Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Quasi-Existentialism and Digital TV

Readers beware: You are about to enter a long, angsty, confessional post. This is your chance to quietly slip away before you've been seen.

Still here? Okay, so this thing with all T.V. airwaves going digital has brought on both an existential and a parental conflict because there is, indeed, a difference between who I am (as a person and as a parent) and who I wish I could be.

I have always wished to be a cool, hip, alternative kind of chick with great vintage style. I have wished to be a writer, a folksinger, and other hip things like that. I have wanted to drive cool cars that reflect my internal hip self.

But instead, I have always been rather loosely put together, usually in something cotton and comfortable, and I only wear comfy shoes. It turns out that I don't write fiction well, and though I was decent as a budding poet, I didn't feel as if I had the confidence or know-how to keep it going (I mean, how does one know if she's broken the line in the right place?). So really, I'm just an academic--not so creative after all. And I didn't start playing guitar until I was thirty, so I never got very good, and I really don't sing that well. So much for being a folksinger. And now, after kids, I hardly play guitar at all. So, instead, I have a very "establishment" kind of job--and I have always had these jobs.* Truth be told, I have craved the security of such jobs because I have always feared becoming a bag lady in old age.

As for the cars, in my adult life I've driven a pick-up truck (not a cool one), a Toyota Corolla wagon, and a Honda Odyssey. These are not cool cars and did not reflect any kind of hip self. But I will tell you a secret: I have loved all of these cars because all of them offered me the option to sleep in my car if need be--something that has always been very reassuring to me, perhaps because of my bag lady issues.

We do, however, have one cool car: a Westfalia Vanagon. I don't drive it often because I always forget to ask my husband if it's running or not. But when I do drive it? Dude. I feel like the me I've always wanted to be. Especially when I drive it with sandy feet. It's like freedom on wheels. And it has two beds!

So this brings me back to TV. I haven't had cable for most of the last 13 years. I get three channels, and I have been happy with them. But this whole switcheroo has got me in a bunch. See, I would like to be one of those people with no T.V. One of those people who has dinner by candlelight every night with her family without having the Newshour on in the background. One of those people who reads every night instead of watching T.V. One of those people who cooks organic, fresh meals everynight instead of heating up soup or frozen pizza (okay, that's not related to T.V., but it's part of the overall picture if you see what I mean).

But the reality is that I like the Newshour. And I don't like to spend hours in the kitchen except when I have hours to spare. And in the evenings? I'm usually watching T.V. as a way of proscrastinating on my grading and prepping. Without T.V., I think I might just feel the need to work every night. And I would miss TV's friendly noises. Because I was single for so long, I got used to the T.V. being my roommate. Maybe that's not cool, and it's certainly not hip, but that's the way it was. And now, I like sitting with my husband, while we're both grading quizzes or prepping, watching American Idol or House or 30 Rock or Frontline.

On the other hand, when we're on vacation, and I don't have grading and prepping, I'm fine without T.V. I like to read or watch a movie, and I can get by without the news. But my life, my hectic, establishment life, means that in the evenings, I want to be passive. I don't want to be stuck with just me and 60 freshman comp papers. I want to be able to work a bit and then just turn on and tune out.

But as a parent, I would like to be the kind of mom who parents without T.V. I mean, that has to be the better path, right? But I haven't been that kind of mom. Not completely. I mean, I don't plop them down in front of it very often, but if they're in the mood to watch one of their DVDs, I'm okay with that. Frankly, I don't know how No-TV moms ever get anything done. Even though I'm sure their kids will be much cooler than mine.

So. Here I am. Stuck with this dilemma, thinking that we're probably going to get one of the smaller satellite packages because then, at least, we can record stuff and have some control over viewing times. But it's giving me pause because it feels as if this is one of those moments when I could choose the road less taken and that it would make all of the difference, that it would be the road of the cool, the hip, the better mom.** But I'm not sure I'm up to it.

