mind in the same way that you see dreams, but you don't really see them). It also has its own peculiarities that don't come out when I actually talk (mostly things like repeating itself over and over again, or singing some phrase it said earlier in the day to the tune of the last song it heard, if I talked to you the way my head-voice talks to me, you would not be my friend. And yet, I'm fond of my head-voice). And no matter how well you know someone, you can never really know what their inner voice is like, even if they spend every moment telling you what it just told them. Does that mean that the inside voice is a more true you? Or a more raw one? Or maybe just a pre-you, before all the mistakes get straightened out?
And what are they good for?
I've been thinking about this for a few days, and I think the number one thing my inner voice does for me, besides all the random things mentioned above, is compose things I am going to write and say later in the day. My inner voice actually writes almost all of my correspondence in advance, and if I have something that I have been planning to say to you, my inner voice said it to me a few dozen times first. It also occasionally drives me crazy with songs I don't even like (or maybe the true me loves them!)
So, what I want to know is, what does your inner voice do for you?
[Final note, if you read this essay on the bus, I think it may have a tendency to make you more thoughtful about the realm of inner voices than you otherwise would be. So, if you aren't totally into this post, maybe you should print it out and take it with you on your next bus ride. Seriously.]