I was asked through my intermediaries if I would be interested in the prospect of conducting an interview with myself. Though my curiosity was piqued, I did regret to inform the editorial staff that I had, unfortunately, not been on speaking terms with myself for quite some time. They asked if they might reach out on my behalf, and upon doing so, I was delighted and surprised to learn that I had agreed to sit down for the discussion that follows. I am grateful to the editors of The Believer for facilitating the opportunity to mend bridges with a dear lifelong acquaintance. I thank them, and I have asked myself to thank them on my behalf.
ME: Hello, Jeff! How are you?
MYSELF: Well, presumably you would know the answer to
ME: Don’t be a dick. I’m just being nice. You know, easing into the conversation.
MYSELF: So that’s the way you’re going to play this? Like you are the one that gets to be the journalist? I’m going to be the subject?! You get to interrogate me?
ME: Relax! I was just trying to get the ball rolling.
MYSELF: You relax! You of all people should know that telling me to relax does the exact opposite.
ME: I’m sorry. You’re right. But I think it works that way on almost everyone. How would you like to begin?
MYSELF: Well, I think it’s interesting that you always assume things like that—that everyone would be made anxious by being told they need to relax. You always do that. It’s almost as if you have trouble imagining that anyone could be different from you or behave in ways that you don’t understand.
ME: But don’t you agree that telling someone to relax or calm down is almost invariably going to backfire?
MYSELF: Of course I believe that!
ME: So what’s the problem?
MYSELF: Why does it have to be a problem? I’m just trying to make a broader point that you constantly take your own pulse and measure it against how other people “are,” and I think it’s interesting that it never occurs to you, at least not initially—not right away—that you have trouble believing people aren’t all exactly the same as you.
ME: Well, that sounds like a fucking problem, doesn’t it?
MYSELF: Sure. If I wasn’t around to straighten you out from time to time: it could be a huge fucking problem. But I think it can also be something nice about you and how you interact with the world.
ME: How so?
MYSELF: [Smiling] You really don’t know?
ME: Argh! OK. This is getting exhausting. I don’t know how long I can keep up this cloying, cute meta-babble back and forth. I just want you to talk to me like I’m not you. OK? Just try to shed a little light on who I am, smart guy.
MYSELF: Fine. If “we” insist. I just think that when we were young, you were the one that felt very “other” from the world around you. “Alienated” would be an even more apt way of putting it, as we grew older. But because of our deep need to feel connected and to maintain at least some social graces, we [whispering]—mostly you—developed a filter that would transpose or project your intellect and philosophical bent—your concerns and awareness—and most of all your sensitivities onto everyone you came into contact with.
ME: Um… That sounds nice to me.
MYSELF: [Rolls eyes]I’m sure it does. It implies empathy. And I’m sure that is what it is in its most healthy form. But it hasn’t always served us well. Or the people around us.
ME: Ooh, please go on. I’m getting pretty into this now.
MYSELF: Aah. There it is!
MYSELF: This is the stuff you really adore. Thinking about yourself. You’re thrilled at the idea of exposing yourself, even in a flawed way, if it means we get to spend yet more time here, deep in the interior parts of who we are.
ME: Give me a break, “Elvis.” Just finish your point. How is that… How is what you were describing bad?
MYSELF: I never said it was bad, per se. I just said it was a trait that has had the potential to cause problems—that it hasn’t always served us well. It hasn’t always made our life better.
ME: Why are you talking like that? Just spit it out. Don’t be such a pedantic nerd! God, you are soooo fucking annoying!
MYSELF: You are.
ME: [Blank stare]
MYSELF: OK. It becomes most glaring when you discuss politics with anyone, and I mean anyone—even your children. I’m not sure I want to get into a specific example here, but it’s obviously a problem in any situation that forces you to make room for opinions that aren’t already held and vetted by yours truly. That can really suck. And I think it deprives us of opportunities to grow. Plus, it can really piss people off. But even if we want to keep it insular and focus only on how it affects us, let’s take a look at how unnecessarily frustrated we can get when our thoughts don’t connect—when it feels like our opinions have been dismissed or deemed irrelevant.
