Whenever I talk to anyone about the pandemic, which I still seem to do all the time, I say that at this point my anxiety level is under control, as long as I don’t try to plan anything beyond a week away. Of the many things that CoVid has taught me, it is the value, and necessity, of focussing on now vs later.
The NY Times had two interesting articles related to the subject this week. The first hits it between the eyes: How to Cope When Everything Keeps Changing by Cindy Lamothe. It is often helpful when someone organizes thoughts which we might have had randomly. Lamothe does that by asking the question, “How do you make plans when it’s impossible to make plans,” and then explaining such strategies as:
* temporal distancing (imagining how you would like to remember yourself ten years from now)
*knowing that uncertainty has always been an illusion and believing in your own adaptability
*take action, no matter how small
*let your story be one of courage and perseverance, not fear and paralysis
For me, the final point is the most powerful. I often fall into the trap of being ‘overly humble’, and not showing pride at what I can do or have done for fear of others belittling me or thinking me ‘conceited’ (I suppose you can take the girl out of middle school, but………..).
I was thinking, though, that so much of this has to do with Time, and our relationship to it. During these months of CoVid, time has seemed both to stand still and speed ahead all at once. Its very relativity has become confused. But the NY Times came to the rescue again today as it reminded me of the work of John Cage. I had recently read quite a bit about his early years as a composer in a fun and fascinating book by Will Hermes called Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever. Many of Cage’s compositions really were all about time and music’s relationship to it. Perhaps the most extreme way in which he experimented with the concept was in the piece which came to be known as Organ²/ASLSP. This organ recital, which is described in the NY Times piece by Catherine Hickley called A 639-Year Concert, With No Intermission for Coronavirus, has been performing nonstop for eighteen years in Halberstadt, Germany. The piece is composed for continuous sound, and this past Saturday saw the first sound change in almost seven years. The recital is due to be completed in 2640.
Cage’s piece means that the musicians performing it span generations. The music is handed over from one musician to another, one caretaker to another, in a way that mandates continuity. The citizens of the small town where the church lies hear the sound emanating from the church organ as everything from an annoying drone to the cushioning backdrop to their lives. And until this year, musicians and afficionados from around the world made the pilgrimage to Halberstadt to incorporate just a bit of this enormous piece of music into their own short existences.
John Cage’s bravely monumental work helps provide perspective, I think, to all that we are experiencing now. Change does come. It is inevitable, even if it is imperceptibly slow. It takes courage, imagination and determination to believe in it, but if we can, we can cope with change and the seeming lack of it. Of course, it takes a piece of art to move us along towards that belief, especially when we feel stuck. But then again, that’s one of the key jobs of art, after all, isn’t it?