All my life, I’ve wanted to be someone else. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that I’ve always loathed myself and the physical body and little bubble of a world I inhabit (though I sometimes have). I’ve just always wanted to know what it’s like to be other people. Even if only for a day. See new worlds. Feel their emotions, think their thoughts. See how their day-to-day life pans out. It’s part of the reason why I enjoy reading so much. Stories allow you to be other people for a little while, and that’s unspeakably fantastic. In fact, the older I grow, the more it has morphed from a simple little wistful thought, a fancy that sometimes flutters and lands on my mind like a wayward butterfly and flies away a moment later, into a deeper yearning. I want so desperately to know what it’s like to be other people. I’ve even wished I could transform myself into a fly and spy on the private lives of people I’m particularly interested in, though I do realize this borders on creepy stalking. But I’m just interested! I’m just so, so curious! Perhaps it’s an idealistic form of nosiness, but I don’t feel any shame for it. I want to feel the pain and joy and shame and horror and everything in between of others. Unfortunately I do not possess the ability to transplant myself into other people’s bodies, and the reality of it would probably be rather intrusive anyway, so instead, I’ve resorted to imagination.
I imagine what it is like to be a farm girl growing up in a beautiful, pastoral setting, with big strong arms from fetching buckets of water and milking cows and carrying logs, and feeling a secret delight at the attentions from a nearby handsome station hand. To wake up to the crow of a rooster, and drink milk thick and creamy with froth at breakfast, and go to sleep with the pattering feet of the animals outside the window.
I imagine what it is like to be a lonely businessman in Tokyo, in his lavish penthouse, without anyone to share the delights of wealth with, sipping a glass of expensive wine and peering out from the panoramic windows at the glittering and rushing city below. To feel what it is like for everything to sparkle, but nothing to truly glow. A great, heavy-on-the-heart sort of loneliness.
I imagine what it was like to be a concubine living in an Imperial Palace. The gnarled knot of hidden animosities among the woman, the dangerous path one treads between favor and disfavor, the fumbling moves of the Emperor when he calls the women to his bedchamber at night. The bowing, the tension, the vibrant gowns and headpieces, the fragrant ponds of lily pads.
I imagine what it is like to be a struggling artist living in a poky little garret that overlooks the murky Thames river in London. The ashen clusters of cigarettes on the chipped wooden table, the uncomfortable lowness of the ceiling, the rats that scurry in the walls, and how the place looks at night, lit with a single candle, a twinkling haven in which I can paint or draw or read to my heart’s content.
I imagine what it is like to live as a drug addict, prowling through the streets at night, chest tight with need for the next fix, fingers constantly trembling and eyes bloodshot, hating yourself for who you have become but unable to stop. Hating yourself for stealing from your family, your friends, hating the world, and wanting to escape the world doing something that makes you hate yourself. The great swathes of misery interspersing the brief peppering of ecstasies. A dark, hallowed, broken world. A sad world.
I imagine what it was like to be a citizen of Ancient Egypt, watching as the men hauled the great stone blocks up the sides of the pyramids, bartering for dates and meat, feeling the desert sun on my face and the scratchy, desert wind riffling through my clothes. To bow and pray to the Gods, and watch in awe as the red sun rose each morning like a great eye, and think Ra! Ra!
I imagine what it was (or maybe is? Do they still have bell ringers?) like to be a bell ringer like Quasimodo, scrambling up the sides of buildings and swinging like a pendulum to set the bells a-ringing, and hearing the thunderous peals shake my very teeth and bones. To know that the whole city can hear the sounds I put into motion, to see the birds scatter into the air at the noise I made, and to cry and laugh and scream with it all.
I imagine what it is like to be a trapeze artist at a circus. To spend days leaping and contorting in the air, like a magical twisting bird, and come back to a cozy, red little caravan and sleep until the next day of flight. To eat lunch with all the other circus folk, still in their costumes, around the fireplace. To be on the move, all the time, and watching from the door of your caravan as the landscape trundles past on these journeys, especially at night when the moon rises round and white and high in the sky, bathing the rough terrain silver.
I imagine what is like to be a child like Oliver growing up in a hard, cold orphanage, scraping your spoons at the bottom of tin bowls, sleeping in cramped beds piled with dirty sheets, and that feeling of grey abandonment when you see children out with their families and concocting wonderful, beautiful parents in your mind late at night when you can’t sleep.
I imagine what it is like to be a girl at boarding school, and tussling with all the horrors of puberty and boys and classes and pinch-mouthed headmistresses. To cry silently in your pillow at night so no-one hears, and having that one true friend who makes it living less miserable.
I don’t know. Everything. It may seem childish to some people, but I imagine myself as birds, mythical creatures, aliens, futuristic cyborgs, all the characters in the books I have loved, as lonely vampires (I tend to like lonely and suffering and misunderstood characters an awful lot), as flowers, as rundown and lonely houses (There is certainly a running theme here), as abandoned toys, the moon, the sun, angels, Mother Nature. You get the drift. I don’t know. I just felt like sharing this enthusiasm. To see the clouds touched with light, feel the wet warmth of blood in my mouth that is both delicious and repulsive, experience the flattening crumpling pain of being trod upon…I don’t know.
It’s just so wonderful, so magical, so lovely. I want to know what it’s like to be everyone, to hear all the stories, live all the lives. And I suppose, seeing as we are all each other, no matter who are right now or the time period, perhaps we have experienced all of these, perhaps even as organisms in other worlds or planets or universes, only it’s locked away beneath the layers of pre-birth consciousness, only it’s inaccessible, and the imagination is a sort of key to unlocking all these other lives, these lives who were yours, if only briefly, if only for one daydream, one night. I quite like that.