Chad Comello

Librarian, cinephile, et al

Category: Media (page 1 of 2)

Cool down

At our Subaru dealer for a car tune-up, I spotted this sign beneath the TV on the wall in the waiting room:

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No, thank you. This rule ought to be extended indefinitely and everywhere. Especially public areas. Cable news of any kind is bad for the mind, body, and soul.

I wonder what happened to inspire this. Fistfights over bad coffee and granola bars? I guess a room full of people waiting to hear how much they’ll be shelling out for their car don’t need much of a push to go over the edge.

Also love the attempted copyediting of the hyphen and “either”. Silent protest?

What’s your accidental ritual?

About a year ago I got into the habit of listening to new episodes of the 99% Invisible podcast on Tuesday nights, on my way home from my late night at work. Most episodes are about the length of my drive home. Cruising through dark and empty streets, weary from the day, I revel in the soft baritone of Roman Mars’ narration and delightful diversity of stories—“Dollhouses of St. Louis” and “Oyster-tecture” being recent gems. It’s a ritual I didn’t intentionally create but has nevertheless become an indispensable part of my week.

What about you? Do you have any accidental routines you’d suffer without?

Just don’t look, just don’t look

In the “Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores” story from The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror VI”, giant advertisement characters come to life and terrorize Springfield:

Lisa goes to the ad agency that created those advertising characters, and an executive suggests the citizens stop paying attention to the monsters as they are advertising gimmicks, and attention is what keeps them motivated. He suggests a jingle will help distract people from watching the monsters. Lisa and Paul Anka later perform a catchy song and the citizens of Springfield stop looking at the monsters, who lose their powers and become lifeless.

Their jingle? “Just don’t look”:

Some things can’t be defeated by looking away, but many things can.

You don’t have to look. You don’t have to click. You don’t have to pay your attention to things or organizations or public officials who don’t deserve it. Don’t pay the toll on a road you don’t want to go down.

Almost Famous tells us “the only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” True enough, but I think the only true currency in this bankrupt world is your attention.

Which is pretty much the same thing.

Raising Kings, pt. 1

Loved the first episode of “Raising Kings”, a three-part series from NPR’s Code Switch podcast on a new boys-only public school in Washington, D.C., filled only with freshmen students of color:

All are determined to change the narrative. In Washington, and the rest of the country, that narrative says too many young black men are below-average readers. They’re suspended from school at above-average rates and less likely to graduate than any other group. Ron Brown College Prep is a radical effort to change that.

NPR and Education Week have been reporting on this school for over a year. The first episode reminded me of This American Life’s Peabody-winning series on Harper High School. I’m rooting for the school and the boys to succeed, and am eager to see how this series turns out.

Fakelin Newsevelt

Learned a lot from Susan Douglas’s Listening In: Radio And The American Imagination about the development of radio technology and culture, and their impact on 20th century America. Also learned, in a tidbit about Franklin Roosevelt’s crusade against newspapers, that he sounded a lot like another ostensibly anti-media president:

Privately, the president in 1940 ask the new FCC Chairman, Lawrence Fly, “Will you let me know when you propose to have a hearing on newspaper ownership of radio stations?” Publicly, through his press secretary, Steve Early, Roosevelt told broadcasters that “the government is watching” to see if they air any “false news.” Radio, Early warned, “might have to be taught manners if it were a bad child.” Network executives understood “false news” to be news critical of the administrations policies.

The past isn’t dead, etc.

Down with S-Town

Yesterday I managed to mainline all seven episodes of S-Town, the new podcast from This American Life and Serial that were released all at once. It’s a fascinating blend of those two shows: at once an extended version of a TAL episode, complete with idiosyncratic characters and a vivid setting, and a Serial-esque mystery, with room to explore the unexpected narrative turns.

John B. McLemore, the central figure of S-town, gives incredible tape. The first episode features reporter Brian Reed’s first phone call with him, and immediately you get a sense of McLemore: sardonic, crass, hyper-articulate and smart, obsessive, and very Southern. Even when he’s not directly in the story, McLemore hovers over everything. The final episode (no spoilers) also manages to close his narrative loop with a link back to something in the first one, which I thought was a brilliant choice.

Check it out.

Hugging, No Learning

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith in 2011 at the ceremony for the new CBA.

