Someone said to me a while ago, “You live in your head a lot, don’t you?” Now, I was taken aback a bit by that remark. I don’t remember what we were talking about (or even who my fellow conversationalist was) but something about my half of the discussion prompted her to that observation. She was right, though; I do spend a lot of time there. After all, why let all that empty space go to waste? Having been a reclusive, bookish type all my life I do admit to having quite a rich fantasy life that keeps me either mildly entertained or marginally batty. I also live in the past a lot, but that’s a subject for another article.
Back to my boarding room brain. More recently another acquaintance was commenting on my “Ant Chant” blog posting (September 10, 2012) and how I could come up with something like that based simply on seeing ants on a sidewalk. (It probably helps to be a bit demented, I suppose, but maybe out of charity we could just chalk it up to creativity.) Anyway, a little later my friend added this: “I wish I had your mind.” Whoa! This belongs in the be-careful-what-you-wish-for category. My response to her was, “No, you don’t; it would drive you crazy.”
Noise in the Attic
For one thing, she would have to deal with all the past baggage that comes with it. Then, there’s this: As I write this it is 2:30 a.m., three hours after first going to bed and a typical Sunday night/Monday morning when my brain just won’t shut down. (Why this seems to happen every week-end I don’t know. I do know it frustrates the dickens out of me.) All kinds of thoughts keep popping into my head—quotes and phrases out of nowhere, song lyrics, scenes from old movies; mental check lists of chores to be done, calls to make, or errands to run; editing of previous articles I’ve written (I’m a compulsive perfectionist and second-guesser). These and more unrelated thoughts, impressions, and just plain disjointed mental junk bounce around up there like so many bumper cars slamming into each other. There can be so much of this scattershot activity that it makes me wonder if I might be a bit schizophrenic. I feel like some inebriated sot experiencing the DTs, but without the pleasure of imbibing beforehand. Visually it’s like watching a TV commercial without the sound: a jumble of images in quick succession but without context. Audibly it’s like turning the dial on a radio—Do they still have dials?—quickly rolling past the various stations and hearing only snatches of music, commercials, and conversation, all strung together but making no sense.
When sleep finally does arrive it’s a blessing and, even though the night is at least half over, I’ll take what I can get. Unfortunately, when Morpheus finally takes over, often as not my dreams tend to be just as frenetic as the wakeful chaos that preceded them—and all in brilliant Technicolor. There are those to whom I’ve recounted my dreams who can attest to these often outlandish nocturnal escapades. In fact, I could probably devote an entire daily blog to these tales. Or perhaps a bizarre Tim Burton-esque movie script would do the trick. (Note to self: Make a note.)
My much coveted sleep interlude is cut short anyway by my cat who never seems to have trouble sleeping herself. Right on schedule she shows up to nag me for her morning treat, a spoonful of canned cat food. How she can eat that stuff is beyond me; the smell alone could repulse an undernourished buzzard. And since by now it is Monday, the garbage trucks (one for trash, one for recyclables) lumber in, with stop-and-go squeaks and thuds, first up one side of the street and then down the other.
Stuck on You. . on You . . . on You . . . on You . . .
As if this weren’t enough, some mornings I wake up with lyrics of some “golden oldie” running through my brain. Just this Sunday it was the old Johnny Ray tune, Just Walkin’ in the Rain. (“Just walkin’ in the rain/Getting soaking wet/Torturing my heart by trying to forget . . .”)* Still, that’s preferable to some of the stuff that has greeted me in the morning, such as “The Mickey Mouse Club” theme song, the Oscar Mayer hot dog jingle, and other ditties that repeat over and over. I heard once that this is a way the brain amuses itself but I can think of less insanity-inducing activities. This annoyance is variously referred to as involuntary musical imagery, sticky music, and brainworm or earworm. I’m a little skeptical about the worm explanations, however, since I don’t think worms are any more adept at transmitting music than they are of learning calculus (see my blog posting, “Worm Learnin,'” April 23, 2012).
All this doesn’t say much for the object of this nuisance either. According to author Daniel Levitin** those who are most likely to be affected by earworms are musicians and those with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). By extension that includes me, I guess, with my perfectionist/second-guessing propensity. He also says that simple tunes are more likely to “get stuck” than are complex compositions (which may or may not be some euphemistic reference to one’s I.Q.), and that OCD medications can minimize the effects. (Oh, good. Just what I need: drugs.) Other research shows that both men and women are affected but that earworm attacks are longer-lasting and more irritating for women than they are for men. (How lucky can I get?)
Don’t Mind if I Do . . . Maybe
Well, it’s 4 a.m. I think I may be able to go to sleep now. Strains of Hoagy Carmichael’s Sleepy Time Gal would be an appropriate wake-up earworm after this. I’d better sleep fast, though; the cat and the garbage trucks will be here before too long.
Now that I think of it, maybe someone else having my mind wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. I could use the sleep.
© 2012, The Wit’s End Scribbler.
*Bragg, Johnny. Just Walkin’ in the Rain. Johnny Ray. OKeh Records, 1956.
**Levitin, Daniel. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.