In Praise Of The Sophists - 09.07.98

I'm not sure if it's a current phase or just something I've begun to realize, but lately I've had a major phobia surface lately. The strange thing about it is that it isn't a fear of anything in the external world. Instead of finding myself afraid of large crowds (something I already am strange about) or touching bathroom door handles at work (yuck), it is about being inarticulate.

Several times during the last week, I've caught myself consciously marking every word that I said, and then repeating it and seeing whether it sounded correct. This has happened in both conversations with people at work, as well as people that I am good friends with.

Because of this analyzing process (that I can't simply seem to shut off), I've also inadvertantly stumbled during conversation several times. Several times, I've found myself stuttering, waiting until the correct word pops into mind for me to say, while a other times I've simply stopped in the middle of a conversation, then started back at the beginning and gone about everything in a different direction. Not only am I trying to express something, but I've also been trying to refine and analyze what I'm expressing as I go along.

The reason I know that it's more than just strange, isolated incidents is due to the fact that I actually had a dream regarding my fears one evening. In the dream, I was speaking to a higher entity (it was never identified, only that they were more knowledgeable than me on the subject that I was trying to speak to them about) and I was completely jumbling my words. I thought I knew what I was talking about, but the more that spoke, the worse my sentences and grammar kept sounding. Eventually, I just stopped talking and almost starting crying because I couldn't articulate my thoughts. The person that I had been talking to, simply shrugged and left (presumably, they hadn't been very impressed).

When I sit down and actually put some thought into it all, I think that the thing that bothers me the most about my speech patterns and articulation is that they are so plain. I tend to use a lot of the same words for emphasis (when there are obviously a lot more to choose from) and I'm not always as quick with statements and responses as I'd like to be.

The reasons behind my sudden analysis are many, but I've managed to narrow it down to a couple of the more significant ones. The first of these is that I've been doing a lot of reading lately (and throughout the year). I've encountered tons of new words (most of which I've looked up) and come across many different styles of narrative. I've been trying (on a very slow, but sure basis) encorporate many new words into my dialogue, at the hopes of making it more interesting.

Another possible influence is that I've read a lot of good interviews lately and even managed to catch a few episodes of Politically Incorrect while over at a friends house. Unlike many other interviews that I've read, I've recently been paying particular attention to the language that people being interviewed have used. Maybe it's luck, but it seems like a majority of the interviews that I have read lately have been very articulate and expressive, or perhaps it's just because the people interviewed have very interesting lives (Harlan Ellison, Henry Rollins, Darren Aronofsky).

While watching Politically Incorrect, I found myself establishing favorites early on. The strange thing was that it didn't really relate to what views the person had, I was more interested with how well they communicated their ideas. While the smart-ass remarks and joking was great, I was more inclined to listen to the articulate ones.

To deal with this all, I've been trying to change a few things at root level in my communication skills. The first of these is that I'm trying to slow down my speech a bit. By doing this, I've given myself a few more milliseconds (and what a precious few milliseconds it is) to structure complete sentences, and even more time to complete full statements. I'm also trying to eliminate (or at least regulate) the use of the word "like" in my vocabulary when I'm explaining things to someone. I know that I've bugged people about overusing it (when I've fallen into that category sometimes myself) and I've used as a crutch for far too long.

Lurking behind all of this is a fear that I don't want people to think I'm stupid. It's a basic feeling that most people have at some point (if not more than one) in their lives, and it seems to be the driving force behind this current fit of analysis. I guess the thing that I may be overlooking, though, is the fact that I am a dumb-ass, and there's just no way around it. (Sigh)