The snakes in our heads
Penny for my thoughts? No, thanks. You probably don’t want to see what slithers through my head on a given day. It harbors some pretty nasty stuff—which I keep to myself.
You probably have some of your own. We all do. Vanity. Jealousy. Paranoia. Revenge. And those aren’t even the worst.
We all hide our true thoughts half the time. Let’s face it. Our real opinions have fangs. They can destroy friendships. Start wars. Get us fired. Even if we’re famous. Or just really good looking.
You don’t have to say everything you’re thinking. Total honesty’s a fiction. Whoever promotes that has never lived. Not really.
Or they’re Ned Flanders.
White lies keep the world turning. Sometimes my spouse asks me what I’m thinking. If I told him I was musing about the taste of human flesh, well, that’s just not the best pillow talk.
No, I’ve never tasted human flesh. Well, my own. That doesn’t count. And who hasn’t tasted their own blood? So tangy.
See, you’re starting to feel uncomfortable. That proves my point. Don’t tell everyone every single thing in your head.
One time, my spouse and I were strolling in the park. Beautiful day. Birds and everything. We’d walked in silence for a while, hand in hand. He asked me what I was thinking. The truth was, “What I’m going to say at your funeral in case you die suddenly.”
Instead I said something like, “Babies.”
See, white lies.
Most of my wisdom comes from mistakes. Like this one time, I decided to finally type out my thoughts to a coworker via email. He’d crossed the line that week. Sent me a message about how some kids definitely didn’t belong in college. Kind of a trigger for me.
So I dashed off a hot reply. Told him how arrogant and privileged he sounded. Explained how damaging it was to think that way about students. But the real reason— I didn’t like him.
Nothing about this guy appealed to me. This white male jerk off, who’d gone to an Ivy League school for his PhD. Who played golf on the weekends. Whose parents had paid for his degrees. This guy who made fun of students for writing about Beyonce.
A righteous snake is still a snake. Maybe the worst kind. Because the guy actually filed a complaint about me to HR. My chair called me in for a meeting. He explained that, even though I was right, my tone had come across as “quite venomous.”
Which struck me as a compliment at first. Hey, venom’s what I do best. If I remember, I even smirked. Before, you know, it occurred to me that my boss wasn’t admiring my insidious way with words.
I’d actually hoped this guy would fall apart after reading my email. Part of me wanted that arrogant ass to cry.
Except, he did. And it didn’t feel as good as I thought. In fact, he didn’t talk to me for almost a year.
You see, this guy I hated actually liked me. He wasn’t trying to be an ass. He just was. And I had attacked him without warning.
His feelings were hurt. Big time.
Mission accomplished, I guess? Except not. He never understood my main point — that every student who enrolls belongs. No, that’s not what he remembered from my email. Just that some crazy lady bitched him out without provocation. Thanks, snakes.
You can tear someone to pieces without touching them. Or even dropping the smallest of F-bombs. That’s how much power words have.
Everyone wants to blame their parents these days. I’m not falling into that trap. But hear me out. My mom raised me to be a snake. She didn’t trust anyone. Not even my dad. She knew exactly what to say to make someone hurt. Her words felt like fangs. She practically rattled.
Am I going too far with the snake metaphor thing? I’ll try to tone it down. I’m just really excited about snakes today.
My mom can’t take all the credit. My dad used to mock me and my brother at dinner until we’d cry. It was okay, though. Because he would do our science homework later. Fair trade.
For a long time, I considered hurting people a skill. And I got really good at it. Practically a word assassin.
One day in my 20s, a friend sat me down over coffee. For a little chat. She said, “A lot of people think you don’t like them.”
I shrugged. “Maybe I don’t.”
And she said, “That’s a shame. Because they like you.”
God dammit. Feelings? Are you kidding me? That was my response. Courtesy of the snakes in my head.
I’ve always gravitated more toward Hannibal Lecter than Forrest Gump. But you need both. You need a few snakes in your head. They help you stand up for yourself. Detect the ulterior motives of others.
My favorite snake is named paranoia. We call her Perry for short.
Got Perry from my mom. Every day, she’d explain how one of my friends was trying to screw me over. Or one of my teachers. Or the neighbors. The world was out to get me. And her, too.
Later, she also started thinking I was out to get her. Not pretty. And yet, she made me what I am.
To her credit, nobody has ever screwed me over. They’ve never even had the chance. I see shady intentions from three miles away.
The downside is a suspicious nature. Takes a long time for me to trust someone. And a lot of effort.
Plus, I’ve had to accept that sometimes you can’t do anything directly about shady intentions. You can see them. Great. That doesn’t mean you can confront someone. No, your snakes can tell you when something’s up. But other parts of your brain have to deal with the information.
Your snakes only have one solution: bite the fuck out of whatever poses a threat to you. That works well for snakes.
Not so much for humans.
The snakes in your head can see the snakes in others. That’s a good thing. Don’t kill your snakes. Just keep them trained. We all need to see the darkness in the world. We just don’t have to act on every dark instinct. Sometimes, the snakes that help you can also get you into trouble. Listen to your snakes. Just don’t do every single thing they tell you.