Mockingbirds, Gödel, and Chopping Broccoli


Caveat:  This one is brought to you by insomnia, after Gödel, Escher, Bach (cheaper than sleeping pills) failed to knock me out.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Title image:  from Empathy by Sarah Schulman.


 

Is this common among introvert-type, bookworm children (now nominally adults): a mockingbird tendency to steal the song of others, rather than using our own voices?

I know I’m guilty, and I know that probably needs some explanation.  When I feel like I’m on stable ground or in familiar/safe territory, I’m more free with my own speech.  When pressured to speak about something that makes me uncomfortable or upset, I’ll back into the pages of a book.  It’s how I retreat.

There’s a certain amount of learning everything and learning nothing involving in reading, which is where this defense mechanism becomes complicated.  You can quote pages of relevant material, but those pages are not lived experience.  If you’re like me, you sometimes use fiction as a stand-in for discussing lived experience, because talking about what is or was is too acutely painful and difficult.

It’s not quite the same as looking for a 1:1 parallel to your own situation in a novel (though I’d love to see the search algorithm online booksellers would have to devise for that one).  I certainly did that more as a child:  see my requisite Harriet the Spy stage (I also wanted to be Sport; it was very complex).

As characters, often through internal monologue, reveal (only to the reader) what is unsaid, it does feel powerful that someone did not so much find the words (though that’s a feat– but a book review, not for this post) as put them on paper, in the public eye.  When I’m on the spot, I may sputter a bit before commencing my ongoing Jane Goodall-level study of carpet fibers.  It’s not the same creative process, and it’s not nearly as articulate.


 

In case I’ve painted myself as a quoting automaton, that’s not quite the case.  This is what happens when I’m acutely, unusually uncomfortable.  If I can’t (or don’t want to) use my own words, I’ll use someone else’s.

To be clear, it’s not the same thing as posting a mystery, you figure-it-out song lyric on Facebook; I am trying to make myself understood.  It’s a literary defense mechanism.

Of course, a bon mot, well-placed, can be a lot of fun.  Having “a way with words” often involves coopting other people’s.  If I can’t quote Dorothy Parker, I’m taking my toys and going home.

And I just assume that everyone ELSE also sings “Choppin’ Broccoli” (hey, that’s a classic!) while chopping broccoli . . . .


APPENDIX, AND QUITE UNNECESSARY

I didn’t let myself quote anything while writing this one.  That was hard.  This is getting into vaguebooking territory, but I can’t resist tacking on a reading list of books that, at various times, I’ve torn chunks out of for personal use.  Consider them reading recommendations.  Or reasons to avoid me.

My only real (facetious) attempt at vaguebooking to date has been to declare that my mood was “whatever Peter Wolf says at the beginning of ‘Whammer Jammer.'”  I’m working on it.

DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU

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3 thoughts on “Mockingbirds, Gödel, and Chopping Broccoli

  1. You know who I am says:

    I don’t think it’s possible to chop without the song. This could be why I seldom get a request to make my broccoli salad, although it is extremely yummy.

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  2. All communication is a form of relating through shared experience. What you’ve written makes sense to me. Ecclesiastes also came to mind; the SJ paraphrase being “it’s all been done and said before.” I don’t say that in a dismissive or pessimistic way. The very nature of language/writing is to try and find many ways to explain a concept and evoke a shared experience with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Ecclesiastes point (my favorite book– hmm) is a good one. I also agree about the shared experience that we’re all trying to invoke through writing and speaking (social media?). Life would be a lot poorer without it; we’d all be speaking different languages. I get concerned when I edit my own speech and knowingly insert someone else’s. It’s when I make the conscious choice not to participate in this dialogue as my self (in my own, original terms) but to use another’s words as camouflage that I think I’ve gone into a defensive mode. If that makes any sense at all. One way or the other, thank you for the comment that DID make sense.

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