Content Creation: Talking to Yourself Is Healthy

Odd Nerdrum One Story Singer

I’m on Reddit about as much as I’m on Facebook. What amazes many other Redditors is we get far more comments and likes for our posts from strangers than we do from actual friends for our posts on Facebook. Your contributions also don’t appear directly on other Redditors’ feeds; you post by subject, or ‘subreddit’, and hope for the best. So why bother posting to Facebook at all? It lost whatever negligible cool it had long ago, after all.

Many of my friends and most of my small family have either never signed up for Facebook or have dropped away. “It’s a waste of time and distracting,” an award-winning writer-director friend, who cancelled his account well over a year ago, said to me the other day. This guy is so cool he can carry off a polo shirt and actually make me hesitate as to whether I might need one or two in my wardrobe as well. (I don’t.) Almost every other filmmaker in the world who actually has his work released in theaters would never get rid of Facebook. He’d at least have a fan page. Not this guy.

I didn’t join Facebook until relatively late, in 2011, and only for practical reasons. I need a page for Pure Film Creative, to promote this site and its content, and other projects of mine. I can’t do that without a personal page. I’ve been ambivalent about Facebook, but now I’m clear; I’ve gone back to my original purpose after getting lost in social interactions, in whether or not people like me and what I post. I joined for practical reasons, not social, and it has served its purpose well. It’s a free distribution platform, a superb one. It would be rude to complain.

In addition, Facebook and other social media have even helped me evolve personally. I no longer care if people respond to what I post or not. The lack of validation used to disturb me, puzzled me, it fed into every artist’s insecurity about himself and his work. But the reality is the act of posting, of conversing, even if it is only with myself, is more important than receiving a like or a comment from someone else, especially if there is no actual feedback or actual conversation.

More often than not, a post on Reddit is downvoted into oblivion. The site also has this “fuzzy” code build into the algorithm that automatically downvotes a post that is becoming too popular in order to keep it within certain boundaries. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a post that has more than six thousand total upvotes, when in reality it received tens of thousands.

Even if anonymous Redditors engage more with my posts — and my posts there are often more outré than they are on Facebook — the sense of community and friendship only lasts the duration of the popularity of the post itself. I have yet to become real friends with another Redditor. Like fruit flies, Redditors appear for that particular banana of a post and then disappear once it gets eaten or wilts away. Facebook, on the other hand, has strengthened some friendships and weakened others. But the sense of being part of a discrete social group is far stronger than on broader social networks like Tumblr, Pintrest, Reddit and Twitter.

“Your friends don’t strike me as big likers,” an online friend I’ve never met in real life said to me once. He’s one of the few Facebook friends I haven’t met face to face. I know him from a chat room on a gay dating site, which is probably the most intimate of my online social networks; it’s a whole other family unto itself. He has a point: If we’re birds of a feather, my flock is as blasé and highly discriminating as I am. We are none of us big likers, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t aware of what’s being posted.

I know that friends read and appreciate my posts because they tell me in person or via a private channel. “Teresa says you’re the best thing about Facebook,” my sister told me a while back. Teresa (not her real name) is a close friend of the family, but has never actually clicked the like button for anything I’ve posted. Apparently she reads every post on this site — Hi, Teresa! — but has never left a comment. Even our own contributor, James Tuttle, is often guilty of lack of liking, but not a lack of awareness. “Loving your coverage of Pride,” he texted me the other day, in reference to photos I was uploading to Facebook during the festivities. “Keep it up!” But he didn’t hit the like button on Facebook itself. Big deal: a text, an email or an IM takes much more effort than clicking.

Text massages and comments passed along via your sister have value and give some needed validation for your actions and opinions. Still, even the most jaded egos still have need of regular polishing. It’s hard not to shake my head with a bit of envy at the friend in London who posts a photo of himself with his boyfriend on the red carpet of a premiere and it gets two hundred and eight likes, including mine, within forty minutes. That’s probably more than I’ve had on my combined posts all year.

Check out this friend of mine, who often posts random, utterly meaningless sentences and gets this reaction:



Note the amount of likes and the time period. Note the amount of comments! Yes, he’s very hot. But still.

It’s a well-studied fact that children who talk to themselves do better in school. Nobody passes judgment on a pre-schooler playing with blocks having a full-on conversation with himself; it’s cute and, we now know, healthy. But even a child who is slightly older who habitually talks to himself will be hauled into a shrink and jacked up on Adderall, if the ‘problem’ is deemed too severe. As for adults, only actors and other pubic speakers who are rehearsing are allowed full-blown monologues, otherwise you’re considered insane.

Like most people, I find the shouty-crackers schizos in the street both funny and worthy of compassion, but I certainly don’t steer clear of them the way others might. I also envy them their freedom of expression, their apparent lack of concern about anyone hearing the conversations they are engaged in with themselves and their inner voices. I know, they aren’t really more evolved than other people; they can’t help themselves.