I guess it comes down to this: Having no TV is clearly the better thing--perhaps even the right thing--to do. But I don't think I'm going to do it. So I feel guilt, shame, and existential angst.

But I still have about two weeks to come to terms with all of this, so for now I'm going to go back to bed because I have laryngitis and feel terrible. I will take four books to bed with me: Nam Le's The Boat, an autobiography of Martha Fowke Sansom, and a book by Phillipa Gregory (which I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit), and Beowulf.

*Although I did once have a fantastic part-time job at a very hip used bookstore when I was in grad school. In fact, that was probably the most hip time of my life.

**And it would also allow me to make more progress on my dissertation, I'm sure.


baxie said...

I'd like to help, but alas all existential crises must be navigated solo.

I will note that after a few weeks of intense withdrawal, the wife doesn't miss broadcast TV one bit.

Thanks to Netflix we always have something vaguely interesting to watch when we're in the mood (right now it's season one of the Dog Whisperer) and current events are handled expertly by the computer.

TV is just a bad habit, like smoking or drinking coffee. You do get some satisfaction out of it, but if you consider it rationally nothing good comes of it.

I'm comfortable with our halfway solution. Watching stuff on DVD means it happens more on your terms, instead of the terms of The Man and his advertising machine.

I suggest an experiment- drop cable for a month, pick up the three DVD package from Netflix and see how you feel after 30 days.

outside voice said...

Indecision for me (not to project, just to throw another way of looking at things out there), usually signals that I don't feel I can say directly what I want--for example, I'm trying to meet someone else's expectations, or there is an unacceptable compromise on the table that I don't really want, or maybe I just don't think that I should want what I do want. :)

Maybe you could try to sit quietly with this issue (forgive me for getting a little Zen)...and allow yourself to REALLY feel which you want to do? At least that way, the anxiety about having to choose will be can just listen to your instincts. And if, down the road, you want to change again, you can!

Contemporary Troubadour said...

My husband and I live in two different time zones (he's in his for his job; I'm in mine for graduate school), which means double the utilities expenses. (I blog about the whole long-distance thing over at my place.) In the interest of not paying for cable in two locations, we ended up with this compromise: I get cable here, where I record stuff to watch when I work out, and he gets Netflix. Over the summer, I was with him for three months and did not miss cable a whit. Well ... partially because a lot of the primetime regular network-channel shows I like are on the web now too. also has older episodes of lots of programs if you haven't checked them out yet.

I found your blog through your recent comment at Medieval Woman's place. I'm enjoying it!

Amstr said...

So the cool, hip, and better mom, by your definition, manages to make her kids seem a bit backward and not at all culturally literate. We do kid DVDs and iTunes video purchases, Netflix, Hulu, the converter box (that we rarely plug in), and NPR Podcasts (including the NewsHour).

This weekend, I'm taking care of a friend's kids at her house, and during our tour, we got to talking about the Disney Princess stuff. She said she's just kind of given in (even though she doesn't really like it), because you can't avoid it. Then I realized how few character things my kids know: Curious George, Bob the Builder, some Pixar shorts. They have never really seen a commercial even. Or Sesame Street. (And one of their favorite 'movies' is 'The Danish Poet,' a short animated film that won an Academy Award a few years ago. I'm sure that one will generate years of therapy.) I imagine that when they get to school, I'll be getting a lot of questions about TV, various characters (most of which I've probably never heard of), and a lot of whining about how I never let them watch ANYthing (groan!).

In my childhood world, the hip mom was the one who let her 10 year old watch MTV.

*NB: The hipness of Phoenix counts for a lot and has lasting value. As did having some guy live in your garage, surfing, and living at Uptown and McCarthy's much of the time. You got at least 3 years of hipness that has at least some kind of afterglow. And I think perhaps the hippest thing about you is that you take risks and try new things (of which you list many, and parenthood being one of them).