What are you thinking? It’s a simple question that we ask or are asked quite often and one that ironically isn’t thought after very much. Usually there’s an unspoken topic or focus to the question. We all know (hopefully) that our boss doesn’t care what we think of the political cycle or have even a passing curiosity as to our opinions on that mauve sweater he just bought. At least I hope you know that… Your boss is most likely asking because you said you had an idea about a project approach and then never told them what the idea was, or you sent a drunk text to the entire department. Hell, maybe you sent drunk opinions on everyone’s work on the latest project, which sounds hilarious but probably will get you fired. Don’t do that. The point is, in a workplace setting ‘what are you thinking’ means something pretty damn simple. Explain yourself, nowish. Using buzzwords may or may not earn points.
To add confusion to the mix, or at least to make life more interesting, when someone close to you asks this question it doesn’t necessarily mean explain. Sure, they could be confused as to why you ruined a perfectly good dinner by flipping the table. If you haven’t flipped a table lately, it’s possible this question is a bit more slippery. Every generic romance plot at some point has one person ask the other what they’re thinking, usually when there’s a stormy night or flickering fire to be stared into broodingly. This, of course, is when some dark past is revealed, or we find out a redeeming quality that makes all of the dramatic wrongs up to this point in the movie okay (possibly charming). Normal life is usually lacking in the dramatic backdrop, but the question can still be asked with this in mind.
Just remember folks, if you’ve got the perfect setting and someone asks what you’re thinking, it’s okay to give a dramatic sigh, turn, and tell them they wouldn’t understand. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of humor. Note that I don’t advocate this if you’ve fucked up, irritated someone, or are talking with someone who carries a pool que up their ass. Then answer after having your made for TV drama movie moment. For now the answer will have to be given with words, but someday to everyone’s dismay and horror there will be a way to share thoughts via some kind of data dump. That’s what people want sometimes when asking what you’re thinking – a picture of what is happening in your head right at that moment.
Now I can’t speak for anyone else but trying to explain all of the things in my head is hard. Even when my mind is only idling, there is a lot happening that I don’t have any good way of putting words to. That isn’t to say that there aren’t words – just that the ones I manage to find feel clumsy and are irritatingly inadequate so far as I can tell. There’s no good way to tell someone you’re staying at the window because of a sound you heard, which you suspect was a large bug bouncing off of the glass. Of course, now you’re thinking about this bug, wondering if it was a fly, how fast it was going, and whether bugs can ever learn how to detect and avoid glass. Also, how many bugs hit an average window a day? Another one just did…. Is the sound they make more dependent upon speed or mass? How come I never seem to be looking when this happens?
See? All of that because of one sound. There’s one tab on my mental browser and there are always a minimum of five off-topic tabs up at any given point. Plus, since it’s impossible to communicate all of the thoughts as quickly as they come up, you end up caught in a loop until the CPU overloads and quits because that’s a lot of talking. Not to mention the fact that when someone asks what you’re thinking they usually want to know about things of an order of magnitude more important than kamikaze flies.
It would be nice to be able to visit other people’s minds just to see how they think. Are things like trees dropping their leaves because they’re feeling unappreciated and depressed topics that anyone else ruminates over? Has anyone tried to work out why hot chocolate is magic, or what it is about leaf piles that sound amazing but leave you wanting? Most importantly, is there anyone here you have not yet had an individual experience? Anyone who hasn’t had a moment of feeling or thinking ‘no one gets this’ or ‘am I the only one who ____’?
I ask because an overwhelming amount of the time, when I tell people what I am thinking – really tell them instead of just giving a superficial reply – the response is that I think too much. Part of me understands this, as I am clearly putting considerable thought into my thoughts even now, and there is quite a lot of time and energy that goes into thinking about things that have absolutely no use or practicality in my life. Another part of me wants to know what the hell else I am supposed to be doing. Stop using my brain? Don’t narrate all the squirrels that I see? That sounds awful, boring, and not actually possible. So here I am overthinking and knowing that everyone does this while simultaneously wondering if no one else thinks about things as much as I do because people keep saying I think too much.
That really boils the human experience down. We all feel as though we alone are experiencing something, even as we watch those around us go through the same world as us. There is no way that I can put this better than the poem by e. e. Cummings that sums up life and the solitary journey through it that we all share.