A little clairvoyance in the pandemic, just in case
at 3:10pm on 24th June 2020
Just in case, I have stopped lending my lighter to fellow smokers on the street.
Just in case, I rubbed my palms with sanitizer one more time, after doing it five minutes ago.
Just in case, I waited long enough but not too long to email friends across the oceans to check if they had been doing okay.
Just in case, we chatted with shorter sentences and longer pauses in between. We learnt to be frugal but efficient with salivated words.
How many from the cruise ships have started making the just-in-case part of post-quarantine daily routine, carrying more essentials close to their skin than (un)usual – drugs, a book, a whistle, a photo?
Since when did I set up my just-in-case? At least as far back as divorce, when I had a haircut in the evening, without anything else to do but going home afterwards, I insisted that my stylist complete the styling with moulding clay. “Just in case I meet someone on my way home.” We shared a hearty laugh. An imaginary marvel I keep for myself, knowing it’s an unknown larger than fate.
Just in case he came any closer, I told him the most dangerous things about myself in one go.
Just in case I ran too fast away from him without leaving enough of me behind, I put words onto pages. I still ended up being too fast. More blank pages than words landed on his desk.
The most trivial and the most powerful can both use the just-in-case.
Setting the alarm at an interval of ten minutes for five times, just in case I fail or it does.
Death, the absolute, just in case it comes too soon, like that Saturday, I brought my cello to play for him in the hospital. But I was too late; the just-in-case was too late. I tried.
My yoga teacher sometimes says, Do the best trikonasana you have ever done. He has never said “just in case”, but teaches that in yoga there should not be any moment that allows room for regret. I think of the teaching as “just in case that I don’t get to do it again.”
In the gallery the other day, wine was served in a wine glass with a cap and a paper straw, just in case, but not too much, so it didn’t diminish our seriousness to be in art.
As if just in case someone stumbles, flips, or flounders, musicians play their best by the window and in balconies where possible so that someone, anyone, may find solace. Or, just in case someone who misses music is too shy, or have other reasons to not ask for it. You never know when asking for help is perceived as a sign of weakness.
You never know.
Artists insist on making art. Just in case others don’t, or forget to, or forget how to, they insist. During the democratic movement last year, I wrote a piece on the equal importance of protesting and keep making art (happen), just in case we get distracted by the necessity of the movement to sway from the equal necessity of making art (in itself and as part of the movement). For the movement, the just-in-case is practical wisdom: just in case I might be arrested, I put three telephone numbers for legal assistance in my pocket for quick access. For the movement, the just-in-case is emergency thinking: just in case the police might break into my house while I’m sleeping, I stopped going to bed naked.
When I act by the just-in-case, I direct myself to something. I let the just-in-case undermine my confidence, my overly positive thinking. It works well: a little internal chant that releases me from becoming a ball of impulse, hysteria, and squeamishness that may overpower me in a moment that could use a little more clarity, majesty, and courage.
But thinking just-in-case is different from planning for the worst, because planning for the worst involves no magical thinking. The just-in-case is more about suddenness, surprise of different kinds, and the speed of change. It’s a habit for response, but never an adequate response. It doesn’t seek to be perfect.
The just-in-case is also broader than planning for the worst, and lighter, though no less arduous. In its openness, uncertainty becomes a little friendlier. In its lightness, one’s life comes a little closer to others’ lives – the source of ardour, and grandeur. You never know.
Many established just-in-cases regulate the rhythms of life, like, just in case the economy crashes, make more, save more, own more, and keep counting until the feeling of safety arrives. Just in case the computer crashes, back up the hard drive. In these just-in-cases, we know what to do.
But there are the smaller and messier just-in-cases that interest me because, instead of distributing goods and services on a mass, trans-border scale by technological means, they distribute attention, care, and intimacy.
I am saying our actions sometimes tend towards something bigger and better than ourselves. Not that bigger is always better, not that not-myself is always better. But then, can we ever be only ourselves? Have we ever been?
When I was an undergraduate, there was news about a mermaid sighting somewhere off the Hong Kong Island coastline. I remember my professor writing a piece of anthropological analysis about the just-in-case. Many went to check – just in case the mermaid was true, just in case one was not left out of awe – its rarity.
In a letter dated December 18, 1950, John Cage wrote to Pierre Boulez: “Your sonata is still in our ears. Those who had no courage to directly listen are troubled. You have increased the danger their apathy brings them to.” For this anonymous “them”, the just-in-case is not active. One needs to be already out of apathy to be minding the just-in-case – what if the sonata does something to you? Perhaps Cage could have said this to them.
Rolf Julius told me about seeing John Cage for the first time at a distance. He chose not to go over, “just in case it burns.” Safekeep the not-yet. Let it play and linger; let it direct desires. Let the distance be fuel for curiosity, not destruction.
Is the just-in-case adequate bulwark countering apathy toward the future? Does the just-in-case not become a burden when it steals the present away?
Just in case Earth turns into liquid.
Just in case the moon wanes in a different light.
Just in case words no longer speak.
Just in case translators are on permanent strike.
Just in case we cannot hold hands one more time.
Just in case you forget I love you.
Just in case I forget I can still love.
Just in case today is the last.
Is it better to live every day as the first or the last? Does a life abiding by the just-in-case become better? I am not sure, but I have a sense of what it touches and what it leaves untouched in my life. A little help in stock-taking, a grand round on what is worth living for, or, what living is for. Once in a while. Just in case.
First published in ARTtalk Fiji Issue, 17 May 2020
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