Stephen King is one of those figures in the media that define an entire genre. Think of Agatha Christie and crime, or The Beatles and rock and roll. The only reason I was putting away King’s books all this while was because I was certain that when it comes to horror, books cannot compete with television or film. Fear relies heavily on visuals, and I believed that a bad filmmaker could bring about a feeling of terror with more ease, than a good writer could.
I was finally coaxed into trying Pet Sematary?-?which King himself proclaims as the book he found the scariest to write?-?by a good friend of mine. Although the book was engrossing in certain parts, its safe to say, that horror really isn’t that scary on paper.
Pet Sematary extensively explores the theme of death, and although the actual horror felt underwhelming, the build up was well written. A majority of this section consists of the lead character contemplating life and death.
Reading the book, I came across this captivating quote:
“·there was no such thing as marriage, no such thing as union, that each soul stood alone and ultimately defied rationality .”
The paragraph is the protagonist Dr. Creed thinking about his wife, and how one never really understands the other person in marriage. But that particular line resonated with me. The fact that no one can actually understand and trust another person; each man is alone. In birth, and in death.
For such a universal truth as this, the concept is rarely portrayed in popular culture, the reason being that most narratives focus on a singular event, and an interaction between two or more humans. Rarely is the protagonist alone, unless the plot is exploring loneliness itself.
Solitude is inevitable, like death, or tax season. Maybe that’s why the subject is uncomfortable. Hell, even mental health wasn’t taken seriously until the 2000s. But, acknowledging the fear is the first step in talking about it. Now that solitude’s unyielding nature has been assumed, we can put forth another concept:
Most people will agree with me, when I say that we need relationships. Sure, we need them. No surviving society has progressed without the concept of family and friends. Family is necessary because propagating our species is the essential (if not the sole) reason of existence. This animalistic behaviour is less instinctive in humans, but the traces are still present in our need for sex, comfort and happiness. On the other hand, friends are required because they make the present worthwhile. Socialisation has other important reasons too, which I discus further down. But across culture, the characteristics of friends and family differ, although family appears less varying.
With social media and all the technology of the century, we are connected with a million people at the tap of our fingers. We find ourselves less alone, because frankly, there are too many people to talk to. Apart from being a DM away from all the people you know, you can now discuss topics with strangers too. Finding ourselves surrounded by like-minded people can never be a bad thing, right?
Being with people like ourselves, we find no reason to actually talk to the one person that stays with us for our entire life. Ourselves. That little voice of conscience when we do something wrong, or that pat on the back when you’re proud of yourself.
Now you know that you talk less with yourself. You think, “So what? I’ll just talk more with myself and make things alright”. Well, that’s where the conundrum begins.
Talking to oneself is seen as a problem by the general public, a symptom of loneliness. Right now, talking to oneself isn’t mainstream yet. A fair share of psychologists have stated that being comfortable with the company of yourself, is good for your mental and physical well being. How can you interact with the world if you do not know how to interact with yourself? Blissfully ignoring your inner persona is a crime that should not go unpunished in the court of conscience. Think about this: If you aren’t sure of what you want, there’s a chance of you falsely representing yourself, even absentmindedly towards others. How can you strive for perfection?-?or whatever little task you want to complete?-?without acknowledging and understanding you inner demons?
All of us need an outlet to vent and spurt out our thoughts. Most people talk to their friends for this. The socially awkward bunch write a verse, or paint a picture. And that’s all good. But one should also talk to themselves as an outlet. Mental experts are divided over this.
Traditionalists have always considered talking to oneself (especially in the third person) a sign of depression and anxiety. Serial killers and school shooters turn into monsters by brooding on hate, suffering. Peter Vronsky, an author of several books on psychopathology says that all of us are born with the instincts of hate and violence. Its with basic parenting and socialisation that we ‘unlearn’ these traits. A British surgeon John Gimlette identified that school shooters always underwent a period of brooding and separation before the incident. When one excludes themselves from society and lives on their own thoughts for a long time, they aren’t able to process the pain of someone else. Empathy, is interestingly not innate, but a feeling built upon experiences. A collection of good habits, acquired by putting yourself in another’s shoes through day to day interaction. Without an outsider to “check” on the thoughts we develop, the worst ideas collect and stagnate, to emerge as these unspeakable taboos. This is why serial killers almost never work in pairs; company wouldn’t allow vile thoughts to flourish. When killers get captured, it isn’t uncommon to find journals with frightening entries of them outlaying their plans.
On the other hand, people are also of the view that this type of talking is actually a symbol of sanity. When you speak to yourself?-?so much that you would rather talk to yourself than a stranger?-?you transcend into being a person that values their own company over their peers. You take a lot more responsibility (in the absence of the dangerous peer pressure), investing in yourself. For the last few centuries, this trait would have been looked down upon. Who would want to be one of those lonely, depressing, boring introvert nerds? Being a jock was what was popular, successful. Till then, the richest people were businessmen (they still make up a good part of millionaires). Businessmen were supposed to dress smart, talk loud, command attention. Its hard to say, when all this changed, but sometime between 1986 and 1999, in the dawn of the internet a bunch of nerds came together to create Microsoft, Apple Inc, Google, and many more companies in college dorms, garages and other makeshift offices around the world. It wasn’t until the dotcom revolution that independent nerds sent their companies public and dominated Forbes lists. It made sense, in the 21st century, that one need not be extroverted. Minding your own business, was a profitable business.
One can draw parallels with the political movements that rose to prominence at around that time; From the rise of liberalism in the West, to globalisation in the East, tolerance and acceptance were the key words. These movements gained pace with the advent of the internet; when one can easily learn and get familiar with another culture there is less hatred and xenophobia induced, and so it has come full circle.
While the despicable habit of judging someone else has considerably reduced in this century, being comfortable with solitude is still looked down upon. Its time that this cultural phenomenon became mainstream. Its completely okay to talk to yourself. Personally, I’d say its better than half the crop of people we call friends.