Wednesday, January 02, 2013

EDITORIAL >> When TV goes out

It was 2,500 years or so ago that Greek philosopher Socrates was said to have uttered the words that I try to live by: An unexamined life is not worth living.

If you think about it, few people change because someone criticizes them. They change when they see flaws in themselves that don’t seem too difficult to repair.

My most recent serious self-examination came at about 5 in the afternoon on the day after Christmas. It was getting dark and all the visitors from the storm, the kids and grandkids had gone home. A fire was burning in the wood heater to keep us warm.

The dishes were washed and the floors were swept. And what dirt that may have been missed couldn’t be seen by the light of the candles on the table.

The only thing missing was noise or more precisely, the TV. And its absence was almost screaming at me.

I tried moving closer to the fire and telling myself that I actually preferred the quiet. But I’m not that easily fooled. Within five minutes, I was suggesting to my husband that a walk in the snow might kill a little time in the evening that I could tell was going to be a long one.

He said no. The snow had melted and refrozen and each step would mean breaking through a layer of ice, sinking into the snow, pulling free and repeating. And besides, he said, it was too cold out.

“We could talk,” I told him.

“You start,” he said.

And that’s when it hit me. I had nothing to say. We talk during commercials. But there was no television and therefore no commercials. Our conversation is TV dependent.

I was appalled by the realization, especially considering that TV has so little to offer these days: reality show stars acting out for the camera, sitcom reruns and some version of “Law and Order” on some channel at any given time.

We did manage to talk a little about the kids, the layout of the greenhouse we always hope to build in the spring, the kids…

By 9:30, my husband was ready for bed. He said he was sleepy, but I suspect he was just weary from being forced to make conversation.

By the middle of the next day, Entergy repair crews were in the driveway raising the line that had been knocked to the ground by a fallen tree. And we went back to our normal routine of busying around during the day and watching TV during the evening while we talk during the commercials with the TV on mute.

For the first day or so, I worried that my big revelation meant that we had gotten into a rut, but then I decided that ruts aren’t necessarily a bad thing. I grew up on a dirt road with foot-deep ruts during the winter months. The thing about ruts that some people might not know is that while they may be hard to get out of, they are also kind of like a railroad track that can take you out to other places and then bring you right back home.

At least that’s the position I’ve decided to take. I briefly considered trying to change, but it’s winter and the evenings are really long. Besides, who says conversation between commercials can’t be meaningful? 
— Joan McCoy