The great panorama that emerges

This week we reflect on watching, beginning with this thoughtful essay from Jon Bell. Jon lives in Seattle and can be found at

After enjoying The Great Beauty in a small, charming movie theatre near my house, I was surprised to discover myself stuck.

I don't usually watch credits. But as these began, I couldn't leave because no one in my row stood up. And since I switched to a $20 non-smartphone this year, I had absolutely no way to pass the time.

I was forced to watch.

So. I watched the credits roll up in Italian, then my gaze languidly rolled across the silhouettes of people in the rows ahead of me. Some were speaking to each other, others weren't. I looked along the walls until the old neon green EXIT sign, then up up up above the screen, where I could see a crack in the wall. Then reluctantly back to the screen itself before sneaking a glance at the people beside me. The woman was wearing something shiny, maybe a leather jacket. The man with her looked like Larry David.

My entire year was like this. After I downgraded my phone, I re-discovered boredom. I began to carry a sketchbook again, and I spent a lot of time simply watching. I had almost forgotten how to. — Jon


Last week's dispatch asked, What is your favorite thing you've watched this year?

Robin wrote:

Ten years late, I finally watched THE WIRE. It was almost anticlimactic to find it precisely as great as everyone said it was. What's interesting is that the greatness doesn't seem to flow from any particular thing; the writing, say, or the performances. I don't think you'd get a sense of it, or any fraction of it, by watching a single episode. It really is the concatenation, and the great panorama that emerges… you know: "The Dickensian Aspect."

Erin wrote:

I finally watched all of 30 Rock this year and it was amazing. The characters are perfect and story lines ridiculous and hilarious. I'm not one for rewatching things, but I would start over and watch it all again and again and again in a heartbeat.

Asad wrote:

the Scared is scared was the last thing I would show to my week-long students before sending them off into the world. Such a beautiful reminder that the Scared is scared of things you love. Beautiful, beautiful.

Lara wrote:

My favourite thing to watch this year was the simplicity and joy of life in rural Rwanda. A winding three hour drive became an absolute pleasure - with life happening all along the road, smiling faces of all ages and people moving. Never have I seen a community filled with such health and happiness. My second favourite was two infant elephants playing in front of the backdrop of a sunset over the Mara. Amazing to realise how much like us they really are. Pretty special.

Paul wrote:

If you'd asked me last year then the answer would have been easy - the Olympics opening ceremony, which I saw on TV, or a close second - one of the days we went to the Olympics. This year there's nothing that stands out like that. However I do have fond memories of sitting in the garden of our holiday farmhouse cottage on evening watching swallows zooming around some derelict barns eating flies. Seeing swallows always brings back childhood memories and I love watching them.

Stephen wrote:

Earlier this year, a friend turned me on to PBS Idea Channel. This YouTube series begins every episode with "Here's an idea..." and then follows it with 5-10 minutes of philosophical, pop cultural analysis accompanied by memes, GIFs, and remarkably appropriate video clips. More great conversations with my friends have come out of Idea Channel ideas than I ever could have imagined, and every new episode is like a priceless gift.

Radhika wrote:

One of my favourite things this year: watching my teenaged godson trying out guitars on Denmark Street. After trying out a couple, he asked the shop assistant for a dreadnought with a cutaway. When he held it in his hands and strummed out a chord, his head jerked up and he looked at me. We both knew it was the one.

Ryan wrote:

I think my favorite thing to watch is pretty much always my wife, eating. The woman loves eating her food. LOVES IT. I wish I loved anything in the entire world as much as she loves to eat food. Maybe it’s because she’s run off her feet all day working at a restaurant and frequently gets her first meal of the day at 11 p.m., or maybe it’s because she would often rather not eat at all than eat something she isn’t craving right this second, but either way, I’ve never seen someone so excited to taste her food. She’s so excited, I can never resist laughing aloud for delight at the look on her face as she prepares to eat her next bite.<br><br>Since you can’t see this expression for yourself, I’ll distill it for you into two key components. Firstly, while most people take their eyes off their fork as soon as they get it close enough that they know they’re not going to miss their mouth, my wife watches her food until it disappears into her lips. Apparently, each individual morsel bears its own unique flavor and charm, and must be devoured with the eyes as well as the mouth to be fully appreciated. Secondly, right before she takes a bite, a nearly indescribable expression of illumination passes across her face, as if she has just thought of a new and brilliant idea for how she will eat it. I can almost see the light bulb over her head, and I can only assume she must be thinking: “Eureka! This will be my greatest bite ever!”<br><br>No matter how much it mortifies her to realize that I have been watching her every bite and am now unable to hold in my joy at the sight of her, within seconds she has always once more forgotten my existence and become absorbed again in the overwhelming pleasures of the table, of which I apparently know much, much less than I thought.

Jenny wrote:

Ten minutes ago I watched this short animation, and I feel like spreading the word. Empathy is... "perspective taking, staying out of judgement, recognizing emotion in other people and then communicating that." Connection without silver lining. Simple truths that we all already know somehow but may need a gentle reminder now and then. On a more serious note, one of the most eye-opening although painful films I watched this year is The Act of Killing. Humanity at its brutal idiosyncrasy. Not sure if I should call this type of film a "favourite thing" though.

Brian wrote:

Two things I found myself watching over and over. One is LCD Soundsystem's performance of All My Friends from their final concert. I'm mesmerized by the energy of the crowd, the band's emotions, the rising intensity. "To tell the truth, this could be the last time."<br><br>The second is a pair of scenes featuring the Animal Control department on Parks and Recreation. I find them completely hilarious. Thankfully, the rest of my family does, too.

Uncommon reads

2013: The Year 'the Stream' Crested by Alexis Madrigal:

We discovered that the stream introduced its own kinds of compulsions and controls. Faster! More! Faster! More! Faster! More! And now, who can keep up? There is a melancholy to the infinite scroll.<br><br>Wouldn't it be better if we just said ... Let's do something else? Let's have the web be a museum or a curio box or an important information filter or an organizing platform.<br><br>Or maybe let's just let the web be the web again, a network of many times, not just now.

The Documented Life by Sherry Turkle:

Technology doesn’t just do things for us. It does things to us, changing not just what we do but who we are. The selfie makes us accustomed to putting ourselves and those around us “on pause” in order to document our lives. It is an extension of how we have learned to put our conversations “on pause” when we send or receive a text, an image, an email, a call. When you get accustomed to a life of stops and starts, you get less accustomed to reflecting on where you are and what you are thinking.

Your turn

What is your favorite thing you've read this year?