I remember back during the 2011 NFL lockout, a Packers.com columnist kept writing to the fans not to get invested in the heated rhetoric between the players and owners, because once an agreement was reached—and it would be reached—the representatives of the players and the owners would be hugging on stage, all would be well again, and the fans who’d so adamantly taken sides would be wondering why they invested so much energy and partisan passion into a PR battle. And sure enough, a new CBA was reached, football started on time, and all those months of tit-for-tat suddenly seemed far less serious than diehard fans would have believed.

I was reminded of that time and feeling while listening to David Axelrod’s conversation with Karl Rove on Axelrod’s podcast. As the two chief political operatives for the campaigns of Barack Obama and George W. Bush, they are each other’s political opposite and rival, representing the ideologies of the two primary political parties in the United States. And here they are, chatting about life and politics like old college chums. If you didn’t know which party they worked for you might not even know they were opponents.

So when the fire-breathers on either side of the aisle get fired up on cable news or talk radio, excoriating the Other Guys for the sin of not agreeing with them or even viewing them as downright evil, I get to wondering if they’re just being played for suckers.

If Karl Rove and David Axelrod—the guys whose job it is to convince voters in strong terms that the other guy is absolutely wrong and must be stopped—if they can sit and have a laugh together, why can’t the people whose votes they seek?

If Trump toady Sean Hannity can hang out at a baseball game with Keith Olbermann, his arch media rival for a time, or harass Megyn Kelly—also a Fox News commentator—on Twitter and then literally hug it out, why don’t Hannity’s wound-up followers see through the pablum he’s peddling for views?

Sports and politics are similar in that they involve intense gamesmanship, strategy, and a struggle of power and will and performance in a high-pressure environment. Obama even compared politics to football in a chat with Jerry Seinfeld. So why is it NFL players can play the game intensely, trying desperately to defeat their opponent, but still converge on the field after the game for hugs and handshakes and prayer circles? And why can’t voters?

The easy answer is that sports don’t matter, ultimately. They matter to the players, whose livelihoods are affected by their performance. But when a fan turns off the TV after a game, his life is the exact same as it was when the game began. Conversely, politics do matter. People’s lives are affected by legislation and the action or inaction of leaders.

But I don’t think it has to be that simple.

If voters and pundits actually cared about winning—i.e. getting legislature through Congress or changing their opponents’ minds—they wouldn’t demonize the people whose votes will be needed in order to achieve that desired victory.

If voters and pundits actually cared about winning, they should read and view things outside of their ideological media echo chamber to better understand why some people have different opinions.

But it seems like people just want to act angry. Settle scores. Humiliate whoever their Other is. And all the while the TV networks, talk radio, the NFL, or whoever has something to gain from outrage, rakes in enough revenue through clicks, ads, and eyeballs to self-justify, rinse, and repeat.

I’m not doubting the sincerity of those with strongly held beliefs, or those who go public with them. In a democracy, that should be encouraged. I only wish to avoid the scorched earth that comes of it, because I, speaking for those of us who aren’t holding the flamethrowers, am not interested in getting burned by someone who doesn’t know how the game is played.

An Exchange of Words with Alena Graedon

Author Alena Graedon.

Author Alena Graedon.

Alena Graedon, author of The Word Exchange, was kind enough to chat about the process of bringing her first novel to life and where she finds solitude in a noisy world. (This interview appears in the second issue of the Simba Life Quarterly.)

Comello: First off, how has the response been to the book? Any surprising reactions from critics or regular readers?

Graedon: I think that the biggest surprise has been the seeming divisiveness of the language in my book. On the one hand, some readers have felt shut out when they’ve encountered words that they don’t know or can’t understand. That blindsided me more than it should have. When I remember back to the first time that I tried to read Nabokov, for instance, I’m sure that one of my impulses was to throw the book across the room—there were at least half a dozen unfamiliar words per page on average, and it made me crazy. (I’m of course not comparing my work with his in any way, except to say that I should have been more empathetic to the experience of reader estrangement.)

But for me, anyway, something shifted. I stopped being frustrated, and started wanting to look up those words, to know and own them, in a deep sense. And when I went back to Nabokov as an adult, the experience was very different, for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, I’ve come to a place where I don’t mind if what I’m reading asks something of me, whether it’s to look up a word that I don’t know, or to be comfortable with ambiguity, or to imagine something I don’t want to imagine. I find reading to be a more transformational experience if I’m involved in it, actively participating and thinking and engaging.

