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That Voice in Your Head

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Dear Mr. Mellon,

I have worries about my daughter Ellie. She came home from college for the holidays and one of the things we love to do together is cook. We were making gumbo one evening, and she said to me, "Mama, where is my Me located?" And I said, "What are you talking about Ellie-belly." I still call her Ellie-belly even though she's nineteen. And she said, "I'm taking this philosophy course, and our professor asked us, Where is the You in you located? And I had no good answer. I mean, am I in my head? My heart? My eyes? Where is the Me in me?" And I said, "Does the gumbo seem to be thickening?" But Ellie kept at it. She said, "Sometimes I'll think something nasty about someone and a voice in my head will scold me. Or sometimes I'll do something and a voice in my head says I shouldn't be doing it but I keep doing it anyway. Where is that voice in my head coming from? Where is the Me in me, Mama?" And her father yelled in from the living room, "You're in the goddamn kitchen making gumbo El, my stomach's growling, knock it off." But Ellie wouldn't knock it off. She stomped off into the living room and said, "Daddy, when you get mad at me, do you ever feel bad?" And her father said, "Every time." And Ellie said "See? That's what I'm talking about. You have a voice in your head that scolds you. Where does that voice come from?" And her father said, "That's it, I've had it," and he went into the kitchen and put a pizza into the microwave. I guess my question is should I be worried about my Ellie with all this business of hers about voices and so on, or do you think she's just going through some phase?

Concerned,

Hazel

*******

Dear Hazel,

If your daughter did not hear that voice she's talking about, it would be my sad duty to report to you that your child is dead. There's not a person on the planet who does not hear that voice. I'm not talking about the exotic version of Voices In The Head that claim to be God or Bob Dylan. I'm talking about what Ellie's talking about: that everyday companion who yammers away whether you pay any attention to it or not. As I write these very words, that voice your daughter is talking about is at work inside my own skull, yanking at my focus, telling me that I'm in over my head, that I don't know what I'm talking about, that I'm a bluff-artist, that it's too early to start thinking about beer.

I'm happy to say I've been able to develop a friendly, respectful, even grateful relationship with that voice which I depend upon as a wise editor. In fact, I've given my editor a name: Andy. I just told Andy to pipe the hell down because I feel I have a very good answer to your question.

When you're born, the concerns of your brain are as elemental as the Water you poured into that pan to begin making gumbo. All your Water cares about is survival. In short, the newborn brain is the most selfish bastard in town. All it cares about is itself. That is, it's a Me-Me. Your new brain, my new brain, all new brains: Me-Me's.

If your brain when you were born is Water, then your brain now is a thick, hearty Gumbo made up of -- Excuse me Hazel. It's Andy... He's saying Gumbo is too silly a word with which to make a serious point. I told Andy to please just go have a snack. What I was saying, Hazel, is that if your brain when you're born is Water, then your brain now is a thick, hearty Gumbo made up of the creams and vegetables and meats and spices of every experience you've ever had since birth, all stirred into that elemental Water.

If you happen to be sitting near the top of the Animal Intelligence Heap, which we are Hazel, your Gumbo is all rich and gloppy with the rules and expectations and morals and manners and do's and don't's and should's and shouldn't's which have been imposed upon you by the particular pocket of life around you.

Your Water concerns are deadly serious: How To Survive. Your Gumbo worries, on the other hand, are far more frivolous and unfocused: How To Fit In; How To Get Noticed; How to Succeed; How To Gain Power. That is, your Gumbo introduces into the picture the unwieldy concept of Others. With us Big Shots on the evolutionary scale, Others change everything. When Others enter the picture, blatantly selfish bastards usually get driven out of the herd (but sometimes become billionaires), because now you're supposed to share, now you're supposed to play fair, now you're supposed to think beyond the nuts and bolts of survival. What's a Me-Me to do in a such a bewildering situation?

Please lean forward and pay special attention Hazel, because the answer to this question helps to explain all sorts of mysteries:

PRETEND

Pretend that you have evolved beyond your selfish Me-Me beginnings, beyond all the other poor, intellectually-stunted creatures.

Pretend to be a Me-You -- I LOVE YOU ALL! WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!

Pretend to be a You-Me -- IF YOU'RE NOT HAPPY I'M NOT HAPPY!

Or maybe even a You-You -- IF I'M STARVING AND IF I ONLY HAVE ONE CARROT SHOW ME A HUNGRY MOUTH I CAN SHOVE MY CARROT INTO AND I'LL GO HOWEVER FAR I HAVE TO GO TO SHOVE MY ONE CARROT INTO IT!

That voice your daughter is talking about? It's just the ongoing discussion between Water and Gumbo. It's the grunting and groaning from the evolutionary tug-of-war between What Once Was and What Is Now. It's the sound of this newcomer -- Morality -- trying to tame your Me-Me. If there were no such thing as Life, morality would not exist. Morality is just -- Excuse me Hazel, it's Andy again... Andy is suggesting nobody gives a shit about my take on morality, what they want is a few laughs. And so what I said to Andy is, I disagree. Some people like talking about -- C'mon Andy, let me finish up... Some people like -- What the fuck Andy... No, you shut up... Fuck you then Andy!... Ohh yeah? Then double fuck you!... I didn't even ride in on a horse! -- Hazel I'm so sorry about this -- Andy I am your fucking boss and -- No, I'm the boss! No, I am! I got news: You don't even exist! Who gives a shit if I've said that a million times, a million times it's true! You're just a fucking -- Hazel, sorry I gotta deal with this, your daughter's fine -- Andy, without me you are NOTHING! NOTHING, DO YOU HEAR ME? NOTHING! NOTHING!!! OHH YEAH?? WELL THEN FUCK YOU TOO!...