Most of us who write are always grappling with the issue of getting enough time to write. It’s an old question and will always pressure creative artists of any kind, because to create we need to open up a little bubble in the world, space to think, to feel, to connect. But we can’t live permanently in a bubble.
It’s not just getting time to write either, but time to read. Time to really see what’s in the world, and to hear the sounds around us. Voices, childrens’ laughter, birdsong, wind in the leaves. Or even sounds that clash and clatter. As I write this the garbage truck is making its snail trail up the street, its engine and lifting mechanism overlaying the rattling of cicadas. Then it vanishes and the other sounds come back in. They all have a place, because as both readers and writers those sounds are our context, unasked for, but still welcome. Sometimes we colour our sound context with music of our own choice, perhaps so we can open up that little bubble of art in the world, while we go about our business. But often we just don’t have time to listen.
The video link was filmed at a subway station in Washington D.C. We are all used to buskers as background music, so no one paid particular attention when a man opened a violin case and lifted out an old instrument and began to play. They didn’t notice that he was playing ‘Chaconne’ from Johan Sebastian Bach’s ‘Partita no#2,’ an unusual choice for a subway busker as it is recognized as one of the world’s most challenging pieces. The busker played it through, most people giving him only a glance. Most of those who stopped were children, standing in fascination, as children live much closer to the edge of that bubble than adults do. Then they were dragged away. I mean, how many of us have time, in our busy task-filled day, even if it’s to stop for a minute to listen to Joshua Bell, one of the world’s great violinists, standing in a subway entrance playing Bach on a violin crafted by Antonio Stradivari in 1713, that cost Bell something around US$3.5 million to buy. Those few that did stop, put some change into Bell’s violin case. At the session’s end he had collected $32. (His normal performance fee works out at around $1000 a minute. ) It was part of an experiment by the Washington Post, to see how people would react to great art suddenly in their midst.
The passers by had things to do, as do we all. Perhaps they did though, carry a piece of melody, a couple of tones, the quivering of a violin string’s vibrato. Carried it to their offices and schools and truck cabs and construction sites. Maybe it got into their briefcases, the oil stains on their overalls. We have so much to do now, what we don’t have is time.
I remember once having a coffee in a food hall and a young woman was sitting amid a group I imagined were her family. She was in tears, they were stonefaced, made no movement or even gesture towards her. Some glanced around to see if others were watching.
The woman kept saying over and over :
‘I don’t want to go. I just don’t want to go.’
Finally a child – none of the adults – stood and leaned against her, their small arm trying to circle her waist.
I had no idea of the context, but I remember it made my coffee go cold. That scene often haunts my writing. A lot of scenes do. Tiny scenes that live in the cracks between one job and another, lie kicked to the edge of the footpath as we rush by. A rare human moment amid the clutter of things.
To connect with art; art created by humans, art out there in the world, don’t forget to try and find those little bubbles, that space you need to breathe. You never know when you’ll come upon moments of great beauty, or tiny tragedy, that remind you you are human. You might even come upon a great violinist playing a 300 year old violin in a subway station foyer on a mid-winter’s morning. You never know.