I talk to myself all the time. Not in a shouty-crackers way; in little sentences, bursts that are only notable to those in close proximity, like polite burps. Sometimes I do it in the street, sometimes in a supermarket aisle: “No, you don’t need that. Too expensive/too fattening/you’ve had too much beef this week.” Or I’ll backtrack on my way home and mutter something like, “Shit. Post office. Forgot. Idiot. Bloody incipient Alzheimer’s. No: no Alzheimer’s in the family.” This is no different from the pre-schooler teaching himself in the corner; it is the vestiges of that wholesome practice, nothing to be ashamed of.

We are prone to speak to ourselves more loudly and clearly when we are alone. If you have a pet, the conversation will be directed there, even if rationally we know there is no possibility of feedback. When I do this, it’s almost entirely subconscious dialogue, random and strange. It is often in these moments that I come up with solutions to longstanding issues, whether it is day-to-day life problems or blocks to a creative project.

Just the other day I feeding the dogs, carrying on a patter of conversation with them, when suddenly and unrelatedly the solution to what is hobbling my children’s book came to me clear as a bell, four months after I’d been given in-depth notes from a publisher that were so insightful they stymied me for that long. Excited by the breakthrough, I proceeded to whip the dogs into a frenzy with my enthusiasm: “Isn’t daddy a fucking genius, hmm? He got it! He finally got it! Of course that’s who her secret admirer is! How could daddy think he was going to get away with not knowing until the second book? Hmm? HMM? IS DADDY A GENIUS OR WHAT?! Who wants a treat?” Wag, pant, wag, pant, whine, jump, wag some more.

Writing is talking to yourself, too. Even if it comes out of the fingertips and not the mouth, it’s still out loud, still one-sided. Except for writers who are so popular they are swamped with the opinions of fans, most of us are never told what a reader thinks after she’s finished a piece we’ve written. But there is no better autodidactic tool than writing, no place I can work out my opinions more effectively and clearly than what I am doing right here, right now with an article like this.

It’s the process that is critical. “The best writing is rewriting,” as E.B. White said. Posts like this one get three drafts each before they go up. The bigger and more important the piece of writing, the more I have to rework it; I am already on my six or seventh pass of the screenplay I am directing next year. It will be that many more by the time the shooting script is locked.

Take this article, for instance. I devised it in a silent conversation with myself two days ago after passing my favorite homeless person on Santa Monica Boulevard. He sits outside Santa Palm Car Wash. I say hello to him every day. Once, he even offered me some wine. He always interrupts whatever conversation he’s having out loud with his imaginary voices to say hello back. Like many of L.A.’s homeless, you can tell he was once quite good-looking, a big, strapping blond. And because he’s in this neighborhood, he’s likely gay, which is likely why he invited me to share his wine that night. It was adorable that he had his hair cut and cleaned some of the grime off for Pride a couple of weekends ago. Does he still aspire to find a boyfriend?

I thought about his freedom, his lack of self-consciousness. Then I thought how childlike he was, how like the pre-schoolers wrapped in their own narrative playing in the corner. And how even I was engaged in that very moment with a conversation with myself, just not out loud. Is carrying on your inner monologue quietly like learning to chew with your mouth closed, so that you don’t disturb others with your smacking and slurping?

Then, on my way to the library yesterday to pick up a copy of my friend Charlie Graeber’s The Good Nurse — about a psychopathic serial killer — I passed another, far more vocal homeless guy, who bellowed as I passed, “RIGHT ON! SEE, THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT RIGHT THERE! TOTALLY MY TYPE!”

“Thanks!” I yelled back, laughing. “You’ve made my morning.” And he had. (If he hadn’t looked like a relic from a dystopian future when there is no water left with which to bathe and dentistry is outlawed, the feeling might have been mutual.)

So I originally started this piece with that anecdote, not to brag about how a middle-aged man can still evoke occasional catcalls from schizos, meth heads and drunks, but to illustrate how schizos are freer than those who are concerned with social norms. Then I wandered off into how it would have been different had I been a woman, unless we were in Italy, where I would take it as I did: a compliment. Six hundred words later, I hadn’t even begun to address the point, that talking to yourself is healthy, even in social media. After smacking myself around, calling myself vain and second-rate, the dogs cowering in the corner from my wrath, those initial six hundred words were scrapped and I started again.

I get even fewer Twitter favorites and followers than I do likes and comments on Facebook. It doesn’t stop me from posting, although it did at first. I wondered what the point was if there was no feedback. But I get great pleasure in writing what I think are humorous or pithy observations — what Reddit calls “shower thoughts” — and they are kept as a log for future reference. My Twitter account is a notepad anyone can peek into, if they so choose, but it doesn’t matter either way; it’s my notepad. And many’s the time I’ve gone back into my Facebook postings, or friends’ postings, to reference an article or quotation — I do it several times a week. It’s become an idea file as much as a forum.

To quote the great Lucille Ball, a pioneer of outrageous expression, “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” The more I understand myself, the more I love the nutter I am. There is no need for validation from others, for upvotes, for likes, for sharings. Like the street schizo, I lift up my voice and speak for the sake of it, a bird singing for the song of it, just because I am alive, regardless of who hears me or what they think.

So glad I talked myself through this.


The lead image for this piece is One Story Singer by Odd Nerdrum.

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