Tuesday, March 5, 2019

"Preliminary Progress Report"

I am beginning to read.

“Alert the media!”

Ease up.  I am changing a habit of a lifetime, which, at this point, ts a very long time.  I mean, changing a habit when you’re seven, that’s like,

“Okay.  I’ll stop sucking my thumb.”

But you keep sucking your thumb for seventy-four years…

That’s an unlikely example.  But you know what I mean.  The longer you’ve done something, the harder it is to stop doing that something and suddenly begin doing something else. 

That’s me, trying to cut back on television, filling those now available hours with the overdue reading of books.

(TV Watching Progress Report:  I am down to three channels:  The Major League Baseball Channel, The Westerns Channel, and, occasionally, Turner Classic Movies.  (With a few PBS English murder mysteries thrown in.)  I am trying to gradually limit my viewing time, hoping eventually to turn TV-watching into a questionable undertaking, as in, “Why would I do that?” 

Stay tuned… as I progressively tune out.  Unless I fail, weakly succumbing to TV’s habitual draw.  In that case, call this “Anatomy of a Fizzle.”  Not what I intended, but at least it’s “writing fodder.”

Looking back, I was never much of a reader.  If you don’t call reading comic books reading.  Uncle Scrooge is a classic.  (Not to mention a role model.)  Though perhaps not in the literary sense.  (And perhaps more than “perhaps.”)

I am not from a traditional “Reading Family.”  We had a handsomely bound series of “Great Books”, but I do not recall anyone ever removing any of them from the shelf.  They seemed more like librarial “Interior Decorating”, selected for the matching “color scheme” than for their (unread) content.

The only book I recall my mother reading is, “Laughter is the Best Medicine” by comedian Sam Levenson, a compendium of folksy anecdotes, like,

“On Thanksgiving, I was given the honor of carrying the turkey into the dining room.  One time, I tripped and the beautiful turkey slipped off the platter and fell the floor.  My mother immediately saved the day.  She said, “It’s okay, Sammy.  Take that turkey back to the kitchen, and bring out the other turkey.”

I love that story.  But I can’t imagine Herman Melville saying,

“I wish I’d written that instead of a dumb whale story.”

I had no natural interest nor nurtural background for reading.  So I have to belatedly figure out how to do it.  Unlike television, which has no strategic requirements whatsoever. 

The way I see it. television is like a sun lamp with pictures that talks to you. 

Take that in before dismissing it outright.

As with sunlamps, with television, the emanating video waves simply pour over you.  There is no effort with television.  No one ever says, “I had to turn off the television.  I was losing my concentration.” 

Watching TV requires no concentration.  You can clip your toenails watching TV.  You cannot do that reading a book.

Television requires no optimum lighting – you can watch TV with no lighting; it may actually be preferable.  Television does not necessarily require comfortable seating.  For years, growing up, I watched television lying on the floor, my head propped up on my upturned my left wrist, my extended “Index” and third fingers working as a digital pedestal.

That’s not comfortable. 

But I did it for hours.

Which is another thing. 

(Followed by a shameful confession.)

Growing up, on weekends, I’d watch virtually continuously from nine A.M., when the westerns-for-kids started (Buffalo Bill Jr. and The Lone Ranger) till about eleven P.M., the end of the Hockey Night in Canada. 

On weekdays, it was whenever I wasn’t in school (starting with The Mickey Mouse Club) or required to eat dinner with my family.  Otherwise, I was “back at the ‘box’”, lying on my hand.

Reading, at least for me, takes assiduous planning. 

I need optimal lighting to read.  I need comfortable seating.  I need music to drown out the silence.  (The silence watching television drowned out by… television.)

I can barely read for more than an hour.  (Unless it’s John Grisham on an airplane, Grisham’s “page-turning” propulsion racing as rapidly as our airspeed.)

Reading books requires thinking.  “What are they saying?”  “What do they mean?”  There are “layers” to most books.  The only layer with television is the screen.

I just sighed.

At the harrowing challenge of a late-life “transition.” 


There are people who never had television in their houses growing up.

I’ll bet they can really read.


FFS said...

Analogous to a crash diet. Within a year you may be watching more TV than you did before.

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