On loneliness and ear-worms

Where do ear-worms live, do you suppose? An ear-worm farm? Fed on the wasted energy of YouTubers?

Wherever it came from, it’s been about about three weeks since a big, fat, Gilbert O’Sullivan ear worm crawled into my internal sound system. It’s been monopolising the turntable ever since.

If you don’t know Gilbert O’Sullivan (understandable), this is how his official website modestly describes him:

“… the superstar who topped the UK and US single charts in the 70s with songs of endearing tunefulness, unabashed sentiment and existentialist musings.”

I actually rather liked his first hit, ‘Nothing rhymed’:

“Nothing good, nothing bad, nothing ventured
Nothing gained, nothing still-born or lost
Nothing further than proof, nothing wilder than youth
Nothing older than time, nothing sweeter than wine…”

but the worm that’s been wriggling round my aural canals wasn’t that one. It was a desperately sad song, ‘Alone again, naturally’.

I’d been thinking about being alone, about loneliness. It began with an article about a blue whale.

The blue whale in question has been heard, but never been seen or found. It may not even be a blue whale.

But its ‘song’ bears more of a resemblance to that of other blues (appropriate) than any other whales.

The song of the enigmatic creature, though, has a different sound frequency from others of its kind. Which brought it to the attention of William Watkins, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts, in 1989.

I ‘listened’ to a genuine recording online. It was the sound of silence. To hear it, apparently, you have to use a good sound system and quality earphones. I used neither.

Exasperated scientists and hopeful, lonely dreamers have embraced different versions of this whale’s tale.

The dreamers find solace, or companionship, in what they see as a sad, loveless, loner, prowling the wide Pacific. Its song, so the myth goes, isn’t heard by other whales. It has no mate.

You can imagine the scientists groaning. Other whales, they say, can hear it, even if to them it’s just a weirdo with a bigger, deeper sounding tuba. And no-one knows if it’s mated or not.

It’s hard to write about the whale without endowing it with human qualities and emotions. But here’s what I’ve gleaned: it’s known to exist (or to have existed). It has not (so far) been found.

It’s unusual among its kind.

It’s a male.

And it swims the Pacific Ocean all alone. (Well, sort of – I mean, the ocean isn’t empty, is it?)

A learned article about the whale appeared in 2004,  since when people have been writing its imagined tale, filming its imagined sadness, empathising with its imagined pain.

But, just because the whale is in water doesn’t mean he’s alone. Or lonely. And if the singing feels good, does it matter if no-whale responds?

For much of this year I’ve been alone. Occasionally I’ve been lonely. But mostly just alone.

There’s a big, big difference.

I know how lonely feels.

When we lived in a busy street, full of people I knew, I was lonelier than I can ever remember being.

Now, I live in a quiet house at the end of a cul de sac surrounded by trees. I know only our immediate neighbours to the right and the ones beyond them. Unless I go out I don’t even see strangers – in cars or vans – turning around or parking.

Yet, mostly, I don’t feel lonely.

I’m sure there’s a long reason why, but the short reason is that I want to be alone, I want to have room for my head to fill with ideas – or to empty of ideas when they’re fledged and ready to fly.

I want the freedom.

But that’s not to say I don’t need or like people’s company. I do.

A writer-friend, trying to help me with motivation, asked if I was part of a community. At the time I couldn’t answer her. But since then I’ve realised that you – yes, you, dear reader – are a big part of my ‘community’. You who read – and even, sometimes (ahem), comment.

And one day we may meet. Only last week I shared my special place and went for a walk with a locally-based blogger I’d never before met in ‘real’ life.

From time to time, I get together with others living the same kind of free, yet questing life I seem to lead. Freelancers or homeworkers, we label ourselves.

It’s a regular event, a ‘Jelly’ (stupid name) where we’re supposed to ‘co-work’. And last week we met in a new location. My co-‘workers’ and I did nothing except talk, laugh, drink tea and coffee – and look at stuff.

Something about the new venue made it happen.

We were together and not alone, but if we’d been working, we’d have been alone and yet together.

We are born alone, die alone, breathe alone… we are inevitably separate entities. But being alone per se is not a bad thing.

Loneliness, though, is becoming the scourge of westernised nations, in this age of surround-sound noise and fury.

Eyes fixated on screens, earphones silencing the outer world.

Electric gates keeping high-fenced gardens safe from prying eyes.

Official CCTV’s electronic gaze scanning us, to keep the public safe.

Though the watching lens can also be sinister, a furtive, very private eye.

Humans begin to avoid others, for safety, out of fear, just because …

Drive the child to school, don’t let it ride on a bus. Who knows what she or he might catch.

Shop in the smart shops, don’t mix with the hoi poloi.

I’d better end this here, because this leads straight to a real rant about wilful isolation – and I’m exceeding my word limit.

I’ll leave you with some wriggling, chubby worms from the You Tube ear-worm farm.

On the theme of loneliness. So often about unrequited love.

Isn’t it always, one way or another?

Here you go. Hankies at the ready for Gilbert and Gerry.


