Telepathy, Despite Our Best Efforts

I never seem to be around when it’s “go time.” I feel this is a good thing. I’ve never “hit the ground running,” thankfully, because that sounds very painful, something you’d have to do jumping out of a moving bus. I’ve never been in a position where I felt either of those phrases would affect me to anywhere near the point of action. People think saying things like this will potentially help them accomplish things in their lives, that these phrases maybe have the power to change a person’s attitude, give them a swift kick in the pants. Maybe they do.

Lots of people, though, seem to get the same ideas around the same time, sometimes independent of each other, and not just about slogans, even. And it looks like someone’s copying someone else, like there’s some seedy underworld of rampant plagiarism into which a federal inquiry should delve. And not just like, “They have the bomb? Get me the bomb. I need the bomb.”

It could be that ideas actually float around, and people are kind of like antennas awaiting signals from unknown sources, and, when those signals float past, people just pick up on them, shocking the brain into action. Mark Twain believed in telepathy, but he called it “mental telegraphy.” He believed in thought-transference, that “inventions, ideas, phrases, paragraphs, chapters, and even entire books” could unconsciously transfer “from mind to mind.”

Twain had written “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven” and “The Late Rev. Sam Jones’ Reception in Heaven,” two stories sharing similar incidents with a story by George Bernard Shaw. Twain and Shaw knew each other, even had dinner several times. They supposedly never spoke about the plots of any of those stories, yet they had the same ideas about what would happen in those stories, independent of one another. When Twain came up with the idea of “mental telegraphy,” maybe a bomb went off in his head, and he thought, “Did I just think that?”

* * *

It’s happened to me so many times I’ve lost count. I’ll have an idea, a really great idea and I start thinking about what to do with it, how I can use it in a piece of writing, and after a while, months, sometimes years, I’ll read or hear someone else say something similar, and it’s even happened that the exact things I thought up, word for word, someone else has already done.

Like: A long time ago I came up with a really good rhetorical oxymoron: What’s Another Word for Thesaurus? I had big plans to use it as the title of a book of poetry, or something, and I even wrote a poem called “What’s Another Word for Thesaurus?” A while later, I started getting into Steven Wright, reading quotes of his on the internet, and watching videos of him on YouTube, and, I’m not sure where but, I came across a one-liner of his that went a little something like this: “What’s another word for thesaurus?”

I got so upset, having to scrap what I perceived to be a great idea I thought I’d originated, or whatever. And I started thinking about why certain people gravitate toward certain artists’ work, or why certain people become friends with certain other people, and in general avoid getting to know people who don’t share common values or interests or sentiments or philosophies or worldviews, or whatever. The more people think the same way, the more likely it is they’ll be friends.

* * *

I started a hip hop group. I wrote the music, programmed the beats on a drum machine and all, and recorded all of it on a shitty little digital 4-track in the attic of my daughter’s mom’s house, where I was living at the time. The hip hop group was with my friends S. and N., both of whom I went to high school with. N. and I used to live together, drinking and doing drugs. S. and I worked together musically on and off since 1996-97 (I was a sophomore, he a senior), also drinking and doing drugs (S. is blind, and I’m half-deaf in one ear—it was perfect).

S. and I started a heavy emo band back in high school—I wrote the music, played guitar and sang, and S. helped arrange the music, played drums—and we won a lot of battles because, well, we were good, and that was back when I was only 15 or 16, and S. was 17 or 18, and we were beating these adult-sized bands with all kinds of electronic gizmos and superfluous equipment who should’ve been better than us. Then we broke up, but we’d still been doing work on and off since then.

So, I’d record hip hop music and beats on this shitty little digital 4-track, then take that over to S.’s and we’d record the music from my 4-track into his computer. He’d come up with these great ideas about things to add in, like a sample of Barney Gumble burping or dialing a telephone and hanging up, and add really great effects to certain parts of the songs, like making the music sound like water. I wrote a lot of verses, and N. wrote some verses, and S. recorded our vocals over the music, rapping, as we drank and did drugs and laughed a lot. S. was very patient.

Anyway, our hip hop group didn’t have a DJ so, when we did the few shows we got, we just rapped over instrumental versions of the songs playing through a Discman hooked up to the PA system. This one show, I pressed play on the Discman and put it on a chair almost offstage. The bass came through the PA speakers so powerfully the vibrations caused the CD to skip. I felt like a man having sex with a woman for the first time, or at least a woman he’s never had sex with before—I felt like I couldn’t get it up. I got all nervous, and all I could think to say to the audience was, “I’m really sorry, this never happens…”

* * *

S. and I were hanging out, working on music, and we decided to order some food after a long day. We called in a pick-up, chicken fingers for Harold or Vance or Oswald or whatever name I gave the person who took our order, thinking I was funny or clever. We got in the car and drove to pick up the food, and talked about funny phrases like “It’s go time” and “Hit the ground running,” and how silly they were. We went in, got our food and left. Like a couple of brilliant idiots, one blind and the other half-deaf in one ear, we walked out to the parking lot, me with my eyes and S. with his cane on my deaf side, his hand on my elbow, me guiding him.

As we got to my car, we had to veer left to get around to the passenger side. For some reason on the way around I said “Right,” and for some reason he went left anyway before I could correct myself. Somehow he knew what I meant, like there was this unconscious level of sarcasm he picked up on, detecting it just in time to be ironic when it seemed like we both wanted completely to avoid any form of calculated communication. Regardless of the fact neither of us apparently had any conscious clue where we were going, we still got to the car. When we got to the passenger side, I opened the door for S. and said, “You sure you don’t want to drive?”


Ethel Rohan said...

Telepathy, coincidence, it is bizarre how that works, isn't it.

Nice post. I hope S. somehow gets to read it.

Charles Lennox said...

amazingly i had the exact same idea for my next blog post. :)

Eric Beeny said...

Hi Ethel, it certainly is. I'd really like to know what happens from the mental to the physical, and vise versa. I think our lives are maybe synapses, and we're constantly trying to make a connection between who (identity) and what (physical body) we are...

Hi Charles, that's great. You should write it anyway. We'll look in the mirror and see one another...

audri said...

yes yes. i am also fascinated by the possibility of waking life-esque telepathic undergrounds. maybe they are a karass of sorts. maybe everything worth knowing is in the unsaid. what i do know is that when you find yourself writing chord progressions that start to turn up on david hasselhoff albums, it is time to reevaluate your music career.

'..our lives are maybe synapses, and we're constantly trying to make a connection between who (identity) and what (physical body) we are'

i really like this notion.

Eric Beeny said...

Thanks, Audri. Karass, exactly. We can’t go wrong with Vonnegut. Even as people, working out our own synapses, we’re still making connections with others, firing messages along the synapses between us. I had to make small talk yesterday and felt like a broken synapse, with absolutely nothing to contribute to the conversation, and I felt like the acetylcholine which carries messages across our synapses had dwindled, so I was an Alzheimer’s synapse.

There’s a lot of chord progressions in pop and alternative music which are exactly the same—"When I Come Around" by Green Day and "Glycerine" by Bush and "No One Else" by Weezer (but Weezer I'll let off the hook), to name a few from the '90s when I first noticed this phenomenon—only in different keys, utilizing different melodies to navigate around the same progression (I, V, VI, IV), but I think that’s more a case of corporate plagiarism based on a successful formula for hits singles than unconscious telepathy. Hasslehoff has probably used those progressions, too. And it’s too bad, because he deserves so much respect for his work on Baywatch.