I guess for that reason, I also don’t mind asking something of readers. And it’s been very gratifying that there have been readers, on the other hand, who’ve responded to the book maybe especially because of the language. Not just the unusualness of some of it, but also because of what it’s doing. Because of course one of the messages that I was hoping to convey is that language is so central to our humanity, and that to lose it or not be able to understand it can in fact be very alienating. That before we relinquish control over things that are so fundamental to who we are—yielding all sorts of functionalities to devices and machines—we should give a lot of thought to what it might mean for us to give them up.

I think that a lot of readers have responded to that message, buried in the book’s language, and I have found that to be unbelievably thrilling, and very humbling.

That’s interesting because the challenge of the words themselves was something I discussed in my first reaction to The Word Exchange, how for me the joy of reading and learning is discovering new things that stretch my understanding. I appreciate when writers (or filmmakers or musicians) don’t make things easy. I think we all need and enjoy escapist entertainment from time to time, but not at the expense of richer and deeper engagement with ideas in every artistic form.

I wonder if you’ve read anything by Nicholas Carr, who writes mostly about technology, culture, and the implications of a digital world. Recently on his blog he’s been focusing on automation and the almost sinister implications it has for human intelligence and creativity. (His next book, in fact, is called The Glass Cage: Automation and Us.) Carr recently posted about a promotional email he got from Apple with the headline “Create a work of art, without the work.” In your book that seems to encapsulate the underlying mission of Synchronic, whose (very)smartphone-like devices have taken over wide control of their users’ lives, including how they look up words they don’t know. 

This quote from the book stood out to me: “It’s comforting to believe that consigning small decisions to a device frees up our brains for more important things. But that begs the question, which things have been deemed more important? And what does our purportedly decluttered mind now allow us to do? Express ourselves? Concentrate? Think? Or have we simply carved out more time for entertainment? Anxiety? Dread?”

So how do you, as someone who wants to actively engage with things, manage what you automate in your own life and what you let into your brain? Are there certain things you still rigidly refuse to let a computer or other technology do?

word1I remember your response well! I think you were the first person to point out that reading The Word Exchange in some ways duplicates the experience of being one of the characters in the book (at least if you’re downloading the definitions of unknown words as you go). In other words, that form and content have the possibility of meeting, in a certain sense.

And while I’m quite intrigued by Nicholas Carr’s work—as I mentioned in my essay-length acknowledgments at the back of the book, several of his premises from The Shallows have made their way into The Word Exchange, largely via Doug—I wasn’t aware of his blog or his newest book, and I’m utterly grateful to you for pointing me in their direction.

I do find automation to be a slightly insidious force. While it’s easy to rationalize—I might tell myself, for instance, that only “mindless” tasks can be automated, nothing truly “authentic”—I also find that the more things I consign to my various omnipresent devices, the more alienated I wind up feeling. I want to remember important dates on my own, not find myself so cut off from the passing of time that I need a machine to remind me of them. I want to be able to navigate my own way through unknown cities, not depend on Siri to pleasantly read the directions to various destinations to me. And while it’s utterly convenient to have all my bills paid automatically, I’m almost a little nostalgic for a time when paying for things required some degree of conscious engagement.

That said, I’m as big an automation culprit as anyone at this point. I relinquished the keys to my bank account more than a year ago, finally setting up automatic bill payment, and breathing a deep sigh of relief over the minutes and maybe hours of my life saved from mindless check-writing. I have a terrible sense of direction, so I depend on Siri and Google to get me just about everywhere. I program dozens of reminders for myself into my iPhone.

But there are a lot of things that I still do analog. Write to-do lists. Keep a calendar. Edit drafts of things that I’m writing. I still mail lots of longhand letters, too. The truth is, I just think better on paper. And when I don’t automate, I also feel more aware of what’s happening in my life—of the passing of time—too. That’s something that I want to be aware of.

I think that electronic devices have introduced the idea of a false infinity and limitlessness into our lives: the cloud that exists everywhere and nowhere; the digital reader that’s a slightly warped manifestation of a Borgesian infinite library; and with automation (and the relentless schedules many of us now face), the idea of an endless day, which of course is a total fallacy, and one that can often make us feel not only depleted but depraved, pitching ever more quickly toward the grave without much awareness of its quickened arrival.

The phrase “wood and glue” pops up periodically in the book as an incantation for times of adversity. Was there a time in the six years of writing the book when you felt things were falling apart and had to MacGyver the story back into order?

