Everyday in the seventh grade, I would ride the bus starting at 6:45am and listen to music on my iPod Touch, my latest birthday gift, and stare wistfully out the window. Watch the trees and houses whiz past me every gray, early morning. I remember so vividly the one day where the girl in the seat in front of me turned around to chat, happily and eagerly. She was chipper, kind, making jokes, and I completely snapped.
“Please shut up!”
She looked shocked and said she was sorry.
I shook my head. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m just tired. And don’t feel like talking yet. Maybe once we get to school.”
As she sunk back into her seat, defeated, I took in the weight of the interaction, guilty and a little relieved, as I embraced that it was based on an utter lie.
I wasn’t tired; she’d just interrupted my daydream.
When you see a kid in a classroom in the movies, the one who’s staring out the window thinking of anything besides Algebra or History, they’re the protagonist. The one who is unfortunately grounded in reality with dreams of flying higher. And my middle school daydreams were based on this fictional character’s: colorful, powerful, and completely intoxicating. All I wanted was to figure out who I was and unleash my creativity into the world, through any outlet. I played instruments, I wrote, I told jokes, all of it with classic, 12 year old mediocrity. And when my averageness became enveloping and suffocating, I would retreat into my headphones and start listening.
Every song on every playlist on that iPod Touch had a specific daydream attached to it. Sometimes, I would imagine myself singing along to the song with perfect pitch. Other times, I was dancing with impeccable rhythm to thunderous applause. Most of the time, though, it unfolded like a music video in my head, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. And interrupting it before the story was over made me so uncomfortable that it was absolutely intolerable.
To this day, I experience music the way I did in middle school, with each tune paired with its own plot, characters, and narrative structure. Despite how often I dive into my daydreams now, during my commute on the subway or zoning out into space while walking home from the grocery store, I hardly ever talk about it. Because of this, I’ve known only a handful of people in my life who experience music in the same way that I do, most notably my younger brother. Possibly because it’s just one, small piece of myself to keep inside my mind, for my indulgence alone. But, most likely, it’s because of how embarrassingly narcissistic I find it: imagining myself as the star of a story that only ever exists inside my own head.
And although they’re definitely false narratives (I’m only a half-decent singer at best and could not dance to save my life), my brain has an uncanny ability to twist these half-baked musical reactions into actual stories, with depth, emotion, and intensity. Each story is so specific to each song that I, depending on my mood, will skip to certain ones in order to play out the daydream attached to them. “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire is my character introduction if I were in a superhero movie. “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac is the headline show for my band that doesn’t exist. The most jarring instance of this was when, while listening to “Blackbird” junior year of college, a stranger asked if I was okay when I started to cry on the bus, picturing me singing the song and playing it on guitar at my mother’s funeral. This is all despite the fact that:
- My mother is perfectly healthy.
- I hate being the center of attention.
- I have never played guitar a day in my life.
I wish I could explain where this all stems from. Maybe it’s my love of movies and books and the narratives that go along with them, a love so intense that my brain constantly tries to attach it to the relatively plot-free medium of music. Maybe it’s my imposter syndrome, seeping into my unconscious mind, satisfying me with imaginary success because I know, in the real world, I’ll never amount to anything. Or maybe it’s my addiction to social media and celebrity culture, having fostered in me since those days on the middle school bus that if you’re not famous, you’re not worth existing.
The truth is that I can’t work through my grown-up daydreams alone. They are the most infantile part of me, locked away in a vice in my mind, a shameful secret that I don’t know why I’m keeping. I want to discover more about this part of myself, as I get older and keep growing. But the key will be to lock myself in a room, close my eyes, turn up the music, and see what daydreams float up to the surface. Only then will I be able to see how far my mind can take me.