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.