Sean Panting: Art in the time of physical distancing

June 2020

What book(s) and author(s) are you reading right now and why?

I’m almost ashamed to say I’ve largely replaced regular books with audiobooks. Part of me feels like that’s cheating, but honestly, I’m not in a position to set aside an hour or more to sit down and read a book these days. I listen to audiobooks while I do all the regular, mindless household stuff that needs doing, but doesn’t realy require my full attention. The last couple of books I listened to were Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and a super interesting (to me) book by John Seabrook called Song Machine, which goes into all kinds of detail about how hit pop songs are written and produced via the musical equivalent of factory assembly lines. Real deep-dive, song-nerd stuff.

Is there a particular genre of films you find yourself watching? Or do you have any recommendations of series or movies on a streaming site?

I haven’t been watching many films lately. When I do, I have trouble getting into anything violent, or anything that deals with cruelty or depicts a lot of nastiness. I just can’t get into it. That’s probably a symptom of being bombarded with stressful news more or less constantly all year long.

What music or artist are you listening to right now and why?

I’m writing quite a bit, as well as doing some arranging and recording at home as part of a larger project with a group of musicians, and have been offering online songwriting courses, so my music consumption has been very much taken up with those things. Outside of that, I’m trying to find new stuff (or new-to-me stuff) instead of reaching for the old favourites all the time. Nostalgia may be comforting, but as nice as it can be to stroll down memory lane, it’s often pretty boring after a while.

Are you able to keep to a routine in terms of your own work?  Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for others who are struggling to work from home right now?

It took quite a while to establish an equilibrium at home, particularly once both of my kids stopped school and my wife started working from home for the first time in 20 years. I kept coming up over the stairs to discover all these people in what was previously “my” space eight hours a day. It was distracting and required more focus and organization to get things done. If I were to offer advice, I would say make sure to create a dedicated work space for everyone, kids included. That way, designated communal spaces can stay that way instead of gradually filling up with everyone’s work-related junk, and your personal workspace (preferably something with a door) can be just for you and your work. It made a huge difference for us.

Social media is exploding with daily check-ins, poetry readings, virtual art gallery tours, etc – is there anything in particular you have discovered that has delighted you?

I think I must be the only person alive who has spent less time on social media instead of more since this whole thing started. I use social media primarily for professional purposes, and once I had some work lined up – most of it involving staring goggle-eyed at screens through endless Zoom meetings, sound editing, recording and writing sessions – I found the idea of sacrificing still more time to the bottomless pit that is social media less appealing somehow. I have played some fun online shows, including a NAC Presents concert of my own for the National Arts Centre, and I must say, seeing all these tiny concerts from people’s homes has been really great.

How has food provided a comfort?

With everyone’s regular routines being disrupted by the new normal, we’re finding meals and their preparation are the one thing that can give shape to the day. We all talk more about what we’d like to make, and new dishes we’d like to try. If there’s one thing Covid has given us as a family, it’s time to slow down and make food together instead of shoveling down whatever we can get our hands on in the 20 minutes we have between doing other things.

Can you describe the physical situation you are in right now – what location, who you are spending this time with.

We have a not-so-big house that’s close to the West end of Water Street, which puts us within a few minutes walk to the middle of downtown in one direction, and a short bike to Bowering Park in the other. Water West restaurant and butcher shop is a stone’s throw away, and our backyard is biggish, beautiful, and full of life. My wife and two kids are here, obviously, as well as three (count ‘em) cats, because a neighbour had kittens and we’re gigantic suckers. They’re good company.
Our expanded bubble consists of another family with kids around the same age as our own, and a couple of old friends. Between those folks and our regular socially-distanced, over-the-fence conversations with various neighbours, you’d hardly know there was a global pandemic on at all.
Obviously, I’m excited that things seem to be opening up and getting back to some semblance of normal, but I don’t know if I’m looking forward to all the busyness. Between the State of Emergency this winter and the more recent lockdown, I’ve gotten used to a slower pace, and I think I like it. I know it hasn’t been that way for a lot of people, but for me it’s been a time to stop and think. I like how much time I’m spending with my kids, conscious of the fact that they’re both in junior high, and will very likely want nothing much to do with me for the next few years. I like talking to my wife over lunch instead of texting her. Not to paint too idyllic a picture, but there have definitely been positives.

In your opinion, what’s the best thing about being in NL during a global pandemic?

Like Joan Morrissey was fond of singing, “Thank god we’re surrounded by water”. I think the isolation that we complain about so often has turned out to be a blessing. Poor old Labrador gets the short end of the stick (as usual) in that regard, but for those of us on the island, there’s a possibility we can do some limited travel and enjoy the places and people. We have a chance to help out our local economies and build our own sense of responsibility toward one another. That’s something, at least.

Any overall words of wisdom to share?

I don’t know if it’s wisdom, exactly, but I’d have to say that this whole thing – 2020, Snowmageddon, Covid, the insanity happening south of the border – has driven home the importance of kindness, civility and patience. A lot of truly rotten things have happened, there’s no doubt about that, but what stays with me are the small, simple acts of human decency and the impact they have, even in the face of all that crappiness.

What do you miss the most?

That would have to be playing gigs in front of a real, live audience. It’s my favourite thing to do. In my 35 years as a performer, I have never had a lay-off this long, and it’s deeply weird.

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