The day my cable was turned off for good, I was lying on my bed in the midst of the afternoon watching a reality show about people with odd sexual compulsions. As the cable guy cut my connection, a guy describing his fetish for smelly feet was interrupted mid-sentence.
"God took my cable away," I texted my daughter.
I was joking, but, honestly, my obsession with TV had gotten out of hand, and while I'm sure there are some quality programs on television, I wasn't watching any of them. In 2011, I had watched the entire Casey Anthony trial on CNN, and even though we lived hundred of miles from the nearest ocean, it was not unusual for me to spend a whole evening staring at maps of potential hurricane paths on The Weather Channel. And as if that weren't enough, lately, I had become fascinated with reality shows like Honey Boo-Boo, 19 Kids And Counting, Hoarders, Breaking Amish and Sister Wives. These shows had made me feel better about myself -- more clever, more classy, more together.
I might be moving from a gray Cape Cod in the country to a rustic cabin in the woods with no cable access, but at least I did not have a family of dead cats lying underneath the pile of open food cans in the midst of my living room. I did not eat laundry detergent. I had not yet been the subject of an intervention, drug related or otherwise. I did not eat spaghetti noodles doused in ketchup and butter. I had not been shunned. I did not have to drag nineteen children with me everywhere I went. And I certainly did not have to pretend to be pleased when my husband expressed his undying affection for another woman.
Though learning to live without television was a challenge at first, just last month, we passed the second anniversary of our new life here at the cabin, and at the risk of sounding overly hippyish, I thought this might be a good time to pause and reflect on some things I have learned and to offer a few nuggets of wisdom to those considering cutting their own cable connections:
1. I have figured out that one does not need to watch The Weather Channel regularly to know what the weather is going to be like. I have figured out that generally one can just walk outside and look at the sky and get a good idea of what's ahead for the day.
2. I no longer mindlessly peruse quasi news channels thinking that I am getting actual news, and I no longer watch the disturbing stories of celebrities unfold before me ad nauseum because I find these stories to be, well, disturbing. I do not know what celebrity has just been arrested for shoplifting, whose spouse just slept around, who is in rehab or who is eerily thin. I have just so much emotional energy to give, and now I can expend that energy on people I actually know who have legal troubles or marital problems or addiction issues or eating disorders.
3. It has been two years since anyone has even tried to talk to me about The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. Same with American Idol or any of those shows imitating American Idol. In fact, people actually stop discussing those things when I walk in a room. Enough said.
4. I've got to admit that the Olympics were hard. As was the World Cup and every other major sporting event. Everyone is always talking about sports, especially at bars where sports are always on big screen TV's and sometimes on multiple screens, but my advice for those televsionless folks trying to maintain some sort of social connectivity during major sporting events is to simply drink more beer. That way, you will be at a bar when the television is on and can quickly catch up to speed. Another option is to take up a sport of your own so that while everyone else is sitting around drinking beer and watching sports, you can actually be out longboarding or free climbing or what have you.
5. I no longer begin sentences with the words, "I was up late last night watching..." If I happened to be up late last night, I was (1) reading, (2) writing, (3) cuddling my Dachshund who is afraid of thunderstorms or (4) cuddling my husband who is not afraid of thunderstorms. In any case, there is not nearly enough of that sort of thing happening in the world today, and now that I no longer mindlessly watch television, I have more time for all of those things.
6. Like major sporting events, the Oscars and the Emmys are a problem. Everyone is watching, and everyone is tweeting about them, and, sure, it's a little like being back in high school, and everyone you know is talking about some party that you weren't invited to. For advice on coping, please see #4.
7. Back when I had television, I used to spend a lot of time worrying about the what ifs. What if we have a major earthquake here in North Carolina? What if one of my friends gets a nose job that collapses? What if one of my young adult children suddenly joins a cult? What if my husband has a whole other family in another state and one day fakes his own death in order to be with them? Now, I take long walks with my Lab. I feed Vanilla Wafers to my goats. I pick wild blueberries and roses. I sit outside at a local brewery and drink Dale's Pale Ale while I watch other people's kids play corn hole. And somehow being outside and doing simple things makes me feel more in touch with the here and now and less concerned with the hypothetical.
8. I have taken up some new hobbies. I ride my bike -- a lot. I hike. I make my own goat cheese and cream cheese, ferment my own yogurt. I grow my own kale and bake my own whey pies. I am learning about jazz and blues, and I have signed up for a poetry class and for contra dance lessons. The point is, when you are not watching television and thinking about inane things like how on earth someone could give birth nineteen times and still be walking around or how a human being could not notice she had a cat carcass rotting on her living room floor, your world opens up a bit, and suddenly you realize that even if you don't want to make your own yogurt or pen your own chapbook, maybe, just maybe, there is something else out there for you to discover.