Once a warbler couldn’t get a song out of its head. No matter where it went, no matter what it did, the notes of the song repeated themselves over and over in the warbler’s mind, sometimes softly, sometimes at a blare, but always and irksomely present. Had it been the warbler’s own melody, full-throated and familiar, the constant reprise wouldn’t have been so distressing. The expression of one’s deepest self could never be that, for each note, sweet with meaning no other bird had discovered and no other could do justice to, rose from the heart of experience. And true to experience, it was true to life. But this insistent refrain turning and turning in the warbler’s mind wasn’t true to anything it had personally known and drowned its own song beneath a slurry of noise. With each repetition, the warbler sensed, another furrow in its brain was being silted up. These notes might once have lifted a lyric soul, but all passion had long since been drained from them, leaving only an ooze of thickening sentiment behind. 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 was 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 life for oneself 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 seemed 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 pundits who started with talking points and ended up half choking to death—what room 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 its own voice? Did others also wince at the continual trespass upon their days and nights that robbed them of a few seconds here and a few seconds there until more than just time had been lost? Much more. With each moment a warrant of one’s being, if any of them ceased to ring true, who were you? Simply another Muzak 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 drone along with their tired standbys if you were to be listened to at all? It made the warbler want to screech in its own ears just to feel reassured it wasn’t deaf to itself quite yet.
Copyright © 2007, revised 2008, by Geoffrey Grosshans