Television-free Challenge Fail

Okay, so I lasted less than a month into my self-challenge to go a year without television. Sometimes we make plans and God laughs. I suppose the idea that I had to do without something made me obsess about it to the point where I gave in. Like being on a strict diet. Whatever the doctor says to avoid becomes the only thing you crave, like bacon or chocolate.

hand pulls electrical plug from the wallI had great intentions. The hope was that by spending zero time rotting my brain in front of the blinking box, I would spend the time on loftier pursuits–such as reading through my 198-book to-be-read list, writing, going out with Handsome, and spending time with the grandchildren.

The time with grandchildren became five hours every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday so that my daughter could complete her night classes. Her husband is a truck driver and often comes home about 8 p.m., so he certainly couldn’t pick up the darlings from school and daycare, feed them, and supervise homework. I was volun-told that this would be my responsibility.

By the second week, Giana wanted to watch television after homework, so I relented and tried to stay in other rooms to avoid watching Casey Undercover, and other Disney series. Soon, she wanted me to sit with her, so we played Uno and turned off the tube.

 

Television has become toxic. Biased news, mean reality shows, shows with laugh tracks, no thank you.

Let us spread love, kindness, forgiveness, patience, and personal responsibility. Let’s spread forgiveness to extinguish the fires of hatred and division.

More reading. More interacting with live people, like the grandchildren. More love. Less television.

I Survived a Year without Television!

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.

hand pulls electrical plug from the wall

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.

Dragon breathing fire atop Grigott's bankview of San Juan from the fort

group of women shopping in St. AugustineIn 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!

Two jets flying in formation one upside down over the other

Thunderbirds

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.

Joni and MaurySo 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?

No TV Week 19

This week TV will not be a temptation because I will be occupied judging two national writing contests: The Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense and the Tampa Area Romance Authors Contest. I am a first-round judge in these contests and a category coordinator for one. Writing contests help hone an aspiring author’s skills and provide bragging rights to winners. It’s been a long week of great reading and no TV.

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. stack of booksSometimes 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.

No TV Week 6

“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 Angry, Frustrated Womanchildren’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.stack of books

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.

 

 

 

No TV Week 5

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?

Presentation1Today’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.

No TV Week 2

I have watched TV in every state of our great country, in Paris, in Quito, in Whistler (BC Canada), in various islands of the Bahamas, and in Puerto Vallarta. Watching a movie with Vin Diesel’s sexy voice dubbed in a high tenor ruined the experience for me. And slang, sarcasm, and idioms really don’t translate well. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in French loses all its sassy Valley girl attitude. Reading subtitles gets distracting and amusing. I remember watching a Chinese action movie in which the bad guy, an evil warlord, spewed a long venomous diatribe to his troops. The subtitle read something along the lines of “let’s destroy them.” Was the translator censored, lazy or perhaps having fun with us?

Philo Taylor FarnsworthI blame untold lost hours of 3D living on American Philo Taylor Farnsworth who invented the TV in the late 1920s. Television really took a foothold in the American household in the late 1950s with a handful of broadcast stations that ran only part of each day. According to a recent press release by the Federal Communications Commission there are 1,785 broadcast stations in the United States. We are a country of freedom of expression. Libya with its twelve stations, um, not so much. Kuwait has a whopping thirteen stations. Cuba boasts around fifty eight.

Our family owned a black and white television for most of my childhood. I was in middle school when I finally saw The Wizard of Oz in color. It took my breath away. Cookie, my BFF, laughed at me and asked why I hadn’t seen the movie before. I told her I had seen it, but it was a different movie in color. From then on, I dreamed in color.

Today in America we have over a thousand broadcast stations and a multitude of technologies to enjoy them. If not for my year of television abstinence, I could watch shows through network websites from my desktop computer and my laptop. Hubby bought a Roku that picks up even more channels that can be viewed through the television, and wirelessly through my iPad, and my oh-so-smart phone. Surrounded by temptation, my soul quakes. Hubby mentioned the upcoming two-hour “Major Crimes” episode and my knees buckled. Eeeep!

Stopped by my daughter’s house where she was watching an episode of “Once Upon a Time” (also set to record on my DVR). Sigh. To top it off, my once-beloved child’s parting comment was delivered in a sing-song voice, “You’re not going make it a year.” That did it. I’m revising the will so all our televisions go to the nearest daycare.

Down with the flu and all I wanna do is curl up on the sofa with a steaming cup of broth and watch romantic comedies. But no. No, streamed on demand viewing of Lucky You with dreamy Robert Downy Jr. No original or remake of Sabrina.

That stack of to-be-read books beckons for me to escape into a book, to fall headfirst into a story and be swept away into vicarious experiences and new perspectives. Reading requires something from the reader that television does not require from the viewer—imagination. Even the great film maker Hitchcock understood this. In his movies he terrorized viewers by forcing them to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. In the shower scene in Psycho, for example, the knife is never shown touching the woman.

I find it illuminating that so many television series are based on books, even children’s stories like Grimm’s Fairytales. Reality television shows offer repellent behavior, which grants fame to those who set themselves up for ridicule. What does this say about our society that we find entertainment in either ugly reality or fantasy?

Big Little LiesSo I’m off to read my book club selection Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I adored Moriarty’s otherworldly story The Night Circus. After that I’ll sort through my clothes. Spring cleaning perhaps. This is so much more difficult than I thought it would be. Old habits die hard; temptations even harder.