This entry was posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to On loneliness and ear-worms

  1. Liz ferguson says:

    Love your music ! Sorry you are feeling lonely ,I don’t think all these electronic devices help.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, don’t worry 🙂 I’m not feeling lonely – alone yes, by choice (at the moment!), but not lonely. I feel for those who are though and in some ways contact via such things as blogging is a lifesaver. Thanks for commenting 🙂


  2. Audrey Chin says:

    Alone but not lonely is a good place to be. I’m alone too. In a room in Iowa. All the other writers have gone off to Seattle and New Orleans. After all that literary talk, which was nice… It’s quite nice, the quiet.
    Hugs from afar.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. From time to time… is the key for me. Alone again naturally [sans comma] works for me. I’m very tolerant, welcoming of alone time and rarely get enough. Fortunate, I believe, that lonely isn’t an inclination I have. I don’t tolerate well too many incursions but I enjoy similar interaction, such as your Jelly, or real time visits with friends, family or bloggers who become friends but am relieved when it’s time to resume my usual quiet, pretty much please myself existence out here in the hills.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jilldennison says:

    Well said. I learned long ago to be comfortable in my own skin, content with my own company. I know people, however, who seem to always need to have other people around to feel fulfilled, and I feel sorry for them. I think that if one is constantly surrounded by others, one never has time to do the sort of deep thinking that is required to fully know oneself.

    Yesterday, you planted one song, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria, into my head. I finally got rid of that earworm, and now you have planted yet another! But, I actually have two of the four songs you list (Alone Again, Naturally and Sounds of Silence) on my ipod playlist, that I listen to when I walk. I find that whichever one is playing when I turn it off is the one that will be stuck in my head. 😉

    I gather the prof is off again? Hugs, dear friend!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, it seems time to think is not wanted in many people’s lives. Perhaps they are afraid of what they might find.
      I am really surprised you have ‘Alone Again’ on you playlist! I had to force the Prof to listen to it as he had never heard it – and ‘Nothing rhymed’ too, poor long-suffering man! I had a great list of tracks and whittled it down – ‘I am a rock’ was another that Helen mentions, and there were two Roy Orbisons – ‘Only the Lonely’ and with the Traveling Wilburys ‘Not alone any more’. When I started playing Leonard Cohen’s ‘You Want it Darker’ I realised I had to stop or I might summon up the black dog by mistake!
      Yes, the Prof’s off for a few days but he won’t be alone or lonely as I am going too – more of which anon. Hugs to you too, across the stormy (in all senses) waves 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s a difficult balance. There are times when I need to be so lone I shut down my router. Writing is best done alone. I enjoyed your post and thanks for the visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Rob, and I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ your post about Facebook but I certainly found it thought provoking and unsettling. I’m sure you know what I mean! We are at a very worrying juncture in the development of world communications. Thanks too for popping over here 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • If we want to live in a global civilization based on the principles of human rights and the rule of law we’re going to have to learn the art of compromise. Or relearn it. The whole idea of ‘globalism as evil’ is absurd.

        Global unity based on reciprocal relationships between nations is essential for the next phase of our social evolution as a species.

        When looked at from Mars, Earth is just Earth.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Loneliness can be dreadful…I used to comfort myself with Paul Simon’s ‘I am a rock’

    which brought me through until meeting Leo and discovering that the fortress deep and mighty could open the portcullis….

    Currently my earworm is ‘Oh,oh Antonio’….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, Helen, that was whittled off my list of tracks to put in! A rock feels no pain, an island never cries. Hmmm. Fortresses don’t work, in my experience. I had a very, very lonely patch when I moved to the Netherlands on my own – but like you, my true relief from that pain was in the form of a mate, the prof! I refuse to hear that earworm Helen, no no no no no Antonio!

      Liked by 1 person


    I understand the whale. Swimming through life rarely finding others with the same way of thinking, pegs and holes come to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I see what you mean. It’s not always ture that a loner is lonely and judging by the comments here those of us who like our solitude also have partners with whom we share our lives. But we don’t know if the whale ever mated…


  8. seer1969 says:

    Despite your wilful attempt to pass on the ear worm like the plague, I skipped lightly down the text avoiding all thought of Gilbert, who I hated then and still. Why do sufferers want others to suffer? I’m quite capable of getting my own thanks!
    I’ve been spending my alone again time thinking about the evolution of hominids [like you do], and the old theory of moving from forest to savannah versus the newer aquatic ape theory, and believe I have yet another theory unconsidered by anyone as far as I can ascertain, which might satisfy both camps. I just have to write it all down, it’s all in my head still.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The prof can talk you out of the largely discredited aquatic ape theory if you’re interested? Not sure what the newest theories are these days now I’m not in the editorial loop any more (hooray!) but do let us know when you’ve evolved it 🙂 Oh – and nice to hear from you. Did you like the horn dancing?


  9. MELewis says:

    Like you I’ve more often felt lonely in groups than when alone. Solitude (chosen) is under-rated. Thanks for the ear-worms – some very good tunes in there!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Beautiful post. Some great songs too. I wrote about loneliness myself today.

    Liked by 1 person

Thanks for reading, please comment if it struck a chord

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.