A quiet space—that’s what I aspire to create with these words, with this page. A space that’s absent the grotesqueries of commerce. No cartoon bunch of bananas vibrating in the margin, begging to be clicked, making threats about “belly fat.” No “before and after” photos meant to terrify us all about the natural course of time and bodily change. Nothing flickering, nothing exploding, nothing exploitative.
If people are diverted by base content online, it is perhaps in part because the visual clutter and speed of media induces a state of stress that actually impairs the higher functions of the brain. In a recent article about affective computing,* Raffi Khatchadourian noted, “The free economy is, in fact, an economy of the bartered self.” One of several reasons that I’m not on social media is that I don’t wish to see my relationships monetized, even marginally. Given the scarcity of time in the average day, the fact that you are reading these words is a tremendous gift to me; the gift I hope to give in return is a space of reprieve. If you feel that, and appreciate it, then we have connected—a beautiful thing.
Speaking of beauty, I’ve just seen a documentary that is pure gorgeousness. Ethan Hawke’s Seymour, true to its subtitle, is an introduction to the pianist and teacher Seymour Bernstein, a man who chose an integrated self over greater fortune and fame. Unlike so many documentaries these days, inflected by the ADHD influence of music videos and reality TV, this film is thoughtful, well-ordered, and humane.
And it contains a number of moments of sweet surprise. When the Beatles appear, mouthing lyrics to besotted fans; when a gospel choir silently sways and claps; when Maria Callas mutely delivers an aria—those moments of rapture are captured and woven together by Mr. Bernstein’s hands moving over the keys. Tears stung my eyes, to feel gathered that way into an embrace. I screen upwards of 100 films a year, for work, and value almost none of them. I love this one. Mr. Bernstein seems to communicate such stillness and integrity that I felt my own character groping for new depths in response. Is there, in life, a better measure of success?
* “We Know How You Feel,” Raffi Khatchadourian, The New Yorker, January 19, 2015