The phrase “wood and glue” actually didn’t come in until near the end—final edits. But absolutely, there was much MacGyvering along the way. I did my very best to try to keep the writing process from taking as long as it eventually took. Before I began, I plotted heavily, did elaborate Excel spreadsheets, and tried to nail down the structure very carefully. And I only gave myself about 6 or 7 months to write the first draft, keeping to a strict schedule, finishing chapters every other week or so.

What that meant, of course, was that my first draft was absolutely terrible. I didn’t realize just how terrible it was right away. I gave it to a couple of trusted writer friends, and they were incredibly kind and gentle in their critiques. But in what they did and didn’t say, I realized that the book was a mess.

I took maybe six months off from working on it (that wasn’t hard, or even entirely intentional—I’d just started a new job), and then, when I looked at it again, I was a little shocked at its badness. I found myself gutting whole sections. Rewriting entire chapters. Tearing the spreadsheet into tiny pieces. The second draft of the book barely resembled the first. Although there were also things that I was afraid to let go, for better or worse: the beginning, some aspects of the structure (the 26 chapters, the alternating points of view, etc). I was afraid that if I tore up all the stakes, the entire thing would just float away.

I got more feedback from different friends on that draft, and then I did one more big draft before sending it out to any agents to consider. Needless to say, I did more revising after signing with one of them, and yet far more after starting to work with an editor.

It’s funny. After laboring over the book (in obscurity) for years, really taking my time to get things the way I wanted them to be, having realized with the first draft that breakneck speed didn’t work well for me, I did the most frenetic revising in the final months, under tremendous pressure, changing the book drastically at the eleventh hour. One of the tiniest changes to come out of that period was the inclusion of the phrase “wood and glue.” It never occurred to me before you asked just now, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this splint metaphor came in during those whirlwind months of mercenary final rewriting. I sort of felt like I could have used a whole-body (and whole-psyche) splint at the time.

As Anana’s journey to find Doug becomes more perilous and labyrinthine, the importance of “safe places” becomes more evident, whether it’s the library or within the secretive confines of the Diachronic Society. Where do you feel most safe and at peace? And is that the same place where your best ideas and writing come?

There are certainly places where I feel more calm and at peace. One of them, in fact, is the Mercantile Library on East 47th Street, where the members of the Diachronic Society meet. Like Anana, I spent a couple of years living in Hell’s Kitchen, one of the most frenetic neighborhoods in this frenetic city. I was so grateful to be introduced to the Mercantile Library during that time by someone who knows and understands me well. We’d often walk there together on weekends, braving the diamond district and Fifth Avenue, sometimes weaving our way through the craziness of Times Square. And stepping through the doors into the quiet, cool, calm of the library really felt like entering a holy place, whose sacred practices were reading, writing, and thinking. (It also felt a little like leaving the riotous bazaar of the internet to enter the relative stillness of a book.) I did a lot of the early research and thinking about The Word Exchange at the Merc.

I also draw a lot of solace from an acknowledged holy place, the Brooklyn Friends Meeting. To the degree that I had any sort of religious upbringing, my background is Quaker, which perhaps explains the complex treatment of silence in the book, as something that can either telegraph death or save you. (I think that as a kid attending Quaker meeting with my parents, I sometimes wondered if an hour of silence could actually bore me to death. As an adult, I feel very differently about that same quiet hour.)

And I’m unbelievably fortunate, too, to live in an apartment that I love, with incredible landlords who are also my downstairs neighbors, and where I get most of my thinking and writing done.

But the truth, New Age-y as it sounds, is that I actually don’t think of safe places as physical places, for the most part, but as habits of mind. As I mentioned earlier, I wrote and revised the book in lots of different places. The first draft largely in Asheville, NC, the second in Brooklyn, and the third sort of everywhere. During 2012, the longest period of time that I spent in any given place was four weeks, and I was often in places for much briefer periods than that—just a few days, sometimes. I was in Vermont, Mexico, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Cape Cod, and then back to New Hampshire, with interstitial periods sleeping on couches in Brooklyn, before finally moving back to Brooklyn in the fall, where I stayed in a series of different apartments before finally finding the one that I live in now, which I moved into in early 2013.

The reason that I was able to work so steadily and with such focus during that peripatetic year wasn’t because of the places (though many of them were lovely), but because I was carrying the focus and the peace with me. There have been other times when I’ve had everything that I need, including quiet, calm places in which to work, but feel unable to get anything done, because I don’t feel quiet in my own mind.

