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I'm Not Dreaming

Don't wake me; I'm not dreaming.

These lyrics popped up on my Spotify "Discover Weekly" playlist, and I found myself humming to it for the rest of the day. I'm one of those offenders who listens to one song on repeat for the entire afternoon until I hate it.

But after the second (or thirtieth) playback, I started to wonder if I'd misinterpreted the line. What was he actually saying?

  • I desperately want this life to be the real one, so don't send me back to the Great Beyond just yet.

  • Yes, I'm daydreaming, but let me wade in denial for a bit longer.

  • Life's too good to be true; pinch me.

  • Give me time to get my bearings, then I'll come up with something.

  • Don't wake me up. Seriously. I haven't gotten my REM yet.

Which is the real meaning? Add some context, and the first one seems to be the winner; the song's title is Past Lives. But the second could be just as true, as could, well...all of them. And did I even get the punctuation right?

  • Don't wake me; I'm not dreaming.

  • Don't wake me, I'm not dreaming.

  • Don't wake me. I'm not dreaming.

  • Don't wake me I'm not dreaming

  • Don't wake me. I'm not dreaming?

The all-knowing internet claims Option No. 4 to be the official lyric, but more importantly: It turns out the song I've come to love is actually a cover. And the original, by BORNS, is a heck of a lot longer. Changing the context yet again. And this true version is a lot less metaphorical.

The point?

I made this list because I was stuck on a content problem. A piece of text was crystal clear to me, and murky to other eyes.

I was able to come up with five or six alternative meanings to these lyrics. Even more when I asked someone else. Probably the artist has something he's trying to get across, the "correct" meaning, but that plays second fiddle to whatever it was from the song that stuck with me.

I hear this song and think of someone knowing they've lived before, will live again, but counts them all for nothing; they are in love with this moment, here and now, and pray desperately for this to cement itself as the only reality.

But reality, like songs and microcopy, aren't static. We have to write with our arrow aimed towards clarity, knowing that even if our mark is true, the circumstances can force it off-center. Best thing to do? Ask others how they understand your copy. What do they think it's trying to say? How would they say it themselves? And is there way actually better, or can it at least point you in the right direction?

I'm going to put the song on again. I'll keep my interpretation, right or not.

(And if you're interested: Past Lives by Martin Arteta)

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