ME: Wait, are you trying to tell me there are people that don’t experience those types of irritations and frayed connections? Are you telling me there are people that like being misunderstood?
MYSELF: [Laughing] Oh my god! You are so close to getting it! Nooo! Dummy. I’m saying that your inability to look at conversations as just conversations is what cranks up the intensity and makes everyone uncomfortable. I mean, I think you are always looking for some kind of powerful mind-meld—some confirmation that everyone sees what you see clearly and that what you see is correct and noble and good—and most of the time people don’t give a shit! At least not to the same degree. Don’t you see that?
ME: Well… That’s on them.
MYSELF: [Still laughing]Oh, man. You are something else.
ME: [Sulking]Now you’re getting sort of abusive.I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.
MYSELF: Did Poor Baby get his fee-wings hurt?
ME: Fuck you! So what if I’m passionate and tend to charge a little hard when I’m talking about things I care about? I have convictions. Also, aren’t you kind of illustrating the point you’re trying to make by being so condescending toward me for not quite getting it? I might be naive and a little oblivious to how I come across, but you’re such a sanctimonious prick.
MYSELF: Easy. Easy. We’re talking about the person I love now. You. Me!
ME: Ha-ha. I’m rubber, you’re glue, blah-blah-blah, yeah, I get it. Anything else you want to unload on me?
MYSELF: Well, do you want to hear the good part? Want to hear how that same exact inability to separate your general sense of yourself from others is kind of nice? Helpful, even?
ME: Not really.
MYSELF: Come on, Jeff. I think you’re going to want to hear what I’m going to say. I know you will.
ME: [Sniffling] Yeah. I guess so. Is it… It’s really… Is it going to be nice?
MYSELF: Yes! Trust me/you. It’s actually kind of awesome, and it’s something I just happened to notice at almost the same time I made note of how disastrous your delusions can be.
ME: I knew it! You can’t be nice!
MYSELF: Shut up! Listen. When we come at everyone we meet as being roughly the same person as we are, that happens to open up a lot of beauty as well. It’s not always disappointing and frustrating. I think, all in all, it’s probably worth all the hassles it causes.
ME: I really don’t have a clue what we’re talking about anymore.
I: It is I! If I may interject! I truly believe I will provide the most cogent analysis, as only I possess a power of ten, if you will… a zoomed-out, as it were… a thirty-thousand-foot view, so to spea—
ME and MYSELF: [Shouting together] Oh, hell no! Get the fuck out of here! Ugh! Not you! You suck! Go! Now!
MYSELF: How did he get in here? Creepy.
ME: [Calming down]Ugh. That guy. Where were we?
MYSELF: I’m just saying that I think when there’s a habitual inclination to see people as extensions of ourselves, we tend to treat them as equals, and in a lot of cases I think we see them as super-equals. Like our base starting point for a stranger is that they are at least as smart as we are. Probably smarter. And for sure they’re more insightful. So while we sometimes get in trouble thinking that they think like us, it also provides some humility. And I think we also have a tendency to reset to that assessment repeatedly as we get to know someone, because we almost never allow ourselves to negotiate down. We almost always see ourselves as leveling up when so-and-so blows our mind with something super-illuminating.
But we also tend to think we’re the one with the inadequacy when we can’t seem to make our point stick. I’m not saying we love everyone in the world with some Christlike evenhandedness—
ME: It sure sounds like you are. It sounds like you are saying that. Seems pretty full of ourselves to be sharing this generous self-evaluation with the world.
MYSELF: Seriously. Now you be quiet. It’s OK to love yourself. And it’s OK to introspect and identify strengths and weaknesses. And in this case it’s OK to just acknowledge something about how we are. Something that just is—that happens to be both a strength and a weakness. When we know it’s there, it gives us a whole bunch of options and choices to make that you would never be aware of without a little navel-gazing. Without it, we would never be you.
ME: That is nice.
ME: So we’re not all bad?
MYSELF: Bad? We’re great!
ME: I wouldn’t go that far.
MYSELF: Well, I would.
ME: Thanks, Jeff.