'Fugue States' of America: Our Secret Selves

Apr 27, 2018

Do you regularly misplace your keys and wonder why?  Have you ever heard the awful rumor that you snore at night? Or worse, that you talk to yourself? Recently, NHPR’s Sean Hurley - with a little help from his wife and some audio recordings – has found himself coming to terms with these and more.

“I do not snore,” I told my wife. She raised her eyebrows and the next day played me a recording she made on her phone, of me snoring during the night.

“You also talk to yourself,” she said. 

“I do not,” I said. “I might snore – rarely - but I don’t talk to myself. Ever.”

“You snore nightly,” she said, “and you talk to yourself daily.”

And the next day she played me a recording of me talking to myself.

“You talk to yourself while writing. While in the store when you go off alone. And I’ve seen you coming back from walks in full conversation with the air,” she said.

Am I walking around in a dream? I wondered. I thought I had a pretty tight grip on reality. I thought I knew who I was, what I was up to, where I was heading and pretty much what was happening.

But…apparently…not.  Maybe I should look a little closer at me, somehow, if I can, I thought. Watch myself, if that was even possible.

So far, I’ve noticed a few things.

After driving home, for example, and shutting the engine off –

Sitting in the car, getting sleepy (reenactment!).
Credit Sam Hurley

I like to sit in the car for a very long time. I just sit there and get really sleepy and when I finally get out of the car it’s like I’m getting out of bed.  

As with snoring and talking to myself, I had no idea I did this.

For years - forever - I’ve been a wallet and key loser, but I finally, the other day, caught myself red-handed in the act of losing, as I came alert just in time to see my hand sliding – and hiding - my wallet in between books on the bookshelf. 

Hiding my wallet from myself (a reenactment!)
Credit Sam Hurley

Not only that, I was able to follow my sense of reason and purpose at the time – and I discovered there’s a part of me that wants my wallet shoved in between the books. I’m not so much losing my wallet then – as another version of me is putting things where he wants them to be. And never telling me anything about it.

The latest discovery is the window - I like to look out a particular window midway up our stairs now and then over the course of the day. And I wouldn’t have found out about this if I wasn’t trying to notice myself speaking aloud.  

“Almost…” is what I heard myself say….and it was then that I realized that this window watching was familiar. That, in fact, I often stood here and looked out the window at the woods – and probably said things like “almost” to myself while doing so. 

Which then left me to wonder what I meant by that word… Almost what?

Until this point, I’d been thinking of these small asides as something like fugue states. Absences.  But this one word – and whatever I meant by it – suggested some kind of intent.  It wasn’t absence but a different kind of presence. 

It occurred to me then the self I most associate myself with – the one on my resume and in the mirror - is only present at certain times, but then in between, other versions of myself with different little dreams show up – selves who look out the window and say “almost” - who really like my wallet in between books. Selves I’ve only recently come to recognize.

I used to think of myself as a car of sorts – of known brand and year and color, driving down a tree-lined country road, heading somewhere certain. But it seems to me now I’m also a bit the country road, and the trees beside it, and whatever else that happens along.  I’m not that single clear thing – that car on a country road – but more the things that happen there, as much car, and tree and road, as wind and bird and sleepy air.