To Look, To See, To Linger, To Love

A few years ago, I was writing a script and coordinating with a production company to create a short video with narration and music. Part of my task was to amass a large cache of photos, each of which could match relevant parts of the narration. The protocol in such projects is to give the editor far more photos than he or she will need, and I dutifully performed that function to what I thought was completion.

So I was rather taken aback when the editor complained the next week that he didn’t have nearly enough photos to finish the job. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “How could this be? A hundred and fifty photos for a five-minute show isn’t enough?”
Him: “No way.”
Me: “By my count, that’s one every two seconds!”
Him: “People these days want really fast-moving pictures. They get bored if it’s too slow.”
Me: “People these days?…Bored? Too slow?”

And so on.



I’m put in mind of that conversation every time I’m in the movie theater being subjected to a string of trailers that last maybe two minutes but somehow manage to jam, I dunno, 500, 1,000, (1 million?) images going rat-a-tat-tat across my visual field.

To see a good number of Hollywood movies or television or YouTube videos today is to be convinced the entire world has gone ADHD, but with no desire to go on meds or practice the mindfulness meditation that might help alleviate the condition.

The cascade is often accompanied by a deafening soundtrack accompanying the fireballs, collisions and death-defying leaps from exploding buildings that somehow result in the protagonist catapulted across the screen before landing safely in the driver’s seat of a Range Rover or humvee, or square into the lap of a beautiful woman driving a speeding convertible and wearing an extremely low-cut dress.

To see a good number of Hollywood movies or television or YouTube videos today is to be convinced the entire world has gone ADHD, but with no desire to go on meds or practice the mindfulness meditation that might help alleviate the condition.

And worse yet is the increasing scientific evidence that the prevalence of rapid-fire imagery in modern media and rapid-fire multi-tasking in our work lives seems to be changing the very wiring and chemical action in our brains, making us all the less able to look, to see, to linger, and to love what is directly in front of us.

It’s as if this world—with its precious and passing hours, minutes and seconds enshrouding a ridiculously rich repository of beauty, mystery and wonder—is insufficient and unworthy of our attention before we dart off like nervous hummingbirds, pining for a brighter, sweeter flower beckoning us from just beyond.


By it’s not only a matter of too much imagery moving too fast. It’s also a matter of too much imagery, period.

Movies, television, magazines, videos, social media, highway signs and billboards, and in recent years, high quality cameras in our own back pockets, locked and loaded for taking as many photos as our storage deal allows. I’m at some 18,000 at the moment, though anytime I have a spare five or 15 minutes while waiting in a line or on hold on the phone, I set about deleting as many as possible so I can pretend I’m staying on top of my digital life.

And as much as I have come to appreciate photography all the more since beginning this blog a decade ago, I will also say that the endless scrolling and searching I do through veritable mountains of fine photography has also served to (occasionally, not always) jade my spirit more than I’d like—“Ho-hum, another fabulous shot of a vermillion sky with waterfall, NEXT!!…”

That jadedness, when it does occur, feels like a kind of violation of something essential to my flourishing as a human being, as well as to the spirit in which true art is offered. Et tu?

“The job of the artist is to give people something to see, not to give them something to look at. You have to know the difference between looking and seeing,” says the contemporary visual artist Richard Tuttle.

Yet with so much imagery today presented at warp speed layered over with prominent audio, we can barely snag a look at all, much less “see” in the way Tuttle is suggesting—with a depth of attention that has the possibility of moving viewers’ spirits rather than churning their stomachs in a futile quest to grasp some shred of an image’s essence, if it indeed has one.



Having studied theology in the long ago, a few shelves in my home library are weighed down with works of the great mystics: St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, Brother Lawrence, The Desert Fathers, Chuang Tzu, Dogen, along with their more contemporary interpreter, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton.

Probably the most common thread among all of them is their intense emphasis on presence and focus—directed toward whatever conceptual framework and vocabulary they use to denote God or ultimate reality.

“Pray ceaselessly!” implore the Christians and Muslims.

“Pay attention and empty your mind!” the Buddhists command.

But let’s leave the theological and dogmatic trappings behind for the moment.

What is at the base of these supposed gateways to a happy (Judeo-Christian/Muslim) or suffering-free (Buddhist/Hindu) life?

