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June 30, 2009

A week ago this Friday will mark seven days without television. We’ve been “buying” a 42 inch plasma screen TV from Rent-A-Center for a little under a year at $50 a week; and last week, before the payment came due, the missus and I decided it was best to call them and have them haul the damned thing away.

We did not get rid of the television because of anything associated with the switch to digital transmission. Our reasons are pretty simple. One – though by no means the most important (believe it or not) – is simply that the weekly payment is a bit beyond our current economic situation. For those of you who haven’t read my blog before, I was … uh… “laid off” by Arizona State University for the summer, and my contract status for fall is… well… not so cut and dry. And before you make jokes about teachers and summer vacations, let me add this – most of us who are classified as “Instructors” work on semester-to-semester or nine-month contracts. That means that we spend the summer either teaching summer classes, or working some bullshit job we went to school to avoid having to do, or we take the route I’ve taken.

I’m on the dole – otherwise known as unemployment benefits.  Some might view this as a defeat. I do not. While I think education CAN be a noble profession, I work because I have to. This isn’t anything new. I think most people, if they were being honest, would rather NOT have to work. For those of you who can’t imagine what you’d do without your job – you’re not imagining hard enough. Keep trying.  Another reason I don’t feel the least bit bad about getting my weekly payments is that I paid my taxes. And another reason still that I don’t feel the least bit sensitive about it – unemployment and access to a free printer are the writer’s best friends. I spend my days writing, reading, walking around (weather permitting), and sleeping as late as I feel like.

[Ok…. feel free to be jealous NOW.] 

And the writing is going well. I actually feel like I accomplish quite a bit – plus I feel more accomplished after a solid writing session than I do after a day of teaching. 

And while you may think writing has nothing at all to do with television, you are wrong. Television has always been a distraction for me. Call it a narcotic, even. I’m probably susceptible to the comatose draw of the idiot box because I watched A LOT of it as a kid. A LOT. And when I stress A LOT that means that I used to have the jingles for all the commercials memorized, along with the TV Guide Schedule (pre-cable). And when I wasn’t watching TV, I was watching the TV in my head… which probably explains a lot about the semi-anti-social, quasi-misanthropic, lazy  day dreamer I’ve grown up into.  Most of the time, it’s a distraction; and even as I would sit and watch the screen, complaining bitterly to Melissa about how much television sucked,  I had trouble getting up and walking away from it.

And to compound that issue – while we haven’t actually had cable for a few years, I DO enjoy my geek out times when I watch PBS. This Old House, History Detectives, Frontline, Simply Ming, Barbeque U, America’s Test Kitchen, Mystery!, and the whole host of BBC comedies, not to mention reruns of the Red Green Show all had a place in my regular TV schedule. But that in comparison to the deluge of total shit – everything from The Bachelorette to I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here – we both started to feel like we did more couch surfing than living.

Television was our ritual. It was one of the ways we spent time together. It was more than habitual; I would often turn it on without even thinking about it. Even on these days when I can stay home and write as much as I wanted, I would still take an afternoon break to watch Rosanne reruns at 12:30; and I turned the TV on while I cooked dinner. (My cooking skills, by the way, actually benefited from watching all those cooking shows.)

The other reason we got rid of our television was simply to break the cycle and get off the couch a little more. We wanted to change. We wanted to spend our time doing more interesting things than wondering whether Bones and that guy who used to play a vampire will ever really have sex, or seeing if Janice Dickinson could get even more annoying and post-Botox ugly without the benefit of make-up and perfect lighting.

We’ve been relatively successful – which is to say, we’re working on it. We’re trying to get out more and do more interesting things. I’m reading a lot more (if that’s even possible.) Melissa is working on some projects and we both, when we need a fix, rely heavily on  The most interesting about not having the television is how much we’ve both noticed it’s conspicuous absence. I even moved the furniture around so that we wouldn’t see the blank space. But that doesn’t matter.  We still… notice – though I think a little less each day – that the tv isn’t there. We’ve caught ourselves asking one another, “Hey, you want to watch a DVD? Oh, shit…. wait…” I guess they wouldn’t call it a rut if it was easy to get out of.  And we were most definitely in one.

Funny thing is, I’ve gone without tv before, and I expected to have less trouble than I’m having. I use the time to my advantage during the day… and listen to a lot of NPR (89.5 and 91.5). But there’s a certain point in the evening when my body still expects to go sit on the couch and watch tv. Our cats expect us to sit and watch tv – which means their lives are disrupted, too. Sometimes they wander around looking the tv, or they caterwaul because they expect the noise from the tv to be there instead of Schopenhauer.   I’ve caught myself more than once just wandering around the apartment because there wasn’t a tv to sit down in front of and veg out. 

And while I do miss the aforementioned PBS shows, I know I can get a lot that online. I can still watch movies on the laptop. And I am getting to rediscover a lot of NPR programming that I used to listen to all the time – All Things Considered, Car Talk, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!, A Prairie Home Companion, and the Splendid Table, to name a few. And my summer reading list has grown substantially because I will be able, on some nights, just to sit and read.

There are worse ways to survive on unemployment.

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