It’s not everyday that everyday looks like any day.
The pandemic was a time of opportunity, perhaps, to woodshed, to workshop, to reflect, to reassess. It was also, for me, a time of uncertainty, anxiety, and of doubt.
Keeping busy, and doing “the good work,” seemed at once absolutely necessary, but searching the corners and cracks for excitement and energy to fuel The Work seemed often to be out of reach.
(Watch for that cliff-edge. Here comes another. And another.)
((I wonder how much of the desire to be prolific is a perverse caricature of capitalist bullshit productivity? Do my “products” service a need? What need, exactly, is my “output” meeting?))
The pandemic was never a moment of collective trauma. It was more like seven billion lives affected, seven billion individual crises, all different, but shared in time—synchronized in global terms—spreading, multiplying, one node affected by the next in the web of humanity. (In so many ways the perfect—messy, complex, unknowable, ambiguous, heterogeneous—analog of real-time interactive play.)
What music could hold such a thing? address it? be meaningful in that context?
What art could do useful work in that context?
That strange sense of exhaustion. That unexpected expenditure of energy when your audience is brought into your life.
It’s one thing to get ready, to prepare, to leave for a public space to present your work (and yourself). It’s another to clear the detritus of your life away from the background of that video image, to maintain a faux professionalism, when just behind the camera are the knickknacks of your life. It’s another to present to video, for online posterity, for strangers to consume your work from their own private spaces.
What is distance? What is perspective? What is that gaze? What is that absence?
How do we recover from these breaches?
The rogue strand of RNA danced its dance with humanity. It’s beautiful in its own way. Poetic—messy, terrifying, mesmerizing—in its own way.
New words and expressions entered the vernacular. Old words came to denote less—more specific things—but encapsulate and carry more meaning: of fear, uncertainty, yes, but also fascination. We’re being transformed, across porous borders, through language. Soon, those of us who lived through this, might share these as shorthands. “Variant” means something. It has a texture and resonance and feel and vibe that can’t be captured by a Merriam-Webster.
I reflect on how pre-pandemic cultures (and culture-industrial complexes), with its obsession with authority and coherence and narrative, ill prepared us for the complexity and discord and messiness of the present. That maybe if we had held closer these prickly, uncomfortable, inconvenient, noisy heterophonies we, as societies, may have been more capable of facing the chaos, or dancing the dance of humanity v. RNA.
But I felt I had one work in me. And I wanted it, maybe needed it, to be partial. Situated. Narrow, restricted, conscious of the pressures.
And a part of me knew whatever work came out of this time—this condition—this work would, in some way, commemorate the time. Whether I liked it or not.
To be something about these strange times.
To be, in some way, about this strange condition.
These times frustrate.
And I need(ed) to create a work that, willfully, frustrates.
(I think, I believe, that my listeners deserve nothing less from me.)
Cover Photo Credit: Cristina Marx / Photomusix