I think, though, that part of this sense of mobile safety derives for me from the fact that I’m a runner, like lots of other writers. I’m not particularly fast, but like Murakami, I love to run long distances. Not as long as the distances that he routinely runs. But I am happy running 18, 19, 20, even 30 miles, which I’ll often do even when I’m not training for something. I like running in large part not because it helps me actively think about what I’m writing, but because it helps me not to think, or to think in a way that is very indirect and subconscious. When you run for several hours in a row, your muscles and other systems need so much energy that less of it is going to your brain than normal, which makes long-distance running a lot like moving meditation. When I’m running is when I feel most at peace. It also helps me feel safe. I go running in virtually every new place that I visit, and it’s a pretty remarkable way to get to know and feel comfortable in a new environment.

Silence is just as needed in literature as in real life, so I appreciate your approach to it. And the Quaker influence on the book, subconscious or otherwise, is very interesting: I wonder how many of us, or those in the world of The Word Exchange, could withstand an hour of silent contemplation before the “check your phone!” alert chimes in our heads. Practicing presence—that is, choosing to simply live in the present moment instead of trying to document it or escape it—is challenge I’ve set for myself that I strive daily to meet more often than not. It’s not, as you say, some New Age-y self-help mantra, but a simple and practical challenge that can transform our everyday if we let it.

Your love of long distance running is something I’ve yet to enjoy myself, but I find it interesting in respect to Anana’s journey throughout the book. On her quest for truth she seems to always be on the move, with periods of solitude and contemplation between legs of the journey. At this point in your own journey, what are you running toward? Are you on the way from A to B, or are you focusing more on what’s in between?

What an incredible question. And I think that you’ve pointed something out to me about my book that I’d never really noticed before. There’s definitely a lot of me in that process you describe, of running, running, running, interspersed with periods of quiet contemplation. I’ve been told I’m a bit of a paradox, and certainly in that way.

I don’t know that I’m running toward or away from anything at this point. I think that I felt a lot of urgency to finish this first novel for a lot of reasons. Most of them practical: for one, reality kept catching up with all of the “futuristic” elements. I had a feeling that if I didn’t hurry up, everyone would start walking around with word flu, and then I’d have to try to recast the thing as nonfiction.

There were also material concerns. Unlike Anana, I don’t have any wealthy relatives, and when I left my lucrative nonprofit job (ha) to try to finish the book with residencies at a few artist colonies, I took a really big risk. I got to the point where I had to either finish the book very quickly, praying that someone might want to publish it, or else it would have taken quite a few more years, because I was almost completely out of money, and I would have needed to find a new job, new apartment, start over, as I’ve done a few times, and I know how very difficult it is to get any writing done during start-over times.

I also really hoped that I might be able to make a go of a writing life, whatever that means, and I couldn’t really imagine abandoning this book after so much time and sweat and life, but I also knew that in order to move forward and do anything else, I needed to get a book out into the world. So by the end of the process, my life had narrowed down to this really fine point: this book, and more or less only this book.

If anything, that’s the way in which I want my life to change now. I don’t think of being at A or B, and I don’t feel like I’m running anymore, but my hope is that writing never really forces (or enables) the same kind of solipsistic existence that I inhabited for a couple of years. I’m ready for my life to be much less about me and my work. I’ve been striving toward more of a balance lately, but I have a ways to go still.

I hope that risk has paid off for you. If anything, I think the book has added to the conversation about how we live with technology, and will give readers (especially those with a penchant for the dystopian) a glimpse at the implications of an unexamined life. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.

Thank you so much, Chad! It’s been a real pleasure exchanging words with you.

iLibrary: Resistance Is Futile

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If a library doesn’t have books, does it cease to be a library? The coming of BiblioTech, a new Apple Store computer lab bookless library in San Antonio, the first in the nation, begs the question. It has also brought with it rhetorical musings on whether the future of libraries is already here, and whether the end of those pesky paper books is finally nigh.

Disclaimer: I love technology (sometimes too much) and I’m a library school graduate hoping to work in a library/archive, so I’m far from being a fist-shaking, card-catalog-carrying luddite librarian. But I have grown healthily skeptical of new technologies that come with fantastical declarations of What It All Means. If we’ve learned anything from the very company that BiblioTech models itself after, it’s that the newest available product is the greatest creation in the history of the world — until the slightly-altered updated version comes in a few months. “New device desirable, old device undesirable.”

