TV-free day

Look at me posting a post on the day the thing happened. This is most exciting! Most encouraging! Most likely not to happen ever ever again!

I’m sure you can guess from the title that my ‘new thing’ today was to not watch TV. At all. I’ve been complaining and complaining in this blog about how much TV I’ve been watching (in particular, how much pointless ‘Friends’ re-runs I’m watching) and I’ve been tossing around this idea in my head for a while. What if I tried to give up TV?

Now, obviously I have had TV-free days before in my life. When I was in the USA just a week ago, for example, I spent a good  weeks not watching TV (I did watch movies on the plane, but that is different. SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT). But, today was the first time I have deliberately not watched TV. Not at all. Ok, so my housemate was watching the Canadian Grand Prix whilst I was doing my make-up in the same room, but I only glanced at it because someone was playing classical music on a piano and that seemed so strange at a car race that I had to clarify that I had heard correctly. I had. There was a pianist set up on the race-track. I can only hope they moved him before the race started, because I stopped watching immediately afterwards.

But why would you do this, Jenny? I can hear you ask. TV can be very good! There is much critically-acclaimed drama available. There are documentaries, which you can use to educate yourself with! There is the news, so you can stay up-to-date with current events! There are heart-warming talent shows in which people are able to realise their dreams (even when those dreams are simply running onstage at ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and throwing eggs at Simon Cowell ). TV is not inherently evil.

Well, the fact is I am beginning to believe that it is. The fact is, I am terrified that TV is sucking away my ability to be interesting. I am terrified that it is sucking away my ability to be productive. I am terrified that TV is, in fact, the cause of all evil in my life and that it is actually TV which is preventing me from becoming the person that I would like to be (ok, that may be going too far. TV PLUS social media is preventing me from becoming the person that I would like to be. But, one step at a time, people, one step at a time).

See, my TV watching wasn’t in anyway directed. Or purposeful. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, let’s sit down for my favourite show at 9pm on Sunday night with my good buddies. We all can’t wait to see what happens next. We’ll all watch it together and then discuss it critically over bottles of wine for hours and afterwards our friendships and brains will be so much stronger for having done so.’ See, I used to watch TV shows for good acting, for good writing, for new ideas, to see what was happening in the world. But that is not what I have been doing recently. No, it was just sitting on the couch, with my shoes off, mouth open with an attractive trail of spittle forming in the corners of my mouth.

The thing I have noticed over my past three days of writing 2 hours daily (it is now a routine – I’ve done it in three days in a row. IT IS CLEARLY A ROUTINE), is how much more I get done. And I don’t just mean writing (though, obviously that is also true). No, I mean, I get so much more done because I don’t immediately come home for work and sit in front of the TV, just flicking through channels and finding the ‘least worst thing to watch’. Once I’ve turned on that TV (for whatever reason), it seems darn near impossible for me to switch it off. The flickering lights have me hypnotised. As if I were one of those people in the ’50s who had never seen a TV before. As if I were one of those people in Plato’s cave. If I go from work, straight to a cafe and write for two hours, I find I have no desire to then go home and sit on the couch. Instead, I get a book and sit in the park and read. Or, I continue to write, just something different. Or, I cook myself dinner (instead of ordering in). Or I go for a walk, or call a friend, or do anything but watch TV. Suddenly I seem to have other interests again.

So, I decided to have one deliberate day away from the TV and see how it worked.

And I have to say it was much more productive and easy than I had anticipated. Even with the weather being typically British and cold and grey. I was lucky in that I had many things to do today, so I was out of the house a bit, talking to my Dad for a bit, updating my website for Operation: Love Story a bit (shameless plug: here), writing for a bit, checking out transport to Edinburgh for a bit etc. I would probably have done a lot of this stuff in front of the TV usually, using the justification that this would keep me entertained whenever the internet was loading (what year exactly do I think it is? 1998?) The hardest time was when I sat down for dinner, because I almost always turn on the TV when eating. This is a terrible habit, I know. I know all the reasons why its a terrible habit, why its probably making me fat and losing me friends and ruining my relationships with my family. But, still. This is what I would do.

But, once I had convinced myself that, actually, I could probably enjoy my dinner without watching TV at the same time, everything was fine.

Now, I don’t want you thinking I’m an angel here. I certainly was on the internet a lot. I was even watching quite a bit of David Mitchell’s ‘Soapbox’, which I think *technically* might have started on TV, but I was watching it on youtube, so it totally doesn’t count. The great thing about watching these though, was they are usually about 2 – 3 mins long. So, when I had written for maybe half an hour and felt like a break, I could watch two episodes and then get back to it. It worked extremely well. I ended up writing for 3 hours. Plus the amount of time it has now taken me to write this blog post. So, not to shabby, all things considered. Social media and email was, at all times, switched off (well, ok, I signed in when I was watching the David Mitchell things, because you don’t really need to look at him, he’s just sitting there, all the funny things are in what he says, but I signed out immediately after Mitchell was finished and it was back to writing!)

I know these are small achievements, but I’m working my way towards a more productive lifestyle. I don’t know that I will be able to constantly stay away from the TV, but at the same time, there’s nothing on there that I specifically want to watch. I have no new favourite shows that I haven’t seen a hundred million times before. I don’t know when, or what channel any interesting new shows are on. I have literally just been watching Friends, Miss Marple, Poirot and whatever reality TV crap I can find in an endless cycle. I just enjoy the mindless ease of it.

I spent a lot of time talking to my friends in Michigan about creative work and my creative work in particular and the draining effect that  the internet and social media has on it. And to be good at something creative you have to work hard for it – because its competitive, but also because no-one can really tell you how to do it. Its not like learning to ride a bike, when pushing pedals are pretty much the same every time you push them, every time you sit down to do something creative you kind of have to remind yourself how to do it again. And the only way to learn how to do it is to just sit down and put the time and effort in.

Anyway, I’m beginning to think the internet is not the worst of it. At least with the internet I have the potential to be creative (I kind of consider this blog my dumping ground/practice area. The better I get writing in here, the more crap I get out of my system in this forum, the better the stuff I write in my ‘serious’ work becomes. That’s the theory, anyway). Even if that is just silly Tweets, its getting my brain working and interacting with *something*. I mean, there has to be a limit, as you could sit on there all day long if you’re not careful, but cable TV – now that is where the real empty brain calories go. No matter how much you tell yourself you’ll use it for the movies, the news and the documentaries, inevitably you find yourself going to the same channels and the same shows and the same crap over and over and over again.

And, on that note, I leave you with this wonderful song about all the things you could do if you don’t have a tv: 

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