Albert Einstein, Between Theorems, creativity, Dialogue of the Carmelites, Jim Dolan, Kalamazoo, Melody S. Owens, Nathan Lane, pause, Pinter, play, Poulenc, rests, timing, Western Michigan University, work life balance
On the “technology” campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, there is a sculpture of Albert Einstein playing Frisbee. By Montana artist Jim Dolan, this wonderfully jagged golden work is called “Between Theorems,” and depicts the great physicist in a moment of play, about to throw, or perhaps catch, a Frisbee. The statue is light and the figure of Einstein seems nearly airborne with delight, the wind blowing his famously tousled hair. Photographs of Einstein frequently make him look eccentric, and his work seems, to this non-scientist, nearly impenetrable, serious and weighty. Dolan’s sculpture amazes as it reminds us that everyone, however great, needs to take a moment and have a little fun.
Is taking a rest from ponderous work merely a question of refreshment? Is important work achieved because time was taken for respite? Is the most essential aspect of the much desired “work-life balance” a question of timing?
Timing. Whenever I see Nathan Lane on the stage, I experience comic timing at its finest, innate and effortless in this brilliantly funny actor. A moment of modest humor can become hilarious with the expert placement of a pause. Pinter’s famous ellipses, in his caustic and austere plays, are so rhythmically important to the landscape of the dramas that they are laid out like a musical score, notated and specified. And rests are basic architecture in music, and intensity is often heightened by their placement. At the end of Poulenc’s Dialogue of the Carmelites, in the chilling scene of the sisters’ execution, one by one they walk offstage while singing a “Salve Regina”, the music punctuated by the harsh and abrupt sound of the guillotine blade falling again and again. As Blanche joins the sisters at the end and is herself murdered, there follows a moment of utter silence, written into the score. The mounting horror of what we have just heard and seen is fully realized only in that powerful silence.
In both comedy and tragedy, rests have their employ; in human lives too. Great artists and thinkers seem to have understood all along the primacy of silence, of rest, of reflection, of play. Resting and playing may not be the same thing, but there is magic in the pause. It is the season of hurly-burly; take an occasional break from the visual and aural noise around you, and breathe, listen, play. Perhaps you too will have a thought that will change the world.