What am I missing?

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A young Bob Dylan playing piano at a concert. In the article, Spaulding reflects on her experiences listening to Bob Dylan. Screenshot courtesy of Youtube.

My favorite two minutes and 16 seconds of YouTube content at present is footage from a Bob Dylan concert in 1966. The clip begins with Dylan situating himself at the piano. Booing and paltry cries of “Go home!” and “Get off Bobby!” can be heard from the audience, ruffled outbursts against their spokesman “gone electric.” Dylan seems mostly unbothered — insulated even —  though at one point he leans into the microphone to mutter “control yourself.” 

“Booing and paltry cries of “Go home!” and “Get off Bobby!” can be heard from the audience, ruffled outbursts against their spokesman “gone electric.” Dylan seems mostly unbothered — insulated even —  though at one point he leans into the microphone to mutter “control yourself.” “

Then he begins to play. Defiant chords surpass cynicism to reach a pointed disdain that is somehow wildly theatrical yet bare of affectation. After a few lines of the song the camera shifts slightly; from this new angle a stage light eclipses the form of the microphone and Dylan appears to be singing into a ball of fire. His fingers on the piano keys aren’t visible — but you can see light streaming through the vacancies of his curls as he sings, turning his head sideways at the end of each phrase as if to draw out every possible bit of air he has left.  

For now, the effort of his performance seems constrained to that air, to his leanings into and around the microphone. Then suddenly, his left hand catapults from the keys over his head. He sings what are some of my favorite Dylan lyrics: “You have many contacts / out there among the lumberjacks / to get you facts when someone attacks your imagination.” The camera moves and now you can see him pounding the keys, his legs moving under the piano as he rocks back and forth, even standing at one point. He’s playing with his entire self, completely immersed in the performance. 

“You have many contacts / out there among the lumberjacks / to get you facts when someone attacks your imagination.”

Those two minutes and 16 seconds are what brought Dylan’s music alive to me. Previously, I’d only heard his music through headphones in a half-hearted attempt to understand why he’s considered one of the greatest songwriters of the last century. I thought he sounded half-asleep, bored and unaffected when he sang — and when he ran out of things to say he’d wheeze into a harmonica to fill the gaps. Yet actually seeing videos of his performances changed that entirely for me. He sometimes does look bored when he performs — but the boredom fluctuates often and unexpectedly between a very focused and almost private intensity as he stretches out to reach the limits of the space he constructs with his music, sometimes in almost humorous ways. And the harmonica isn’t a resignation; it has a lexicon of its own, and so it’s an escalation of the music not for when there’s nothing left to say, but when there’s perhaps far too much to say.  

one black chess piece separated from red pawn chess pieces
A photo of social distance. In the article, Spaulding reflects on whether there are missing dimensions to certain experiences as a result of isolation that they are unaware of. Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

A missing dimension can be everything between being able to understand something or remaining helplessly distant from it. We know this all too well now from virtual work, school and social experiences. The missing dimension of shared space completely changes the ways we’re able to connect and communicate with other people. And we know what we’re missing in the absences of shared spaces. It’s harder to remain focused. It’s harder to pick up on body language and other social cues that we use to understand situations. It’s harder to build friendly acquaintances with people you might normally chat with before or on the way out of a class or meeting.  

I wonder if there are other missing dimensions to certain experiences as a result of isolation that I’m not nearly as aware of. And in these cases, I wonder: What am I missing?  

“The conditions and burdens of the virus have exacerbated inequality.”

The conditions and burdens of the virus have exacerbated inequality. We’ve all heard or read that sentence, or some variation of it, in the past year. The virus has disproportionately impacted black communities. First-generation college applicants from low-income families are applying to colleges at rates lower than before. Community college enrollment has seen dramatic declines. Educational disparities among pre-college students are growing. As we remain isolated, for many of us these facts lack the dimension of personal experience and proximity. I know there’s a lot that’s missing from my understanding of others’ experiences. And whatever may be missing impedes my ability to respond in the worlds and communities I am a fixture of. I can hope that I’m aware, and that somehow I am able to actualize this awareness into how I spend my time and where I focus my efforts.  

Yet this awareness must be far more than a crude extension of my understanding and perceptions. It must sink into my consciousness so as to become the undergirding of how I think and see. And like Dylan on the piano, I must be moved beyond cynicism, moved to a rightful recognition and disdain of injustice and my own stockholdings in it — and then I must become completely immersed in constructing, and then inhabiting, a response.  

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