Kill Your Television

I had to read this book No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process by Colin Beavan because we are planning on using it for our first semester freshman course City Seminar entitled From Transaction to Trash: The Lifecycle of Stuff. A professor who once worked at our school vetted this book and it was selected, but after the first 10+ pages I wanted to find the author on the street and punch him in the face. I found his narrative voice so whiny, so privileged and barely acknowledging that privilege (it took until page 133 for him to say, “it’s a luxury to be able to make all these adaptations…” Duh!), and overwhelmingly annoying. If I wasn’t being forced to potentially teach this book, I would have tossed it aside early on, but since I might have to sell it to a room of reluctant readers I pushed on in search of a nugget of potential.

I softened into the story eventually. Maybe I got used to Mr. Beavan’s “Oh, woe is me, I want to change the world and I don’t know how” crooning, but he does have some interesting ideas and points to make. One thing he did was he got rid of all garbage in this life–particularly plastic containers or any containers that our food comes in. Fascinating. After reading this book I see all the plastic crap we accumulate from our mostly organic food and it is pretty terrifying. Therefore he had to make his own yogurt, bread, etc. and cooking and shopping took over his life. But how do you find the time to do all this? His answer: cut out TV.

Before we had kids we really didn’t watch TV at all–we were out living life, being in the city, hanging with friends. Seriously. The title of this post was a bumper sticker I had on my car when I was in undergrad. But post-children, we became TV whores. Adam and I can easily digest four hours straight of “Downton Abbey” or “The Wire” and yes, we feel a bit numb and brain dead afterwards, but we have conditioned ourselves up to that marathon-esque stamina to stare at a screen. Sometimes I’ll grade easy student work or update my gradebook or catch up on email at the same time, but then I have this creepy double screen situation going on: my little laptop screen in front of the big TV screen. And then I can’t sleep. Wonder why.

After reading Beavan’s book, and hearing his praises for a non-TV life, I put our family on TV restriction. Only TV/movies on weekends. None after school, none after the kids go to bed, nada. I explained it to the kids and to Adam, and they were okay. It has been going on for three weeks now, and it is great.

When the kids and I get home on the weeknights, they either help me make dinner, play, or read. The photo here is of them reading in their beds while I made dinner. The English teacher in me melts at this! After they go to bed, Adam and I talk while we clean up and make lunches, do some work and/or read, and I have been going to bed by 11pm. I am reading more, the kids are reading more, we are talking more and listening more and sleeping more–it’s really revolutionary. I’m into it.

I know it’s not rocket science to figure out that turning off your TV will = more reading, talking, and living, but I guess I needed this book to tell me that. So, Colin Beavan, you win. This time.

(Oh, and that book finally got me to compost–a marital dispute my husband and I have had for four years. So the score is actually Beavan = two, Ungemah = 0 and my husband owes him a beer…Sheesh.)