At a monthly writers’ workshop, our lone male poet advised the 50-something and older women poets, “You don’t need periods.”
I kept quiet, although my inner voice made a few silly comebacks. Heck, I didn’t even smirk despite my tendency to alarm the people around me with sudden braying laughter that continues far too long. This man is a wonderful poet and was, of course, talking about punctuation.
Experts say we all have an inner monologue going on, at least some of the time. Imaging studies show a region of the brain called Broca’s area is active as we speak aloud and also active during our inner speech. In fact, our inner voice stimulates minuscule muscle movements in the larynx as if tempted to make our thoughts audible. Our inner monologues aren’t confined to words. They show up in pictures, imagined actions, visualizations, reflections, emotions, and much more. My inner monologue leans toward the emotionally intense. I often feel simultaneously in love with and touched by a tenuous fragility in everything around me. At the edge of that is a tickly inclination to take mildly funny oddities as absurdly amusing. I like to believe none of this shows up on my face.
After the writers’ workshop I stop to do an errand. As I approach a check-out line at the store I notice with pleasure that a lovely young woman in front of me, her hair done up in mathematically perfect braids, has turned to smile. It’s a genuine, glad-to-see-you smile. This stranger’s smile feels, to me, like a moment of oneness in our chaotic world. Until her smile fades.
“Oh,” she says as I get in line behind her, “I thought you were someone else.”
She explains that I look like her middle school counselor, a person who was a help to her when she most needed it. I wished I had been such a help.
“This,” I say, making an exaggerated circle around my very ordinary face, “is often mistaken for someone else.” We laugh and discuss being misidentified. I tell her someone once insisted we’d gone to college together in Wisconsin, another person told me I was the living image of her sister-in-law.
“There’s a word for that,” she says, looking up and to the right for a long pause. “Oh, generic! That’s it, you have a generic face!” We both grin uncomfortably, then she faces forward to complete her purchase.
And there it was again, my chronic inner monologue. I felt simultaneously in love with and touched by a tenuous fragility in this whole experience. I wanted to hug her as her middle school guidance counselor might have done at finding a former student doing so well, with tears in my eyes. I also felt a sense of celebration at being an age where I’m largely able to float along unnoticed, my inner self chatting along, sometimes making it all the way back to the car before my inner and outer selves contort my generic face with glorious braying laughter.