For once, silence— genuine calm. Forty minutes on a tidal bight with a great blue heron in the binoculars’ sight. Not frozen but still. In a half hour, she barely turns a full 360 degrees. Time to notice the dark wingtip markings, light not-blue-but-gray breast feathers, the cobalt dash between the long beak and dark-eyed crown. Expectation gives way to awe, as each degree thins her to a reed among reeds.
By sunset, barely an apostrophe against the green marsh what’s left of color bleeding into water, this resolve: to pause to practice, to attend.
Statio. One of the elements of Benedictine spiritual discipline, the practice of pausing between activities to become conscious of the moment, of the presence of God.
Screenwriters love structure: it gives them something to focus on as they plow ahead in their storytelling or to retreat to if they get off track. Familiar structures include the road movie (looking for answers), the journey film (home to Ithaca) and the sit-by-the-fireplace flashback (“Let me tell you about Heathcliffe”).
The first “ghost comedy” was an effervescent 1937 charmer called Topper, in which two of the most elegant high comedians in movies, Cary Grant and Constance Bennett, crashed their roadster and immediately rebounded, their insouciant personalities utterly unchanged, as specters. That’s the joke on which ghost comedies are premised: death doesn’t alter a thing except corporeal reality.
They warned us, like innocents, not to name our goat, to exercise good sense, refuse to see him as a pet or even, oops, as him. Just do whatever all it takes to tame the thing toward that appointed time when goat and fate should meet, when the dull drawn blade would withdraw blood from funny, fuzzy throat.
For days or weeks, we avoided eyes, made it a point to see the animal as meat. Through open window, so relieved, I heard you say to our neighbor, “No, you do it.”
And kindly, our neighbor did—spared you, and me too. But I will never forgive myself the rare deliciousness of the stew.
A professor of the theory and practice of social media, Clay Shirky, doesn’t let his students use electronic devices in his classes. It’s not just that he can’t compete with the hardware or the software. Studies show that multitasking is bad for the kind of cognitive work required in a classroom. It has a negative effect on memory and recall. One study showed that students who multitasked in class scored lower than those who didn’t. The presence of electronic devices also distracts those who aren’t using them. “I’m coming to see student focus as a collaborative process,” Shirky said (Washington Post, September 25).