COMING CLEAN: Week 4: Me and My TV

I didn’t have any preview to our Take Action Challenge prior to the calendar that was sent in Week 1, but it almost feels like its creators knew what I struggled with most so that I would be forced to raise my sword to my lazy ways and shout en garde.

Although I’ve made progress, there hasn’t been a clear winner in this duel — more of a draw à la The Princess Bride. I’m just hoping I’m the Man in Black and not Inigo Montoya in that battle royale so I can move on to the Thieves’ Forest where the Fire Swamp — for me, television — awaits me and sucks me in.

By my movie reference, you can assume that I know a lot of film trivia. I love movies. And I love TV. Lots of TV. So much so that I frequently begin conversations with, “Have you ever seen that show…?” to give relevance to my story for the listener. I don’t assume they can compare it to something similar they’ve experienced in actuality, but if they’ve seen the show, then of course they can understand. My friend, David, who doesn’t watch much TV, and who has told me this on different occasions, receives the same line regardless, only because it completely eludes me that he doesn’t watch TV.

Now, mind you, I have a close relationship with my TV.

Before I ever fell in love with a man, I fell in love with TV. I have fond memories of watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood or Bob Ross paint “happy little trees” in the morning. We didn’t have cable for a long period of time growing up, so when a movie was on one of the broadcast channels, it was a real treat. It was my grandfather, who would read to us and tell great stories at the dinner table, always with such gusto, that inspired my love of storytelling (hence my chosen career). So seeing a dramatic sequence come to life right in my own living room seemed like the stuff of dreams — a modern marvel, which could easily entertain me at any time of day or night.

 

vintage photo children watching Wizard of Oz
Me and my brother watching some wholesome television programming, long before the surge of reality TV.

Me, at 4, with my brother, Marco, watching The Wizard of Oz on TV. 

 

Once we did get cable — watch out! — I was hooked.

So many shows, so little time! There was a channel just for history, and one for fashion! And a channel for movies, and one for music videos! I became dizzy with the options. I’d come home from school and watch for hours on the days that I didn’t have after-school activities. I’d go to a friend’s house to watch Dawson’s Creek every week and bond over the drama of the Joey-Dawson-Pacey love triangle. We’d talk about it the next day at the lockers or that night on AOL Instant Messenger. It was like a subculture: We were immersed in these character’s stories, and you could feel connected to a stranger if they watched it because the plot gave you an instant conversation. In college, I lived alone for the first two years, so I frequently left the television on as background noise, just to feel like someone else was there. After I set down my bags, the first thing I do is turn on the TV. In part for the noise, in part because of habit, but mostly because there might be something on. I’m sure I’m missing something.

When Kyle and I were dating and I first saw his apartment with his showpiece, a 50-inch high-definition TV, I knew it was kismet. (In fact, he later told me he purchased the TV just two weeks before we met. The stars were aligned, my friends.) There are several remotes — for the Blu-ray, for the stereo-surround sound, for the satellite, for the TV itself — and housesitters are given detailed notes for operation. No one is allowed to touch the TV. One is only allowed to sit in awe of our technological wonder and allow its magical spell to overcome you. When my younger cousins visit, they can’t turn away. We could have C-SPAN on, no matter. The oldest, Molly, told me they recently got rid of their TV. She might have been speaking a foreign language. Wait, it’s gone. No TV? “Yep.” So what do you watch on a raining day? Or when you want to see a movie? Or rather, what do you do? “We can watch on our computer, but we usually play instead.”

I feel like I’ve had this conversation before, the one with Molly, the one with David — we don’t watch TV. With the girls, they can play — they are young and enjoying making forts or coloring for hours. With David, he’s an adult — he must be getting a lot done. What could I do if I wasn’t watching so much TV? I could read earlier in the evening, instead of staying up late to do so. I could get more chores done, instead of just chipping away during commercial breaks. I could take a walk with the dogs. Or I could just sit in my yard and listen to nothing in particular, the cool breeze and warm sun on my face, a moment to just sit still. When I’m used to doing so much so frequently, finding peace sounds wonderful, but also like another life.

So I started slow last week, for our Take Action Challenge: Week 4, to transform our TV time. For the first few days, I did squats or stretching during commercials, as recommended (there were plenty of breaks during The Bachelorette on Monday and The Hills on Tuesday — remember, I’m a true voyeur when it comes to the programs I watch, I need complete escapism from reality, people).

But then I felt I needed to rethink my relationship with TV altogether. My new goal was simple: Watch less TV. During commercials, I’d pause live TV and do laundry, running the baskets from the basement to the top-floor closets, then return panting to the couch and fast-forward to the program. I cut back on many shows, and deleted several from the DVR (I usually record shows when I have to work in the evenings, then save them up to watch in one long, lethargic span of time). I found that I was more critical of what I was watching and, for the first time, I would start a show and delete it or change the channel if I was disinterested. I never do that. When I start watching, say, Tough Love Couples, I have to see who gets engaged at the end — I usually watch the entire season because the first show gives enough background that I feel compelled to see what happens to these characters. Now I’m even becoming more critical of the actors: If I can’t find anything endearing about, oh, one of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, for example, I turn it off. And when movies play that I’ve already seen, even those I love, I change the channel. If nothing is on, then I get up and clean. For someone who always thought that something was on, that’s a big improvement.

Have I broken my addiction to TV? Perhaps. I most likely won’t give away my TV like Molly’s family or be able to claim that I don’t watch television like David, but it would be nice to say I don’t watch much TV in the future. I enjoy the storytelling, the escape, the drama, the comedy, for a hour a night, maybe two on the weekends. But at some point, we need to stop watching what happens to others and actually live for ourselves. I learned that on The Biggest Loser. Which reminds me: It’s time to workout. Hey, TV as motivation? Or as reward. I can tune in to that.

 

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