So when Mary Graham, vice president of South Carolina’s Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, looks at BiblioTech and says, “I told our people that you need to take a look at this. This is the future. … If you’re going to be building new library facilities, this is what you need to be doing,” I can’t help but wonder whether the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and influential civic bodies like it around the country will be building the next truly revolutionary and innovative development in the library & information world, or the next Segway.

What makes me so hesitant to hop on every wave supposedly headed to the bright, beautiful future — waves like the all-digital library or Google Glass or flying cars (there’s still time for that one, DeLorean) — is the air of inevitability usually attached to them. This is the future, so there’s no sense in resisting it. Given historical precedent I understand the reasoning for that argument, but that doesn’t make it any more justified. Michael Sacasas dubbed this inevitability-argument the Borg Complex, a way of thinking “exhibited by writers and pundits who explicitly assert or implicitly assume that resistance to technology is futile.” Some symptoms of the Borg Complex, according to Sacasas:

  • Makes grandiose, but unsupported claims for technology
  • Pays lip service to, but ultimately dismisses genuine concerns
  • Equates resistance or caution to reactionary nostalgia
  • Announces the bleak future for those who refuse to assimilate

Nicholas Carr, one of my favorite tech writers, quotes Google chairman Eric Schmidt talking about the company’s Glass product: “Our goal is to make the world better. We’ll take the criticism along the way, but criticisms are inevitably from people who are afraid of change or who have not figured out that there will be an adaptation of society to it.” Don’t even try to resist Glass or any new technology, Earthling, for resistance is foolish.

Perhaps BiblioTech (and Google Glass for that matter) is the future. Perhaps physical books are indeed becoming glorified kindling. I highly doubt that, even setting aside my own predilection for them. But I don’t know the future. Our world is becoming more digitized, and libraries in the aggregate are reflecting that reality. Whether we become the wholly digital society BiblioTech is modeling (expecting?) remains to be seen. I’d love to check out the place in person one day, if only to back up my snap judgments with first-hand knowledge. Until then, I’ll be satisfied with libraries that are truly bibliotechy, achieving a healthy balance of physical and digital resources that honor the past, present, and future.

(Image via BiblioTech)

Silence Is Beholden

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I was on a solo hike a few weeks ago on a beautiful northern Californian day in Shasta Trinity National Park. It was a weekday morning, so I had the place to myself. I followed the Waters Gulch trail for about a mile or two as I trekked the path toward Packers Bay. The river (pictured above) was low, exposing the golden sediment beneath the thick green trees. It wasn’t long into the trail when the bustling world outside the Park faded and the world hushed. Though I knew I was walking through a vibrant and wild ecosystem of life in many forms, I was awed by its absolute silence.

Not a car. Not a plane droning above. Just my boots on the gravel. It was divine.

I wanted to capture that moment to take with me back into civilization, but I knew that some moments are better left uncaptured, free to roam on in time for the next eager seeker in need of some bliss. But I think some ought to be documented, if only because places like that — where noise doesn’t intrude on the soothing symphony of nature — are an endangered species.

And that’s why I suspect Gordon Hempton has the best job in the world. He’s an “acoustic ecologist” who records rare nature sounds and the few places on earth where silence still rules. He’s also the founder of One Square Inch of Silence, a research and advocacy project to protect the naturally silent habitats of the Olympic National Park in Washington.

I learned about Hempton through On Being, a podcast hosted by Krista Tippett I recently started listening to. It’s a great interview series featuring makers and doers of many stripes. Some recent guests include a Zen master and poet, a mathematician, a physicist, a pastor, and an oceanographer. Each has their own area of expertise and interest, but what I like about the series so far is how each show, despite the varying subject matter, still lives within the same sphere held together by the centripetal forces of truth, discovery, beauty, and meaning.

Tippett’s conversation with Hempton was so serene and poetic and enlivening. He defines silence not as merely the absence of sound but instead as “silence from all these sounds that have nothing to do with the natural acoustic system.” He sees the world as a “solar-powered jukebox” and links our modern world’s lack of silence to our inability to listen.

I don’t need an excuse to seek out quiet. My introversion calls for a degree of separation from the world in order to recharge, and often that separation leads me to a quiet place, where I can only hear waves overtaking shoreline rocks, or rain falling on leaves. It’s so hard in an urban setting to escape the noisiness of the world, but it’s important to do so. Quiet, as Gordon Hempton says, is a “think tank of the soul.” We don’t have natural ear-lids for a reason.

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