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Illustration by Marley Allen-Ash

Downstairs in my dingy unfinished basement, I open the dryer door and begin a conversation. With a lime green bath towel. “Why aren’t you dry?” Then, I ask its companion, a thick white Turkish towel, “Are you to blame?” The Turkish towel is dry, so, therefore, is innocent. Then, when carrying a handful of French fingerling potatoes to the kitchen sink for a good scrubbing, I encourage them with a hearty, “C’mon boys.” These are not passing thoughts. I say them aloud. Recently, I whispered “Those *#%$@&s,” when viewing a photo of a Ukrainian home flattened by a Russian missile.

I wonder about my verbal self-chat. Is it an inevitable aspect of aging? I know two intelligent women in their mid-80s, who rage at people on television. One detests Victor, a fictional villain on The Young and the Restless soap, while the other loudly condemns politicians with whom she disagrees. As my 80th birthday looms large, I need to learn if I’m speeding downhill faster than an Olympic luger.

Despite being aware that medical misinformation is rife on Google, I type, ”Is it okay to talk out loud to yourself?”

The first hit, in bold, reads, “Talking to yourself out loud is perfectly normal.” Because the article focuses on positive and negative inner dialogue, I refine my search to “talking aloud to inanimate objects.” What a relief! Apparently, it’s acceptable to talk to items such as golf balls, computers and radios, and to yell and even throw things at the TV. Although television doesn’t irk me, I sometimes have special words for my computer.

After noting my recent towel conversation, I’ve been monitoring myself. When do I do it? And why? I cannot ascertain a pattern. Rest assured, I do not chat incessantly. My remarks, towels excepted, are primarily limited to a word or two such as murmuring “okay” after accomplishing a task. Besides, there are days when no words are spoken. I think.

Online, I become sidetracked by YouTube videos on how to create monologues for inanimate objects. I delve further to learn that when we attach emotions to inanimate things, they can serve as sources of comfort and inspire us through magical or spiritual meaning. I value my towels and love eating potatoes, but neither provides me with inspiration or meaning. Despite YouTube’s instructions, I have no plans to provide them with names, thoughts and feelings. The extent of my anthropomorphism is restricted to labelling the potatoes as “boys.”

Next, I find an article confirming that talking to yourself is a healthy and beneficial way to process thoughts and experiences, although it could also be caused by loneliness, stress, anxiety or trauma. I doubt that my inane talk originates from feelings of stress, anxiety or trauma, so am I lonely? Have my soliloquies developed because I’ve been living alone for more than a decade?

I confess I feel lonely and even envious when neighbours host barbecues for their families. I relish the time when our back deck was crowded and alive with raucous laughter. Now that two of my children and five grandchildren either live out of town or out of the province, these family gatherings are rare. All the same, it feels like yesterday when, as a mother of three children under four years of age, I yearned for a few moments of alone time, especially on the toilet.

Over the past few years, acquaintances have asked if I would consider sharing my home with their relatives who are attending a nearby college or university. I declined all four requests. No offers of money, housework or snow shovelling could entice me to share my kitchen, closet-sized bathroom and life with a young person I don’t know. For more than 35 years, I’ve served the needs, wants and interests of others. Now that I’m retired, I enjoy the time and freedom to do what I want. Is that selfish? Absolutely! Is it for everyone? Absolutely not!

So, why have I developed this habit of solitary speech? To be sure, that is I am fairly sure, I am not suffering from dementia. I concede it’s possible that aging and living alone could be responsible, but isolation during COVID-19 lockdowns could be a contributing factor. However, I’ve discovered an important reason to continue my monologues. Vocal folds, also known as vocal cords, are mostly muscle, and like any other muscle, they change as we age. Just as physical exercise keeps skeletal muscles in shape, regular talking exercises vocal cords. Lately, I’ve noticed a hoarseness and scratchiness in my voice. At times, I don’t sound like myself. I need to talk regularly to prevent my underused vocal cords from further stiffening and atrophying.

On my next visit to the basement, I ignore the dryer and instead kneel beside the furnace. After removing its filthy filter, I check the new one to determine which side should face the blower motor. And when I ask myself, “Where’s the arrow?” I’m no longer concerned about speaking aloud. I’m exercising.

Gina Clark lives in Toronto.