Warm Pools of Light

May 29, 2020

Coronavirus has made me take lots of long walks. It has become a daily habit that’s valuable both physically and mentally.

One of my favorite times to walk is just after sunset, when the sky is still newly dark. The day is winding down, the memory of the sun is still in the warm air, dinner is starting to feel just a little lighter, and there’s a warm glow from all of the windows around the neighborhood.

It’s the warm glow I want to talk about. It reminds me of a line from Paul Graham’s essay on cities:

Paris is the only city I’ve lived in where people genuinely cared about art. […] But looking through windows at dusk in Paris you can see that people there actually care what paintings look like. Visually, Paris has the best eavesdropping I know.

In most of the houses I pass, the warm glow of the lights is cooled by the blue of a massive television. Some even have two TVs glowing blue in two separate rooms, indicating individual and selective connoisseurs.

When I can see enough to see what’s on, about half are watching some flavor of the news and half are watching some sort of show. Watching the news is a huge waste of time. Shows and movies are far more interesting, and I will occasionally binge watch with the best of them.

What we learn from these houses can’t be seen on any single night. What’s interesting is that all of these houses have the TV on all the time every time I walk by on every single night. That is a lot of TV.

On the other hand, there’s a few houses that seem a bit warmer and perhaps a bit more peaceful. Someone is definitely home. The cars are there and there’s a bit of movement at the door or a wavering of the light from the window. Most of the house is dark except for a warm pool of light tucked in some corner. Sometimes, people are sitting out on a deck in their warm pool of light, talking and laughing over a drink. In other houses and other warm pools of light, you can see someone sitting curled up with a book. Still others are working on their hobby, whatever it is.

When I walk past these houses, they are so much more fascinating than the cool, blue temperature of the TV broadcasters. The news today is ubiquitous and crafted to elicit outrage from everyone. It’s dreadfully boring. And most of us are watching the same kinds of shows, however fun and engaging the production values may be.

Unsullied by the blue light of TV screens, the warm pools of light and their owners are intriguing. I want to know who they are, and ask them what book they’re reading, what they’re working on, what they’re thinking about. These are the people I want to meet and learn from and have a conversation with.

Warm evening pools of light point to interesting people. This isn’t a perfect measure, but if you’re watching TV for a couple hours a night, every night… then you’re missing out on the good stuff.

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