By Shelley Powers
I honestly never thought I would write a column like this. Forty days without television? Impossible.
From Don Draper to Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch…duh) to even ol’ Carson from the servants quarters at Downton Abbey, I’m a sucker for good-looking people performing great writing in the glowing warmth of the little flat box that sits in my living room.
Honestly, television has been my downfall since I can’t remember when.
MY SORDID TELEVISION PAST
When I was about 10, I became so transfixed by something I was watching on the boob tube one day that I unknowingly punched holes in the arm of my dad’s brown vinyl chair with a pencil. I didn’t realize what I had done until the commercial break, and then I ran to get a dish towel to throw over the damage…because, you know, then no one would ever know.
And things have pretty much gone downhill since then with the advent of 24-hour cable, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, and those pesky little video players we keep on our persons as “phones.”
To this day, the video medium can truly zap me of all good judgement…mostly time management.
For a 10-year-old, time is of little consequence. A day in front of a lit screen is just another day. For a 45-year-old, any day I don’t have to stare at a screen to earn a paycheck is a gift from God. Heck, any day I have at all is a gift from God…and I should make more of it than watching back-to-back episodes of Drop Dead Diva.
Not that I think television is bad. As a writer and one who wants to capture the attention of others with my work, I value the creativity that goes into these shows. I enjoy laughing and crying and applauding at well told tales. But I also believe these shows should be a treat, not a steady diet.
For most people, television is pure entertainment or it’s a noisemaker while they get ready for work in the morning.
For me, it’s my biggest vice…next to cheese puffs.
I literally cannot have a television on in viewing distance of me and still be able to function as an intelligent adult. I revert to 10-year-old Shelley and become transfixed…unable to pull my eyes away from the screen, no matter what the show…except for golf and travel…well…maybe.
THE DECISION TO TURN IT OFF
Growing up Baptist, I never had to bother with Lent. We did without dancing and drinking all year long anyway (at least in public), so there wasn’t much left for the time before Easter.
But a few years ago, I joined Parkway Hills United Methodist Church in Madison, MS, (I personally invite you all to come visit) and am now taking part in candle lighting, Holy Communion, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Lent…just the whole kit and caboodle. And I love it! Not only am I more involved than ever in church, I’m wanting to grow in my faith and take steps to draw closer to God wherever I can.
So…when that little tickle of an idea popped into my head a few years ago to shut down the ol’ telly for Lent I jumped at the chance! Right? Not! (My stubbornness can sometimes rival that of George Jefferson and Fred G. Sanford…combined.)
But I knew in my heart that God wanted me to let go of television. He reminded me all the time, especially when I would sit for hours, staring at the screen, eating junk, and not being productive.
This past February, He finally broke through my stubbornness…and He used Alan Alda to do it.
What started as one day home from work to take my dog to the vet morphed into two more days home with a sinus infection and an entire Saturday spent on the couch, watching episode after episode of M*A*S*H on Netflix. By Sunday, I was a complete zombie and was ready to toss the television out the window. No one needs that steady of a diet of Hawkeye Pierce, no matter how cute Alan was in the ’70s.
Thoroughly disgusted with myself, I clicked off the set, grabbed my journal, and wrote, “Well, I’m starting Lent a few days late, but I have started…no TV, YouTube, AppleTV, DVDs, VHSs, Hulu+, Netflix, Vine, or Pinterest. My goal is to use the time I normally spend on media to draw closer to God.”
Gulp. Even my pastor’s wife asked me why I would take such drastic measures and deprive myself of so much.
The only answer I had was that I had finally gotten the message…God wants me to make more of this life He has given me. I could spend hours developing a crush on Radar O’Reilly or I could get up and do something that would make a difference.
So, I got up and did!
MY 40 DAYS WITHOUT
Those first days were tough, as I was a bit lost with all the spare (and very quiet) time I had each evening.
But as time passed, things got easier. Before the end of the first week, I deleted my Vine app without a second thought. After a week, I stopped constantly thinking about turning on the TV. At two weeks in, I actually cancelled my Netflix account. What?! I just could no longer justify sitting and watching old episodes of shows that I had never missed not watching in the first place. Bye-bye, Hawkeye! I’ve got some living to do!
Before the next two weeks were up, I cancelled Hulu+, but only after some serious internal struggle to try and rationalize keeping my $8-a-month access to episodes of Scandal, The Blacklist, The Mindy Project, New Girl, Castle, Gotham, Sleepyhollow, and Shark Tank. Finally, I just had to accept that being productive each evening was more important than these seven hours of TV each week.
It was tough to hit the cancel button…but I decided that, since The Mentalist had finally ended and I was on the last season of Madmen, I could easily pare down my shows to only Downton Abbey and Sherlock, both of which I can watch for free on PBS.
A few days later, the announcement was made that Downton will end after this next season, and I just had to laugh. God was making His point loud and clear. Shelley needs even less television. (At least, for now, I’ve still got my adorable Mr. Cumberbatch and adorably lovable Mr. Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson). But if they are also taken from me, I’ll understand.)
YouTube was much tougher to extract myself from than actual television. YouTube is everywhere. So, I made a rule that, if a friend posted something on Facebook, I’d watch it or, if I needed to find a clip for something at work or with friends, I’d search. But no surfing YouTube or watching any of the channels I usually follow. And definitely no going down the rabbit hole of Jimmy Fallon videos or watching ad nauseam the cutie-patootie teacher who dances through the halls with his students to Uptown Funk (my view count for which is already at the stalker level).
And, though I have stayed off Pinterest, I have to admit, that has been my biggest struggle. I love Pinterest. I can’t help it; I’m a girl. I love seeing pretty pictures of projects I will never make and lovely photos of beautiful homes I will never be able to afford. God gave me estrogen…therefore, I Pin. Don’t judge me.
WHAT I’VE ACCOMPLISHED AND LEARNED
Over the years, I’ve watched television to make me feel like I’m not alone…to make me laugh…to entertain me…and to stay pop-culture savvy. But in the nearly 40 days since my television went dark, I’ve done so much more living…maybe not by the world’s standards…but by my own. And I’ve let go of a vice that held on to me for decades.
In my days without television, I read an entire book (In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving); started a new book (Mere Christianity); knitted a beautiful scarf; pieced together three lap afghans for my church yarn ministry; worked on Sunnyhuckle; wrote letters; read Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Job, some of Psalms, and have started on Judges; went home to visit my folks for my Dad’s birthday; prepared and taught five Sunday School lessons; started practicing my violin again; and, generally, got my life better organized.
Oh yeah…and I’ve dropped an entire pants size because I’ve been more active and have not been sitting in front of a screen for hours every evening, grazing on take-out food.
I can honestly say, I don’t even miss television, and that feels pretty amazing.
I rarely go in my living room anymore (other than to knit on occasion or, like tonight, to finish a column…see picture at right). And I’m so happy that I wish everyone would quit watching television! I want everyone to have this freedom and this extra time. We don’t get do-overs, so I want us all to make every minute count!
From this experience, I’ve learned that I really should listen to God more often and more readily. It seems His will is actually what is best for me! Go figure.
So, happy Easter to all of you! Enjoy the springtime and this life God has blessed you with!
And remember to occasionally turn off your Don Draper and Sherlock Holmes and, instead, tune in to what God has in store for you. I promise you won’t regret it.
This column is dedicated to my precious uncle, Rusty Cole, who passed away this week. Here’s to Uncle Rusty; thank you for teaching us how to live life with a twinkle in your eye and laughter in your belly.