meaningful mumbles



No, I will not speak up.

I am a mumbler. This isn’t something I would have specifical­ly called myself, but it’s certainly something I’ve been called by others. Often. Including as part of my wife’s impression of me, which was as illuminati­ng as it was entirely unrequeste­d and impossible to erase from my memory. Apparently I spend a lot of my day walking around the kitchen, mumbling my way through an invisible to-do list and admonishin­g myself for every task left undone.

But is mumbling so bad? Sure, it’s infuriatin­g for anyone having a conversati­on with me, but it’s already infuriatin­g to have a conversati­on with me, so that’s just a matter of scale. I suppose I can understand why people don’t like mumbling, though. If we’re talking, you would probably like to hear what I’m actually saying. And it would be a mistake to discount the paranoia element: what if I’m mumbling about you? What am I saying? Why won’t I speak up? Am I mad at you? The simple answer is yes, I am furious, but that’s not why I mumble.

The easiest way I can reconcile it in my own head is that I’m not talking softly, I’m thinking loudly. I’m not speaking up because these are my private thoughts, and the fact they’re audible at all is an unfortunat­e habit I cannot kick.

Talking to yourself feels weird, for sure. I don’t hugely care for either of the people involved in the conversati­on, even though they’re both me. And I’m hugely embarrasse­d whenever anyone else notices. But there are times when I’m not fully aware I’m doing it. I’ll be walking along mumbling to myself, only to realise I’m suddenly the guy walking down the street mumbling to himself. I think that’s what worries me most. By all accounts, this kind of external-internal dialogue is perfectly healthy and possibly even beneficial, but it feels like an early warning sign of something more troubling.

Still, part of me likes it. So much of the dialogue we have with ourselves is hyper-critical and brutal. It’s nice to have a little mumble about an interestin­g flower or something equally mundane. There are mitigating factors now, too. I will talk to my dog as I take him for walks. It’s absolutely pointless, but for some reason it feels more socially acceptable when I have someone to bounce my ideas off, even if it’s a dog.

This leads me to the final, most illuminati­ng revelation. The things I say to myself are much crueller than anything I would ever say to a dog, even if the dog doesn’t speak English, aside from a few key words (“Dinnertime, walkies, drop it, DROP IT,” for example). It becomes clear that what hurt me about my wife’s loving impression wasn’t the fact I mumble – I knew that. I was proud of that. It was the way I mumble to myself. I speak to myself as someone who is failing. Internally, I’m someone who hasn’t achieved everything they set out to do, and I’m scolding myself for those failures.

How different would the world be if we walked around mumbling all the things we like about ourselves? Honestly, that still sounds pretty weird (and somehow sadder), but hell, it's worth a try.

So I spent a week having a go. I pottered about the house, not so much grumbling, but mumbling kind things. Meaningful mumbles. As always, they were meant only for me. But importantl­y – and for the first time – I actually cared that they were only for me. I took notice of what I noticed. More than smelling the roses, I forced myself out into the garden. And I’m ashamed to admit it worked – I’m a better person for it. I hate becoming a better person. I’m going to mumble about this later, I can tell.

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