Now, like no other time, is the time to use your imagination. Lose yourself.
In Seattle, and much of the world now, we are in lock down. Practicing social distancing is not a complete quarantine, but close enough. (In an actual quarantine, I would probably cheat a little bit.) I still go to the grocery store, I go to the radio station’s studio, little things like that.
Neighborhood walks are in play, of course. There is a small gym in my office building, and although I am telecommuting from home, I have been driving in to use the equipment. (My rehab efforts, failures, and re-doubling efforts, comprise a whole different story.)
Sitting in my abode, as I often do anyway, I was reading Patti Smith and I was struck by a passage in Woolgathering. Published in 1992 and clearly pre-Euro, this gave me pause:
I slipped my hand in my pocket and found a wad of notes — pounds, marks, and Swiss francs.
(a page later) … I picked up my stuff and left, leaving several pounds on the table. The waiter rushed after me.
“What’s this?” he asked, waving the notes.
“Oh, sorry,” I said, extending my wad.
He peeled off a few bills and shook his head.
It occurred to me that I wasn’t sure where the hell I was.
Lose yourself wherever you are, imagine what’s next, then realize you don’t know where the hell you are. It won’t matter. As I pondered that passage, I thought of an Italo Calvino book. My recollection of Invisible Cities was a version of Marco Polo that never actually traveled. He and Emperor Kublia Khan sat in the emperor’s chambers, seat of the Tartar empire, smoking opium, and relating fantastical stories about the conquered lands. Except this Marco Polo had never actually seen those fantastic places or met those fantastic people; he just made it, lazy with opium.
You can do this, too. (sans opium.) Perhaps you should. Perhaps you will.
My idea is for people to settle in, get used to their surroundings, get accustomed to their seclusion, their sequestration. What are you going to do? Dream, I say. Imagine. Build your imagination to do the things imaginations are supposed to do. Envision your new empire. Imagine new things to do today. Are there new ways to make a living? What are you going to do, say 3 months from now, when you can gather in social spaces again – who are you going to do?
In Calvino’s excellent book, the culmination, for our purposes here, is when the emperor Kublai realizes he doesn’t need to travel.
Marco, meanwhile, continued reporting his journey, but the emperor was no longer listening.
Kublai interrupted him: “From now on I shall describe the cities and you will tell me if they exist and are as I have conceived them. I shall begin by asking you about a city of stairs, exposed to the sirocco, on a half-moon bay. Now I shall list some of the wonders it contains: a glass tank high as a cathedral so people can follow the swimming and flying of the swallow fish and draw auguries from them; a palm tree which plays the harp with its fronds in the wind; a square with a horseshoe marble table around it, a marble tablecloth, set with food and beverages also of marble.”
“Sire, your mind has been wandering. This is precisely the city I was telling you about when you interrupted me.”
My friends, this is a weird situation. I see people adapting, I see people freaking out, and I see communities coming together. Good luck to us all. Take care of yourselves, your friends, your families. We’ll get through this. Whatever is on the other side may not look like your past, but a sense of exploration and renewal will help us all create new realities, as good as, and just maybe better than, before.
Lose yourself wherever you are, imagine what’s next, then realize you don’t know where the hell you are.
Community Noise is a music blog, so let’s listen to some music. A re-imagining of “Imagine” is appropriate and beautiful.
A lot of the people that I interact with are musicians and arts teachers that are directly impacted by the “social distancing” requirements during the pandemic and are generally not eligible for federal unemployment compensation.
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The Seattle foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund
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Community Noise does not encourage the use of opiates, but in the allegorical sense, we encourage everyone to expand their minds and invigorate their imaginations.