When a new L’Arche home opened in Arlington, VA this year, the house team decided not to get cable in the main living area. This was a conscious choice, born of a desire to form deeper relationships. It didn’t save them money. (Several members elected to have cable connections in their rooms, and L’Arche payed for that.) The house does have a TV in the living room, but 99% of the time, it’s hidden in a cabinet. The focus of the area isn’t the TV, and the house is better for it. The house watches movies together sometimes, and some core members watch a half-hour of TV in their rooms before bed, but that’s about it.
I realize how counter-cultural this is. I realize that there are times when TV is a wonderful thing. It can be nice to unwind and ‘check out’ for a little while. (See my last post on being sick.) Yet I’m glad my husband and I don’t have a TV. There are several reasons for this – it’s a time-waster, it disrupts sleep, it distracts from human connection, it’s another bill to pay…
However, what became clear to me after being sick was that none of those are my main reasons for not having a TV.
My main reason? I have a tendency to subsume my sense of adventure into the plot of a book or TV show. When I was growing up in New Jersey, my parents were amazed at how focused I was when I read. I wouldn’t hear conversations around me. It’s embarrassing, but true: when I got my license, I barely knew how to get to the nearest grocery store, much less how to get to my grandparents’ house on Long Island. Whenever I was a passenger, I had my head in a book.
This degree of focus and absorption can be a good thing. (While I may not have been able to navigate the town I lived in all my life, I did finish my verbal SAT II in 25 minutes, and received a perfect score. Math was another story.)
Likewise, in small doses, TV viewing choices can illumine a great deal about who you are and what you value. When I watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I remember that I don’t need permission to live my own life. My teenage fascination with the Buffy/Angel relationship made me think about what I wanted in a partner: someone whose words aligned with their actions, someone who believed love was worth fighting for. (Handsome and brooding was optional. Theoretically.)
The shadow side of absorption? There’s a high potential for addiction, a great risk of living vicariously. In larger doses, TV is mind-numbing. It saps your vitality and leaves you wondering where your day has gone. Don’t let that happen. Pick one show you like. Once it’s over, unplug. Get out and live your life. (Or get some sleep, so you can start that living tomorrow.)
Getting wrapped up in a good movie or TV show can be escapism, pure and simple. Yet, if you listen carefully, it can also be your soul’s way of saying, “Hey, friend? You’ve been playing it way too safe.” A large part of what captivates us in movies or TV is the sense of adventure, of a story unfolding. We want to lead a life less ordinary. There is something in us that needs. to. be. epic.
I’m not talking about fighting Dementors or slaying vampires. I’m talking about taking calculated risks in your own life. I’m talking about taking chances that make you feel alive.
The intrepid explorer’s guide to fun and adventure, sans cable:
~Have each member of your family list 5 things they’re scared to try, or 5 goals they’re having trouble achieving. Once you’ve done that, brainstorm ways to help each other. You may have someone under the same roof who can teach you skills. (My mom once spent hours teaching me to do a cartwheel. I had a great deal of difficulty with this, but I deemed it essential as a young girl. Mom, I remain grateful.) In a similar vein…
~Try to master something you believe you have no natural talent for. (Having mastered the cartwheel, I can move on to anything math-related.) Read this if you’re convinced it can’t be done. Likewise…
~Start your own small business, like my dear friend Tammy Templeman at Houseplay Designs. Once you’ve worked up an appetite…
~Cook your own food. (For some of us, this will be a daring adventure indeed.) See if you can make something delicious without resorting to the microwave. Once you’ve fueled up…
~Plan the kind of adventure you like to watch or read about. Love Dancing with the Stars? Get thee to a dance floor. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Play hooky and explore your city. You see where this is going.
Jean Vanier, the man who founded L’Arche, is quoted as saying that he wishes every L’Arche community would get rid of their dishwashers and their TVs. While I might go toe-to-toe with him for the dishwasher, I stand by him on the TV.
There are better adventures before you than the ones on the screen. Much as I enjoy Glee, it will never hold a candle to the (first and only) time I did karaoke. I sang Nelly Furtado’s “Turn out the light” and brought down the TGI Fridays. It was a rare moment, one of those times when I let go and let loose. It was way better than watching TV. I stole the DJ’s hat and everything…
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