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WOSTER: Important conversations with myself

Like most people, I talk to myself. I've done it since I was a kid. I used to pretend to be talking with imaginary friends instead of myself. That's because even a child knows talking to oneself is a sign of something odd. For some reason, I figu...

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

Like most people, I talk to myself.

I've done it since I was a kid. I used to pretend to be talking with imaginary friends instead of myself. That's because even a child knows talking to oneself is a sign of something odd. For some reason, I figured if someone caught me talking to talk to a friend who wasn't there, it would be less unusual than if I were talking to myself.

I had a non-existent cowboy buddy I talked with, probably because I was a big fan of movie stars like the Lone Ranger and Lash LaRue. Lash LaRue later taught Harrison Ford to use a bullwhip for the Indiana Jones movies, in case you didn't know. Talking with a guy like that, even if he wasn't there, made sense when I was young.

When I grew up some and learned about Macbeth, I realized talking to oneself was a time-honored theater device. Shakespeare's Macbeth went around talking to himself day and night. Hamlet did, too. That guy talked to himself even when other people were around. I was never that bad. My Shakespeare professor used to rave about soliloquies, but, alas, I wasn't about to wander the student union holding a skull and talking aloud.

I confess that even before Macbeth, I sometimes skipped the imaginary cowboy and talk to myself. That was when I was taking piano lessons from Miss Willrodt. I took lessons from her starting in second grade and, mercifully for both of us, ending in sixth grade. Oh, man, did I talk to myself, usually as I was slowly, reluctantly climbing her front steps for a lesson.

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Inside, I knew, I'd be forced to sit beside her on a piano bench, silently accepting her sharp critique of my playing as I fumbled around on the keyboard of a beautiful grand piano that deserved much better treatment that I was giving it. Lessons seemed to go on forever. At seven years old, I might not have had a clue what a soliloquy was, but I was rapidly coming to understand the concept of eternity.

Knowing what misery lay ahead, I'd trudge those front steps and mutter things like, "You know you aren't prepared for this lesson. Why didn't you practice just a little bit every day after school instead of trying to learn all of those songs last night before bed? You did the same thing last week. You swore you wouldn't do it again. She's going to murder you. Get in there and face the music.''

A couple of side notes, if I may, on those conversations. First, when I sat at the piano and mangled my assigned lesson each week, there was precious little music involved - many sounds, even some recognizable notes, but not much music. Second, Miss Willrodt wouldn't have murdered me. She was actually a kind woman, I came to realize later. She believed I could learn piano. That only made me berate myself more about how my lack of practice must have tormented her music-loving soul.

That's one example of me and my one-person conversations. I grew into an adult who continued those kinds of conversations, often as a deadline on a project for the newspaper neared and I saw how far from ready my copy was. ("Why didn't you work on this when you first got the assignment? You haven't changed a bit from when you were a kid practicing piano.'')

In recent times, I've found myself returning to the two-way conversations I used to have with the imaginary cowboy. These days I converse with family members, strangers and celebrities and politicians. I carry on both sides of the conversation. I'm usually the hero.

I'm not sure if having these two-sided conversations is better than flat-out talking to myself. It occurred to me, though, that author Saul Bellow, who died in 2005, wrote an entire novel, "Herzog,'' about a fellow who went around mentally writing letters to friends, family and famous figures, alive and dead. Bellow won a couple of Pulitzers and a Nobel Prize, so maybe imaginary conversations are fine.

Maybe I'll have a talk with Bellow and see what he thinks.

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