If you haven’t read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, do so during this crisis. While we won’t endure 100 years of isolation—heaven forbid— reflect on Garcia Marquez’s procreation of people and places removed, isolated, from the worlds we know. Like most of us are living now.
It’s challenging to imagine, but disasters both destroy and create. It’s a natural human response. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reaching out to friends from The World Innovation Network (TWIN) worldwide to hear how they’re coping and creating.
In this spirit, H-Farm, Europe’s leading innovation ecosystem, and TWIN are launching this week a free series of video messages from experts from across sectors and geographies. We’re calling the series afterwords in honor of our post-crisis future. It launches April 1. (See my earlier article with reflections from our Italian friends regarding the pandemic.)
One of the first people we contacted was my good friend, jazz pianist, composer and hip hop dancer Harold O’Neal. (See Harold’s opening segment at TWIN Global 2019.)
I asked O’Neal to deliver some hope by discussing music in a crisis. He responded with the greatest gift a musician can deliver: a new album. Catalyzed by my inquiry, O’Neal used his cloister time to sire new piano tracks inspired— challenged, really— by the global conflagration.
In addition to O’Neal’s spontaneity, he’s one of the most distinctive, creative, insightful musicians at work today. I knew he’d find ways to convert isolation to abundance. “This pandemic pushes us individually and collectively to go inside, together.”
On a call from his Manhattan apartment, Harold shared what he is experiencing, and how that’s contributed to the launch of his new album, Marvelous Fantasy, which releases April 3 on all major music streaming platforms.
Three of the album’s tracks modulated my own meditations on our present juncture: The Beauty Within, Minority Report and Panacea Dream. I asked O’Neal to reflect on each.
The Beauty Within explores isolation. “There is a vulnerability that comes with this isolation. What is the vulnerability that comes with this isolation? This work is a reflection inward, thinking about aspects of this unique form of solitude.” For me, this piece elicits the challenge we each face to seek solitude from isolation, rather than loneliness or despair.
Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl related in Man’s Search for Meaning (another book to (re-)read during the crisis!), that everything can be taken from us, “but one thing: the last of human freedoms— to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Minority Report delves this notion via our present condition.
We control almost nothing, but we can take responsibility for how we react, feel and, thus, show up in the world. O’Neal admonishes, “With all the chaos, I still have a choice. I get to decide how I will be about this with myself. I am in charge of what happens with me, inside of me, with this. We can create choice inside of ourselves. Simple concept, but not always easy.”
In Panacea Dream (available for free here) , I rediscovered one reason I relish O’Neal’s work. My first love is classical piano and chamber music. He synthesizes jazz and classical elements to conceive current, visceral stories. “This track was inspired by Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt. Just as The Wiz was an interpretation of The Wizard of Oz, so Panacea Dream is my reinterpretation of Liszt’s Rhapsody.”
Confronted by social distancing, O’Neal encourages us not just to cope but to create. “Thinking of how Dorothy goes to this other world of her own making inside, this pandemic pushes us individually and collectively to go inside, together.”
When I asked for his favorite song of all time, O’Neal shared a song his father created for his infant son. “It was a song he made up. It was interesting to him that I remembered the song.” O’Neal was a year old when his family immigrated to the United States from Tanzania. His father reported, “I never sang that song to you in America. I sang it to you in Africa.”
O’Neal advised, “If you can remember the song that took care of you long ago… add it to your playlist.” Marvelous Fantasy will be on my playlist until this storm abates— and beyond.
In Garcia Marquez’s magum opus, the protagonists’ isolation had created a destructive egotism— until crisis intervened. Love inspired them to rise above themselves.
In isolation, we each face the risk of overwhelming ourselves with ourselves. Reflecting on his own visions through chaos, “Sometimes when we look into the eye of the storm, in that chaos we see reflections of ourselves.”
Like Harold O’Neal, as you look inside, create new stories, envision new potential futures— and make room for all of us.