Once a warbler just couldn’t get an annoying song out of its head. No matter where it went, no matter what it did, the drearily predictable notes of the song repeated themselves over and over in the warbler’s mind, sometimes softly, sometimes at a blare, but always and irksomely there. Had it been the warbler’s own melody, the constant reprise wouldn’t have been so distressing. Giving voice to one’s deepest self could never be that, for each note, rich with personal meaning, rose from the heart of experience. And true to experience, it was true to life. But the insistent refrains turning and turning in the warbler’s head weren’t true to anything it had personally known. With each repetition, the warbler sensed, another portion of its self-awareness was being overlaid with the passions and beliefs of others. Where had the unwanted song come from? No, where hadn’t it come from would be a better question, the warbler supposed, for the same tune could be heard in any elevator or grocery store or dental office or public restroom around. As if no place were safe from its reach and the intent was to have the whole world humming mindlessly along. Now that the warbler thought about it, threats to the inner peace needed to work out the music of one’s own life didn’t come only from these smothering melodies. The air was filled with a similar babble of programmed ideas repeated so often they too left little chance to gather one’s own thoughts. Formula newspaper editorials; book reviews that read like publishers’ blurbs; “in their own words” radio and television exclusives of the year that all seem taken from the same script; genteel whimsy, earnest platitudes, or a stale aperçu or two passed off as sophisticated insight; tit-for-tat exchanges on any subject by political commentators who start with talking points and end up half choking to death—what space was left anywhere for voices that didn’t conform to these dreary expectations? Had Bouvard and Pécuchet taken over the planet? What other explanation was there, the warbler asked itself, for this reluctance to venture beyond received ideas when received ideas had led to such emotional and intellectual stagnation, to a complacent acceptance of the hackneyed while the truly original went unremarked? Did others suffer an equal sense of violation by all this noise, this blur of mass-feel and mass-think that left the warbler wondering whether it would soon be unable even to recognize the sound of its own voice? Did others also wince at the noisy trespass upon their days and nights that robbed them of a few minutes here and a few minutes there until more than just time had been lost? With each moment a warrant of one’s being, if any of them ceased to ring true, who were you? Simply another background-music version of the life of the species? Did you even exist anymore when others had come to do your singing for you? Leaving you to hum along with their tired old standbys if you were to be heard at all? It made the warbler want to screech in its own ears just to be assured it wasn’t deaf to itself quite yet.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans