In 2014, I vowed to spend twelve months without television. Betting and joking immediately ensued among family and friends on how long I’d last. I was addicted to crime sitcoms [“Castle,” “Major Crimes,” “CSI,” “Elementary,” “NCIS,” “Law & Order SVU”] and fantasy [“Once Upon a Time,” “Warehouse 13,” “The Librarians”] and political thrillers [“Person of Interest,” “House of Cards,” “Covert Affairs”], well, you get the idea.
These twelve shows were not the only shows I watched. Add news. With a degree in journalism, being a news junkie is a given. Add movies. Add the occasional documentary and talent competition. I’ve watched absolute garbage after channel surfing because nothing else was on. Addiction and inertia held me captive.
My wakeup call was reading a statistic from the Parents Television Council that children in America watch between four and eight hours of television a day. They spend more time staring at a blinking box than in school! No wonder America has an epidemic of overweight, undereducated children and teens. And what are they learning? Bad behavior from reality television shows and talk shows? Egad. Four to eight hours a day is enough time to master a second language, or learn new hobbies and skills. Righteous indignation rose in me about this monumental waste of our most precious asset–time. I asked my daughter how much time her kids spent in front of the television per day.
And then she asked me how much time I spent. blink. blink. blink.
So 2015 was a test. A cure to my addiction. I wish I could tell you it was easy, that my iron willpower helped me stroll by the big-screen in the living room without temptation. I wish I could say with a straight face that hearing others talk about the shocking season finale of any of my favorite shows didn’t knock the wind out of me. When book club pals asked if I was going to watch the new shows “Sherlock,” “Bosch,” or “Outlander” my resolve quavered dangerously on the edge of quitting this mad personal quest.
Spending a year without television allowed me to read 35 more books in 2015 than in the previous year. I traveled to: Charleston (SC), Jacksonville with my girl pals, San Juan, St. Kitts, St. Barts, Las Vegas, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, New York City, Naples (FL), and multiple trips to North Carolina.
In April, I worked as a stringer/reporter for General Aviation News at the SUN ‘N FUN Fly-In. You can read my articles by clicking on GA News. It was a joy to combine my journalism training with my aviation hobby and get paid for it! What rewarding joy!
Handsome and I also learned gun safety and enjoyed target practice under the watchful eye of a friend from church who had served in the Marines. Getting off the sofa has been rewarding after all.
As we launch into 2016, perhaps many of you will also opt out of television viewing for a year. Imagine all those mean political ads you’ll miss…and the books you will have time to read. Ahem. Oh that topic, let me say that one of my books will be coming out in late spring. So expect to hear more about the book in the coming months. And, yes, it will be available in print for those readers who refuse to read on a tablet, like my mother and mother-in-law.
So let the bets be covered. I survived a year without television! Woot Woot. Okay, so I didn’t learn another language, or discover a cure for cancer, but I wrote more, played more, and spent more hours each day toward my lifelong goal of publishing novels.
Remember time is your most precious asset. Tell me, what would you do with four extra hours a day?
I am trying to lead by example and live with no television, read more, get out to play more, exercise more, and live more. Watching television is a habit that isolates me from the world while it simultaneously gives the illusion of being part of it. Like any habit, slouching on the sofa staring at a blinking box is easy to do. Far easier than planning a dinner party with friends, or researching the next vacation, or visiting pals in the hospital. Watching television for the most part is social, mental, and physical inertia.
Remember the movie WALL-E? He was a small trash-compacting robot who hitches a ride back to the ship where humans live while they wait for earth to recover from pollution. When he find the humans they have relied so heavily on technology to feed, bathe, and transport them that they have grown so lazy they can’t walk. That would be me in another ten years of nightly television viewing with a bowl of popcorn in my lap.
Heading into month six, week twenty-five, I have momentum. The S Health pedometer on my Samsung S measured my average daily steps in January at 2,000. In the last 30 days I’ve averaged 10,000 steps per day. Sure, some of them have been diligently striding past the television, but hey, this is progress. As a devout watcher of police procedurals, the sigh-worthy misses this year are: Castle, NCIS, Major Crimes, Rizzoli & Isles, and the rumored last season of CSI (Las Vegas)! So to get my fix I’ve stockpiled thrillers, suspense, and mysteries by Linda Castillo, John Foxjohn, James Patterson, David Morrell, Lee Child, Diane Capri, John Grisham, Greg Iles, Dan Brown, and Joshua Graham. On ships, in cars, on planes, on beaches, and at a cabin in the woods, I will read without commercial interruptions.
While it is true that television and books both provide the illusion of participating in the story, books draw the participant deeper into the mind and heart of a character. Books offer a deeper perspective and a richer experience into worlds and events readers will never experience otherwise.
And yes, I will also work on my own novels. To my readers and fans, buckle up. Prepare for a new book this fall with the cover reveal this summer. Editing continues.
Writing is such a solitary endeavor that writers crave feedback. For the most successful authors the feedback comes in long lines of readers seeking autographs at conferences and in big fat royalty checks. Feedback also comes through Goodreads reviews, Amazon reviews, newspaper and magazine reviews, and the joy of seeing a stranger carrying one of your books to the beach or through an airport. I suppose a similar joy would be for a musician to hear her song on the radio. Sometimes feedback will come from out of the blue.
After my airplane had repairs done on the radio system, a mechanic wiped off his hands and handed me the key with a bit of advice–he told me my novel had a typo in the second chapter. It took me a moment to process what he was talking about, because my book had just been published a week earlier. Even my mother hadn’t read it yet. I resisted the urge to hug him, but thanked him for buying my book.
Next, I dashed home, made the correction and uploaded the eBook again to Amazon. The majority of the feedback new writers receive comes from the critiques of family, friends, and colleagues. These can be harrowing, confusing critiques because while readers know what they like and don’t like, they often cannot articulate the specifics. One relative will say there is too much dialogue, another will say it needs more. Whereas a reader might say, “the ending ran too long.” Another writer is more likely to pinpoint that a scene is misplaced and would work better before the climax of the story. So contests serve that rarely-met need to get objective, detailed critiques with comments inside the body of the story.
And yes, contests also provide huge validation and bragging rights for finalists and winners. Beta readers, critique partners and agents provide feedback as well. In the case of critiques it is far easier to give than to receive. We can so easily spot the blunders, gaffs, and typos in someone else’s story, yet we struggle to see our own. A totally honest critique from one adult to another is worth years of wasted effort editing and rewriting. It takes courage and honesty to take a critique. That first time on that first big project any critique might feel like someone is calling your newborn ugly.
After deep breaths, a serious writer learns to listen, take notes, and consider how to use that critique to improve the story. Writers groups offer critique groups, but sadly, not all groups are created equal. Dare I say there are writers groups filled with hobbyist writers, dabblers, avid readers who don’t write, and folks who are exploring the idea of being a writer. You can generally spot them when they say they don’t read much, but they want to write a novel over the weekend. Others corner published authors with offers like, “I have this amazing story idea. How about if you write it and we split the royalties?” To such “writers” I explain the purpose and fees of ghostwriters.
Finding a group of serious career-minded writers usually entails joining a national organization. For a list of the largest ones, click on WRITER’S ORGANIZATIONS. Writer’s conferences can hone a writer’s skills through workshops and lectures and networking, and remind writers that there are others out there at the same skill level. Team up! The buddy system helps us slog through the hard times. So to writers, I say keep creating. To readers I say, thank you for turning off your TV once in a while. Thank you for supporting writers by buying books in any format. And thank you for your feedback, your reviews, and your encouragement.
Go ahead and be amazed. This TV junkie has been television-free for sixteen, count ’em, sixteen wonderful weeks. Sure, I ached that I missed the end of season episode of “Major Crimes” and hubby caught me muttering and carrying the remote around the house during the season finale of “Castle,” but thankfully, life has intervened to pull me out of the house and away from temptation.
I’ve hiked in the Smokey Mountains, flown with hubby to lunch in Venice, Florida, spent a few weekends near Asheville, visited family in Las Vegas for a week, and learned how to load and fire various handguns.
My evenings, previously spent in inertia on the sofa–remote in one hand, popcorn in the other–are now filled with stories by Janet Evanovich, Kristan Higgins, John Foxjohn, Sue Monk Kidd, Ian McEwan, Diane Capri, Liane Moriarty, Joshua Graham, and Kristin Hannah. I’ve even discovered books by first-time authors: Deborah Wilding’s Then I Met You, Martha Sibley George’s Goodbye, Miss Emily, and a few others I’m judging for the international Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence contest. Recently enjoyed the second novel by Noelle August. The first book was Boomerang and the second is Rebound. Also read an exciting medical thriller written by a physician friend that should be coming out soon.
I was hired by a national aviation magazine to report on Sun ‘N Fun, the annual general aviation gathering founded by the Experimental Aircraft Association, better known as EAA. Sun ‘N Fun begins next week in Lakeland, Florida. The Brietling Jet Team will be performing airshows, and a few friends will be receiving the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award next week. The son of friends will also be in town after being certified or approved to land on carriers. Is this a great life or what? I get PAID to meet my aviation heroes and write about them.
So, overall I have not missed television. I’m out having fun in the real world and reading wonderful, hilarious, and exciting stories. Oh, and I’m writing a few of my own. One is a 90,000-word suspense story with elements of romance, and the other is an 85,000-word suspense story with elements of romance. My BETA readers and critique partners are chewing through them now. All prayers are appreciated.
“Every time someone watches reality TV a book dies.” My friend Marc Newquist told me I’d said that to him a while back and it resonated with him. After mulling it over, he’s decided to cancel cable television. His five sons showed no enthusiasm for this idea. Two openly glared at me. Yipes.
I’ve always believed that certain television programs destroy brain cells. If we tortured spies by forcing them to watch children’s shows Barney and Teletubies for a week, they would spill all their secrets. Adult programs involving the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, or ambush/confrontational shows like Jerry Springer, and competitive dating also lower one’s IQ by glorifying selfishness, stupidity, and other forms of immoral and uncivilized behavior. Should we as a society reward bad behavior with fame and money? Doesn’t that encourage more bad behavior and send a signal to young people to do the same? I propose it is cruel to broadcast auditions to talent shows when many of the candidates have a painful lack of talent. Okay, it’s hilarious, but low-brow, knuckle-dragging humor at best.
Confrontational shows with themes like Who’s your daddy? and Guess who’s sleeping with your boyfriend? destroy brain cells and foster violence. Emotions run high and, with the already limited intelligence of participants,–measured by the fact that they accepted an invitation to be on the Jerry Springer Show–chairs and fists are destined to fly.
While documentaries, historical shows, scientific discoveries, and such reality shows have merit, they also garner lower ratings, attract fewer viewers, and generate less income. This is an indictment that our civilization’s standards are in free fall.
Hillary Clinton stated that on her ride into a war zone her plane had taken fire, and she had to scramble for cover when they landed. Videotape of her arrival shows a group of school children greeting her with flowers. Where was the media to call out this lie? Well, certain members of the media also have a distant relationship with the facts. The so-called News Anchorman Brian Williams recently admitted he ‘may have’ exaggerated the dangers of a helicopter flight he took a few years ago into a war zone. So his helicopter ‘might’ have taken a hit by a rocket-propelled grenade? Uh huh. And he landed unharmed? Yeeeeah. Ooookay. And he repeated this fiction until men and women in uniform called him out on it. To Clinton and Willams, I say look up the term STOLEN VALOR. Kudos to the honest soldiers who dragged these lies into the light of day.
Pardon the rant, but with an election year coming up, I felt compelled to share my opinion that our society is in sorry condition if it relies on the media or politicians to tell the truth. It seems to me that news and entertainment have blended into something closer to fiction.
For truly fine fiction, locate a bookstore or library. Or download the free Kindle App and search Amazon for free books. You’ll find hundreds of classics for free. I think it’s time to scour my library for books for Marc’s sons. I feel I owe them that.
The inventor of the television would not let his own children watch TV. He once said to his son, “There’s nothing on it worthwhile, and we’re not going to watch it in this household, and I don’t want it in your intellectual diet.” – Philo T Farnsworth
Even decades after Farnsworth banned his kids from watching ‘the idiot box’ there isn’t that much worthwhile on it for children. Sesame Street and a few early-childhood programs are the exception. A steady diet of television, I believe, trains children to pay attention for only five minutes at a time, which handicaps them when they begin school. Teachers don’t cut to commercial breaks, nor do they tend to break into song and dance. How do teachers reach the generation raised on television viewing? I knew my daughter–then age four–was watching too much TV when she told me she’d be “right back after this commercial break.”
When I was in grade school back in the Jurassic Era, we managed to sit still and learn for hours at a time without Ritalin. As children raised playing board games and constructing 1000-piece puzzles, my brothers and I learned how to take turns, share, win graciously, and lose graciously. We watched about four hours of television a week. Today’s children often park in front of the ‘electronic babysitter’ four hours or more PER DAY. Could there be a correlation between watching hours a day of television in childhood and Attention Deficit Disorder?
Today’s children are fatter than previous generations. Can we blame food commercials? Or shall we label this the inert generation? My generation played outdoors instead of hunching over tiny blinking screens or gaping up at larger screens. When we watched shows, back in my day, we had to GET UP to change the five channels by turning a knob on the set. Our first television had a screen slightly larger than the average laptop and programs appeared in black and white. And no, we did not own the prototype television.
Handsome bought our latest television because it plays not just in color, but in such high definition on the sixty-two-inch screen that we can count Justin Bieber’s five chin hairs. The surround sound system in the movie room also has amazing clarity. When we played a CD of Yo Yo Ma, we heard him breathing. Don’t even get me started on 3D movies with the pricey glasses. Technology overload!
If someone had told me twenty years ago that there would be networks broadcasting twenty-four hours a day exclusively offering programming on soccer, cooking, cartoons, news, weather, history, science, aviation, Bible study, or farming, I would have laughed off the idea as preposterous. But here we are.
I would have laughed even harder if it had been suggested that one day I could watch a television program on my phone. Technology marches on at a faster pace each decade. The Star Trek communicator has an uncanny resemblance to my old flip phone. And the Bluetooth earpiece reminds me of Seven-of-Nine’s Borg implant that connected her to the hive. Resistance is futile….
Shall we question the value of television in our lives? Certainly volume and variety do not equate with quality in broadcasting any more than fast food can be considered nutritious simply because we can eat it. Consider the choices and the consequences of the choices. Will watching reality shows that glorify unseemly behavior encourage more of the same? Does watching violent behavior beget violent behavior?
In the fifth week without television, I can say with a straight face that I haven’t missed it as much as I thought I would.
Next January might find me parked on the sofa binge-watching a stack of Netflix season’s recordings of Castle, Major Crimes, The Librarians, CSI: Las Vegas, and other shows the DVR couldn’t hold, but for now, I’m celebrating five weeks without television and hunkering down with my shelf of to-be-read books.
Go ahead and laugh, but you might join me in skipping television during the next presidential campaign.