It’s attention, which has a tendency to give way to adoration, and is a prerequisite for love. And I would submit that none of these are remotely possible at five images per second, nor when toggling furiously between eight different tabs on a screen.

There is no reward in the heavens or on earth for winning a sprint race through a museum.

Nor is there any Olympic gold medal for fastest poetry reading.

Most all the good things in life are to be savored, happen because we savor rather than zip through them distractedly with our attention split six different ways, none of those six able to fight for more than a sideways, blurry glance from us, dimly recalled.

And those actual Olympic gold medal sprinters? There are few creatures more intensely focused, more in love with their endeavor through years of training, effort, and attention, than great athletes—or dancers, or creatives of most any type.

You don’t need to believe in a God to participate in the divine dance begat by your attention. Nothing in life shimmers and comes alive until we give it the attention it is due, a shimmer that grows all the brighter and more interesting the deeper and longer we linger with it.

“Do you love this world?” asked the poet Mary Oliver. “Do you cherish your humble and silky life?/Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?”

And if attention is a prerequisite for love, then an even more compelling challenge awaits us: What do we turn our attention to?

In a book review of the recent historical study of monastic life entitled “The Wandering Mind,” the “New Yorker” magazine critic Casey Cep threw down a kind of gauntlet, an ultimate challenge for the fragmented attention that modern life is so expert at cajoling us into:

“One uncomfortable explanation for why so many aspects of modern life corrode our attention is that they do not merit it. The problem for those of us who don’t live in monasteries but hope to make good use of our days is figuring out what might. That is the real contribution of “The Wandering Mind”: it moves beyond the question of why the mind wanders to the more difficult, more beautiful question of where it should rest.”

Beautiful question, indeed. But the key word there is “rest.” Which simply isn’t possible until we direct our own mind to something that will allow for and encourage it, for our own good, and the good of the world.


Easy does it, on the eyes and the ears…


Check out this blog’s public page on Facebook for 1-minute snippets of wisdom and other musings from the world’s great thinkers and artists, accompanied by lovely photography.

Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact:

Eye by Alice Bartlett

Pink rose by Doug Wheller, England

Himalayan Mountains by Raimond Klavins, Riga, Latvia

Sunset by Andrew Hidas

4 comments to To Look, To See, To Linger, To Love

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    We live in a world of Mach 1000. ASAP is more than acronym; it’s an addiction. Gone is the art of handwritten letter writing. We’ve learned so much about Vincent Van Gogh’s personal life from his correspondence with his brother Theo. Though the mail took weeks to get from one place to another in the first decades of the 19th century, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson took the time to write one another and, in so doing, mended their broken relationship which politics had created. Movies have jammed the senses with endless images and deafening sounds that have made meaningful dialogue an afterthought. Moreover, movie studio execs demand quick, cute and monosyllabic lines like “Make my day.” Elementary and secondary schools have scrapped thought provoking and time-consuming compositions in favor of standardized exams which computers can grade in milliseconds. I mean how long does it take a student to mark an “a, b, c, or none of the above” on an answer sheet? Music producers today would likely say, “Mr. Beethoven, this 9th of yours is way too long. Cut out that choral shit at the end.”. It’s a world gone fat on a diet of speed, easy access and immediate gratification.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Yep to all that, Robert, even at the peril of sounding like a couple of grumpy old men! That said, I’m also heartened by truly innovative and nuanced programming, writing and acting on television these days (one of the benefits of the 500-Channelverse) and select, indie movies. So I do think there’s a still a place, a need, and a supply of really high-quality creative work—we just have to dig around for it a bit more in this fragmented media world with little to any centralized, culture-wide information sources. Thanks as always, for your thoughtful, witty reflections here. Always adds spice to the conversation.

  • Layne  says:

    Andy, I enjoyed reading your thoughts here. I haven’t checked in for quite a while, but this was a treat. I paint watercolors with a plein air class, and painting is all about finding beauty. Hopefully, it doesn’t move while I’m painting it because I’m not speedy. I’d forgotten your seminary background.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      So nice to hear from you, Layne, and glad to hear you are painting. It’s a completely foreign, alien skill to me, and I am in awe of anyone who can make it happen. And being so intimately involved in a creative pastime is a balm (and a boon, too, for that matter!) for body & soul at any stage of life, but I suspect even more so as we age and appreciate it all the more. Kudos!

Leave a Reply