As a young student of psychology, I learned the term stream of consciousness to name the flow of thoughts through the conscious mind. I was both fascinated and thrilled, as the phrase seemed so completely to describe my own inner monologue. The words themselves—stream of consciousness—were genius as far as I was concerned, and I wished I’d have put them together.
The brain’s constant chatter is both universal and unique; although we share the process, no one gets to experience another person’s stream of consciousness. Those of us who like to express ourselves creatively—artists, writers, musicians—tend to be a bit bolder about sharing our personal shit, however, which brings me to this piece of writing.
The thoughts flowing through my brain seem to be living things. Like a stream, they move at a relaxing calm for awhile, then roil into swirling eddies, explode into patches of white water, and overflow the banks. When that happens, I find myself writing. The more often I write, the more often the stream has breached.
Being who I am, I think as though I’m writing; constantly editing, trying out new word combinations until one sounds right or makes sense. I’ll chew on an idea for a few minutes, let it be, then come back to savor it awhile longer. It’s not as though I can’t focus—oh, no. I perform tasks, read, pray, converse. . .but even during periods of concentration there is a constant hum of background noise.
At times my thoughts don’t seem to work and play well. They collide like bumper cars and box one another’s ears. My brain is the cyclone from The Wizard of Oz, with words and pictures flying past, daring me to reach out and grab one to study, to polish, and to bring to resolution. My brain can be a very noisy place.
My stream of consciousness is a real potty mouth. It is also a lecherous hump that will stop midstream to admire a cute guy, which I take as proof that middle age hasn’t completely ruined me. Thank the gods.
Amid the thoughts is a parade of faces—my husband, most notably. I see him in my mind throughout the day, and the vision is accompanied by a pleasant feeling of belonging. I see my daughter and son, too, who richochet through my heart and back to my brain with shots of affection and worry. Family and friends float by with running commentary and associative emotions. Much of my time is spent thinking about the people I see while going about my job or taking care of mundane tasks. I note details like body language, fashion choices, personality markers. I observe, a behavior born of my years as an art student and essential to any writer. Judgement isn’t my purpose; just learning. People interest and amuse me, and I talk endlessly to myself about my fellow humans.
My stream of consciousness has a soundtrack. There is almost always music behind the pictures and words, and I’m sometimes surprised to realize I’ve been singing the chorus to Foster the People’s Pumped Up Kicks or humming the Hallelujah Chorus. Self-hypnosis seems the best explanation for this musical accompaniment.
The other day I caught myself reciting sections of Horton Hatches an Egg, by Dr. Seuss, although I have no idea what prompted such a random outcome. I do know that I’ve developed a pattern of reducing thoughts to six word statements— the result of my fondness for writing six word memoirs. My inner monologue plays like a highlight reel of my life, complete with bitter regrets and tiny tragedies. In its quest to figure things out, my brain has learned that almost any memory, experience, or emotion that can be reduced to six words is manageable.
“They’re gonna make a movie from the things that they find crawlin’ round my brain.”
-Adam Duritz, Counting Crows
In literature, stream of consciousness is a narrative technique characterized by a flow of thoughts and images, which may not always appear to have a coherent structure or cohesion. The plot line might weave in and out of time and place, carrying the reader through the life span of a character or incorporating the lives (and thoughts) of other characters.
These works of literature focus on the emotional and psychological processes that are taking place in the minds of characters. Important character traits are thusly revealed.
Often I just push aside my internal ramblings so as to concentrate on the here and now, but the true me presents itself in the constant, sometimes tremulous, often insistent flow of words, ideas, and images that pass through my brain. Plato asked, “…why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are?” If Plato were alive today, I wonder what he’d have to say about a woman who finds herself randomly reciting Horton Hatches an Egg?