Jack Handey

I never know when the voices in my head are going to start talking to me. I might be coming out of my apartment and I'll look up at the clouds. Suddenly, the voices in my head will tell me to go back inside and get an umbrella, because it might rain. Sometimes I'll obey the voices and go get the umbrella. But sometimes I muster my strength and refuse to get the umbrella. Still, the voices don't let you forget that you disobeyed them, especially if it rains. They'll say, "I knew you should have gotten th/p>< rella. Why didn't you?"

I don't expect you to understand what it's like to have voices in your head telling you what to do. But it is a nightmare I live with all the time. Right now, for instance, the voices are telling me to go back and change the word "nightmare" to "living hell."

The voices torment me from the time I wake up. They'll say, "Get up and go to the bathroom to urinate." Throughout the day, they never let up: "Go get something to eat," "Go take a nap," "Go to the bathroom again," "Get ready for bed." On and on. Sometimes the voices even talk to me in my sleep, telling me to get up and urinate. My fear is that the voices will tell me to do something crazy, like go look for a job.

I used to think that drinking alcohol would calm the voices, but it usually makes them worse. They'll say things like "Go tell that person what you really think of him" or "Get up on that table and do your funny cowboy dance."

The voices used to talk to me about the Beatles. When I was young, they'd tell me to go buy a certain Beatles album. "But I don't have any money," I'd say. Then the voices would suggest I mow some lawns to earn some money. "But that's a lot of work," I'd say. "Well," the voices would say, "do you want the album or not?" (Wait. That might have been my father.)

Sometimes I go for relatively long periods without the voices talking to me, such as when I'm watching TV, or watching ants, or lying on the floor and trying to blow lint balls into one big herd of lint. Or seeing which one of my cats is most afraid of "pillowcase head." But these golden moments are fleeting, and soon the voices return.

I just wish the voices would tell me something useful once in a while, like how to say things in French, or where my gloves went. But they hardly ever do. In fact, many times the voices like to taunt me, telling me, for instance, to turn left at an intersection when, it turns out later, I clearly should have turned right. Or telling me to wear a tie that obviously looks ridiculous.

Even worse, sometimes the voices themselves don't know what they want. They'll tell me to go up and talk to a pretty woman, then they'll say, "No, wait, she's too pretty for you," then they'll say, "Oh, go ahead," then they'll say, "What if your wife finds out?" (Man, make up your mind!)

When you tell people you have voices in your head, they think you're crazy. But when you don't say anything at all, and you just sit there and stare at them, they also think you're crazy. So you can't win.

I thought about going to a psychiatrist to get rid of the voices, but the voices said it would be expensive, and would probably take a long time, and that I'd have to put my pants on and go to the subway, then come all the way back on the subway, then take my pants off, and who knows if it would even work? Sometimes the voices have a point.

One day, I decided that I couldn't take it anymore, and I decided to silence the voices in my head once and for all. But I couldn't figure out how to do that, so I never did.

Maybe the answer is not to try to get rid of the voices but to learn to live with them. (I don't really think that; I'm just saying it for the voices.)

Will I ever be able to fully control the voices in my head? Probably not. But will I at least be able to adjust my life style so that the voices are not a threat to me or others? Again, the answer is no.

But I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet, because one thing I have learned is this: the voices may be bossy, but they're really stupid.

THE NEW YORKER, July 16, 2001