On the Record: Miles Davis, “Kind of Blue”

   COVID-19 has brutally rammed its way into the lives of pretty much everyone by now.
What began as bits of news from overseas has rapidly turned into a series of closures and lockdowns far beyond our initial expectations. If there’s any consolation to be had, it’s in the knowledge that we are all entering uncharted waters together.

   Last week, I attended a city council meeting featuring a handful of health department officials who did their very best to assure the public that New Yorkers were relatively safe, so long as they followed basic hygienic protocol and stopped shaking hands for God’s sake. Since then, things have clearly taken a different turn, and I, like many others, have found my nerves growing with each passing day. The closing of Brooklyn College was, for lack of a more comforting phrase, a nail in the coffin. We’ve reached a critical point. 

   My dad has tried to convince me to rent a car and return home to Buffalo to hunker down with family, and I haven’t necessarily ruled it out. As of yet, there are no confirmed cases in my hometown, but my biggest fear is carrying the virus back and being the cause for the first. 

   I’m already tired of seeing people on Twitter complain that journalists are blowing the COVID-19 issue out of proportion and that we should all quit freaking out. If you feel that way, I might suggest re-evaluating. If you feel that way, you have likely never known what it’s like to live with a pre-existing health condition that leaves you vulnerable, or what it’s like to scrimp and pinch to afford rent each month, or what it’s like to wonder where or when your next meal is going to come from. Think about those people and whether or not you’d like to tell them to stop overreacting. Being too safe is better than being dead. 

   All this to say, the world looks considerably different now than it did just a few months ago. CUNY has shifted its game plan for the semester and we, as students, are going to have to catch up as best we can.

   So welcome to the world of freelancers, where a significant portion of our work load is completed from the comfort/isolation (depending on how you look at it) of our homes. It gets lonely, frustrating, and none of us ever really master the job, but it can be done, rest assured. With CUNY’s shift to “distance learning,” working from home is now the everyday reality for students who are used to boarding subways and buses every day. For a lot of us, the transition will be awkward, but as someone who’s participated in an unspeakable amount of remote work over the last several years, I come this week bearing the recommendation of one of my favorite work-from-home albums: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

   One of the first things you’ll need to sort out as a new remote university student is what type of worker or studier you are. Do you like to listen to music that’s loud and forces you to stay awake, though you’ve spent the last eight hours working on the same project? Or perhaps you need something a little more soothing to keep your deadline-induced anxiety at bay? Do you like to listen to music with words or no words? Maybe you don’t even like to hear music while you’re working at all, opting for near-silence instead. 

   The opening track to Kind of Blue does, technically, have lyrics. Most self-respecting jazz fans know that the central riff of the tune ends with a two-note bit in which the words “so what!” are typically declared. For me, while I’m writing at least, I prefer purely instrumental albums. Anything with lyrics severely messes up my flow and I find myself paying far more attention to the words than to my task. Less distraction equals more productive work time, but I can’t help but mumble “so what!” to myself while the album plays.

   A brief tip, though perhaps not entirely feasible in the current climate, is to head to a coffee shop or restaurant to snag a few hours of work. If you feel comfortable heading out and about in the coming weeks, consider doing this. I find that when I’ve been working from home for too long, I wind up distracted no matter how hard I try to stay focused. Suddenly I’m seeing that my carpet needs vacuuming, or that my pantry could really stand to be arranged, and before I know it, I’ve lost several hours of my valuable work time. By no means should you compromise your health or safety at present, but working from a cafe not only keeps you on-task, but offers a bit of support to local businesses. (Down with Starbucks!) And bring your headphones – Miles Davis sounds pretty good paired with the gentle, bustling noises of a small cafe. 

   For me, Kind of Blue is just calm enough so that I’m relaxed, but not too slow as to put me to sleep. Ideally, this shift to online will be as temporary as possible, and while working from home may sound like a nice luxury, you’ll find that it can present its own set of challenges. Perhaps use this time to listen to an album or two as the soundtrack for your new work-from-home lifestyle, and definitely use this time to pay close attention to your body and its symptoms, consider the safety of those around you, and make the choices that will keep you and your loved ones healthy and around for the long haul.